Health experts forecasted it, and now it's certain: the novel coronavirus is officially a global pandemic. The World Health Organization made this decision prompted by the fact that a growing number of people are testing positive. As recently as a month or so ago, only about 12 people in the U.S. were diagnosed with the contagion, which is more formally known as COVID-19. Based on the last figures available from the Center for Systems Science and Engineering at Johns Hopkins University, the total has surpassed 4,281 cases in the U.S with over 181,121 cases confirmed worldwide, as of March 16. The global figure may be even higher, according to ncov2019.live, which puts the figure at 181,590 cases.
Classes and sporting events postponed
Reaction to the outbreak has been swift. In a nationally televised address, President Donald Trump has declared a travel ban on all flights emanating from Europe. Hundreds of colleges and universities have either canceled classes or are transitioning to all-online, at least temporarily. Public schools are shuttering. The NBA, which initially announced games would go on but without fans in attendance, opted instead to postpone all play for the foreseeable future. The NCAA Men's College Basketball Tournament was canceled as well.
The events surrounding this latest health crisis have brought new meaning to the term "March Madness." As a banking professional, you may wonder how the industry is coordinating to mount an effective response. For the most part, they're erring on the side of caution.
"Some banks are waiving fees and penalties to ease financial stress."
For example, in anticipation of the potential for economic hardships – both for individual customers as well as small-business owners – Citi is waiving fees and penalties on certain products and early withdrawals, ATM Marketplace reported.
Anand Selva, CEO for U.S. consumer banking at Citi, said these measures are designed to reduce stress and prevent people from becoming overly alarmed.
"This is a rapidly evolving situation and we want our customers to know we are here to provide assistance should they need it," Selva explained. "We continue to monitor developments closely and will evaluate additional actions to support our clients and communities as needs arise."
From a physical perspective, some institutions in high incidence areas are adjusting lobby hours and access and putting the emphasis on the drive-up to promote "social distancing."
In keeping with health experts' recommendations to avoid large crowds, several conferences and forums scheduled for March or later this spring are on hold or postponed, ATM Marketplace reported separately. These include Fiserv Inc.'s investor conference held in New York City and CO-OP Financial Services' THINK 20, now scheduled to run between Aug. 17-20 from its original May 4-7. Dallas will remain the host city.
What should you do next?
Regulatory agencies and authorities are issuing best practice guidance and recommendations amid the coronavirus crisis. The Federal Financial Institutions Examinations Council in early March issued a 10-page interagency brief that it urges banks, branches and credit unions to take under advisement. For the most part, the steps recommended are in line with other epidemics that have occurred over the years, such as H1N1 (swine flu), SARS, Avian flu and Ebola.
"Pandemic planning presents unique challenges to financial institution management," FFIEC said in a statement, as reported by American Banker. "Unlike natural disasters, technical disasters, malicious acts, or terrorist events, the impact of a pandemic is much more difficult to determine because of the anticipated difference in scale and duration."
In short, every FI – whether they maintain only one location or multiple – has some decisions to make: continue operations as they normally would or take proactive measures that may affect customers' day-to-day banking activities?
Whatever steps banking execs and managers implement should be taken cautiously and seriously. Perhaps the best thing to do is remain vigilant and follow regulators' recommendations, including the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, Office of the Comptroller of the Currency and Federal Reserve:
- Enhance communication with critical service providers and employees to improve hygiene best practices (e.g. washing hands vigorously, disinfecting frequently touched surfaces, etc.).
- Develop an action plan and workarounds in the event of a community-wide outbreak.
- Stay abreast of the very latest on coronavirus relief and containment efforts through reliable news sources.
- Consider reducing direct contact with staff and urge sick employees to stay home.
- Install an oversight program to coordinate and revise actions plans accordingly.
More than anything else, try to stay calm. We're all in this together, and at BranchServ, we'll do whatever we can to help you get through this period of uncertainty. Let us know what we can do to help you cope; it's in times like these that we in the banking community need to support each other most.