Page 41 - BusinessWest July 6, 2020
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program; we had to literally make that up on the fly during spring break.
“In the end, it’s a good thing it
wasn’t a fast-moving pandemic, because fast-moving also means really deadly,” he went on. “We were plan- ning for a three- or four-week event, as opposed to a 12-month event, which
is more like what we’re looking at. But as a school we saw the signs early, and we paid attention to the right things and the right information. When the students were getting ready for spring break, we told them to bring their lap- tops and books home with them and to be prepared in case we were not able to return for classes.”
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Getting Through the Pain
In fact, banks and credit unions never stopped solving problems
over the past few months. Scully said Country, like other banks, was able to accommodate deferrals of loan pay- ments for individuals who has been furloughed or were generally dealing with greater financial stress.
“I felt like this was a watershed moment,” Day added, noting that more than 200 mortgage borrowers and 200 commercial borrowers took advantage of three-, six, or 12-month deferrals, the latter being the most popular option. “Having been through downturns in my career, I knew that we needed to give people some time. Peo- ple are resilient, businesses are resil- ient, but they needed some time. So we worked with residential and business customers on deferred payments.”
Kump said UMassFive issued fore- bearance on nearly 1,000 loans for people who were “furloughed or just worred,” as well as launching a small- loan program for those who just need- ed a little cash. “If you were furloughed, that didn’t change the decision to make
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are a lot of things we can do.”
One thing people aren’t doing as
much as they normally would is getting married — with crowded destination receptions, anyway. Because Magic Wings is a popular spot for weddings and receptions, that was another sig- nificant revenue loss this spring and summer, Fiore said.
“Couples had to shift everything, and a couple bumped their weddings into 2021. One couple canceled alto- gether,” she told BusinessWest, noting that weddings already have a lot of moving parts, and couples are simply unsure right now how many guests they’ll be allowed to include until the
Overall, that transition to remote learning went smoothly, he went on, because of the tight, close-knit nature of the WMA community and the hard work and dedication of staff and stu- dents. And these elements are also facilitating efforts to plan for the fall semester, which will start at its tradi- tional time in early September and fea- ture a hybrid model that mixes in-class and remote learning.
“We can simultaneously run classes on campus for the faculty and stu- dents who can be on campus, while students and faculty and who cannot be on campus can still synchronisti- cally participate in the same program,” he explained. “It’s fluid, it’s very flex- ible, and, quite honestly, it’s the future of education anyway. We wish it didn’t
a loan for you.”
That was in addition to PPP loans,
which the credit union approved for members and non-members in the community alike, 96% of those loans issued to employers of five workers or fewer. It also looked for other ways to support community needs, such as donations to food banks and organiza- tions like Community Involved in Sus- taining Agriculture, as well as donating meals to first responders.
Although those needs still exist, banks and credit unions are begin- ning to get back to normal operations, expanding branch operations under enhanced safety protocols — “it’s a great time to be in the plexiglass busi- ness,” Scully said — while considering the lessons learned during the months when most business was conducted remotely.
“Was there frustration at first? Abso- lutely,” he added. “At first, people were like, ‘what do you mean, a bank is closed?’ But as every industry started to close and people started working remotely, people began to understand.”
After all, a bank that saw a fire rav- age its headquarters in 2008 and a tornado rumble through its home region in 2011 has no problem post-
state offers more guidance.
All Aflutter
That said, Fiore has been buoyed by the number of people calling since the closure. In addition to its social-media presence, Magic Wings also recently ran a television commercial featuring soothing sights and sounds inside the conservatory — to put a smile on view- ers’ faces more than anything.
“It was an opportunity for people to take a deep breath,” she said. “We’re all in the same boat, we’re all experienc- ing something totally new, and we’re all concerned and feeling anxious about what’s going to happen — what’s safe and what’s not.
take an event like this to move us in this direction, but we’re happy to be moving in this direction — it’s good teaching.”
Looking ahead to the fall, Easler said enrollment, which is tradition- ally roughly 400 students, remains steady, and, overall, the school may see its numbers rise due to uncertainty among parents about just what the public-school environment might look like come late August or September.
“We’re seeing a little bit of an uptick in local interest,” Easler noted. “I’m speculating, but I think the public- school systems are going to face some significant challenges, and they don’t necessarily have the space resources that we do — we’re structured much like a small college campus with mul-
ing social-distancing reminders and directional arrows and getting back to branch business. “This is bigger than a tornado,” Scully said. “The lesson we’ve learned is to always be prepared and remain nimble.”
Even as it moved from a soft-open- ing week to broader branch service
— where walk-in traffic is allowed
but appointments are still advised to reduce the wait — Kump marveled at how the credit union’s members have adjusted to remote business. Especially new members, 90% of whom have been joining online, compared to 40% to 50% in a typical year.
“There’s a percentage of customers who will still be reluctant to walk into a business,” he added. “We’re seeing that with restaurants opening and people still not coming.”
It helps, of course, that many have discovered the power of digital banking.
“For a lot of folks, it’s generational; they’ve been intimidated by technol- ogy, of depositing a check with a pic- ture on their phone,” Kump continued. “Now they’ve been forced to do it, and they’re asking, ‘why was I taking time out of my day to run over to the credit union to get cash or transfer money? I
how we can convince visitors to come back when the time is right because there’s so much outdoor fun you can have here.
“People love butterflies, and they do come see us from all around,” she added. “But they also want to know it’s not going to be a huge health hazard, and that’s what we’re working toward.”
Szynal understands the concerns,
tiple buildings, lots of outdoor space, and a number of spaces that, even though they’re not used as classrooms, can be used as socially distanced class- rooms; we have a lot of advantages over public schools.”
Whether this interest locally trans- lates into a bump in enrollment remains to be seen. But what is already clear is that early and effective plan- ning has paid off for this venerable institution.
And it was necessary because the planners of that program in Washing- ton all those years ago were right; it was a question of when, not if, a pan- demic would arrive. u
—George O’Brien
don’t have to do that.’”
Day also expects people to keep
using those tools, but for those ready to return to the branch, even for matters as basic as depositing a check, they’ll do so protected by masks, shields, and any number of other precautions. “The pandemic isn’t over, and people are still going to get sick. We want to keep people safe.”
Bottom Line
Usually, when BusinessWest talks
to local banks and credit unions, it’s about their own business outlook for the year ahead, but this is not a typical year, and talk of asset growth and loan portfolios has been pushed aside to some degree by the need to simply stay afloat — and keep customers afloat, as well.
“The outlook is generally positive, but it will not be without pain,” Day said, speaking for both Florence Bank and its customers. “We know it will get better. It’s just a matter of when.” u
Joseph Bednar can be reached at [email protected]
“People are taking this seriously,”
she said. “I see the masks. When people are out on errands, walking through stores, they’re giving each other space. As long as this behavior continues, people will feel better moving around a bit more” — and that includes visiting Franklin County attractions.
“I feel people respect this virus and respect each other,” she concluded. “So far, they’re taking the steps they need to keep Massachusetts on the right track.” u
Joseph Bednar can be reached at [email protected]
    We’re talking a lot about
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