|Sandy in Jersey: Pencils and generators|
How banks in Garden State coped with nasty nature
Warned about Sandy's pending arrival, Metuchen Saving's staff put together a crash box including a healthy supply of sharp pencils.
By Steve Cocheo, executive editor and digital content manager
When the power goes out, finance reverts to an all-cash business.
Mike Affuso, senior vice-president at the New Jersey Bankers Association, who himself helped get ATM service going again in one location where people needed money, said that the state's banks suffered little wind or water damage, though power loss was common. A good third of the state's banking network was knocked out at various points.
Yet in many locales, lack of power didn't stop at least some providers from getting their doors back open, even when it meant working offline with only pen and paper and mutual trust. In many cases, with gas shortages rampant, he says banks generally told noncontact staff to work from home, if they could.
Some institutions had generator backup, or obtained generators.
Two key locations of $822.3 million-assets North Jersey National Bank, Englewood Cliffs, had built-in backup generators, and all other locations ran on portable generators, to the degree possible, the day after the storm. Frank Sorrentino, chairman and CEO, used every channel, including Twitter, to get the word out about being open, plus other updates, for the bank's clients. For some, he notes, mobile social media was their only link to news.
In Metuchen, "we'd never had almost the entire town without power," says Lorraine Mulligan, vice-president and business development officer at $265 million-assets Metuchen Savings Bank.
The mayor declared a state of emergency the day after the storm, but two days after it hit, the bank's business continuity team, with his agreement, got the doors open and began banking offline, with flashlights.
Mulligan explains that staff had a prepared a "crash box," consisting of low-tech tools like pads, #2 pencils, and, critically, reports and ledgers run out the night before the storm hit, as a basis for business. Power was restored to the bank headquarters late on its second day of business.
"The first day we had 70 people waiting for us, the line going down the block," says Mulligan. "The next day, it was double that."
Actually, besides needing cash, many had come in to pay mortgages, as it was the end of the month. Staff accepted the payments, but assured them that the bank's grace period would have protected them.
At least one Metuchen Savings employee did double duty in the storm.
The bank's head teller is also an emergency medical technician, and spent 36 hours straight volunteering, including helping to evacuate senior citizens from a care facility. When the call came to reopen the bank, she doffed her EMT outfit and spent five more hours awake, as a banker. Only after that did she finally sleep.
[This article was posted on December 13, 2012, on the website of ABA Banking Journal, www.ababj.com, and is copyright 2012 by the American Bankers Association.]
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