How a Community Bank Changed Everything
By Richard Kaufman
As the coronavirus has swept across the globe and the United States over the past two months, countless towns and neighborhoods have found themselves in unchartered territory. Daily life has seemingly come to a halt and social distancing has become the new normal.
For small businesses, the backbone of the economy and countless communities in the country, times have been very scary. But in times of crisis, community strength can make al the difference, and the First Bank of Greenwich (FBOG) has played a big role in helping those businesses stay afloat.
For the past eight weeks, the bank’s entire staff has been working diligently and endlessly on delivering Small Business Administration (SBA) Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loans to many qualified small businesses and nonprofit organizations in the community.
To date, the First Bank of Greenwich has saved 4,200-plus jobs, and was able to process 100 percent of qualified loan submissions in round 1 and round 2 of funding.
“I couldn’t be more proud of my staff. They worked 24/7 to get this accomplished. The staff came together and rose to the occasion. This was a monumental feat for the bank to do this,” said FBOG President and CEO, Frank Gaudio. “My staff kicked it into another gear that I’ve never seen before.”
Fifty-two percent of beneficiaries were customers of the bank, and 48 percent were non-customers.
“Besides working with all our customers, we got to work with many non-customers who were lost in the shuffle with their big four banks. Bigger is not always better,” Gaudio added.
Bank staff stayed ahead of the curve and participated in daily SBA Program webinars to stay up-to-date on the changing situation, and entered each application manually to ensure everything got approved in both rounds of the program.
“We did it the old fashioned way, worked hard and got all of our applications in one by one. Some of them took hours to get in. The staff worked through the night sometimes until 2-3 a.m. making sure that these applications got in,” Gaudio remarked.
The ability of the bank to operate at a high level stems from what Gaudio refers to as his “secret sauce.”
“In the best and worst of times, banks are defined by risk management, customer commitment and employee engagement,” he said.
But they’re also defined by preparedness. As the pandemic began to unfold and the financial wave was headed towards banks, the FBOG staff mobilized into action and began to work remotely from home.
“Even though we’re very personally oriented with face-to-face type meetings, we’ve always been keeping up to date with working remotely. We were able to do it at lightning speed so that we could keep the business going,” Gaudio said.
The bank has remote deposit, mobile banking, full Automated Clearing House (ACH) capacity, drive thru windows, night deposit drop boxes and fully functional ATM’s. They also continue to operate a successful charitable checking program and a start-to-save program. FBOG is also a leadership bank for IOLTA accounts for attorneys.
As restrictions nationally and locally begin to ease, the bank is already planning on adapting to what the new normal will look like.
Branches are preparing to reopen with safety features such as plexiglass partitions and distance marking on the floors.
The bank hasn’t furloughed or laid off any employee so that they can continue to provide a high level of service. “We have to figure out how to do business going forward,” Gaudio said.
In the future, Gaudio said the bank is prepared to handle anything that comes its way. Being a small, community bank definitely has its advantages.
“We’re a financially strong bank, and by being the size we are, we’re able to act so much more quickly than the big banks in every aspect,” Gaudio said. “When something changes, we can change faster than anyone else because we don’t have that big ship to turn.”
FBOG Chairman, Bruno Gioffre, said he’s proud of the role the bank plays in the community.
“In good times and in difficult, trying times, our friendly and experienced staff is ready and highly qualified to satisfy the demand for first rate banking service and expertise,” he said. “Whether you know us as a child opening their first savings or holiday account or as someone looking to purchase a home or as a successful business seeking to fund a growth opportunity, we are available to fulfill your financial objective.”
Gaudio praised his staff for navigating the last few months. He said he has received many positive messages from clients he has served.
“That makes me very happy,” he acknowledged. “But there’s been a lot of sad things that have happened and we’ve lost a lot of people. Some of my staff lost family members and they’ve had a lot of hardships during this. Everybody is getting through this, and I’m very proud of my staff. I’m sorry for everybody’s losses; I have no way of fixing that. We did whatever we could during this event to service the clients and stay in touch with them and help them with whatever they needed.”
The bank’s commitment to small and midsize businesses in the community, as well as many nonprofit organizations, the Greenwich Chamber of Commerce, first responders and local journalism will continue, Gaudio said, even as the new normal begins to take shape. He urged fellow residents to support small and local businesses as well.
“This is not over yet, and people are going to need help coming out of this,” Gaudio remarked. “[Over the last eight weeks] I think we handled ourselves well and did a great job. It’s something I’ll be proud of for a long time.”