While many businesses, individuals and officials have focused their attention on adjusting and coping with the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, First Federal Bank & Trust took another approach.
In addition to adapting to the new environment in which it found itself, the bank and its employees worked to ensure its clients and community would come out the other end of the chaos. They regrouped and focused on the bank’s mission statement: We will support and improve the lives of our staff, customers and communities.
With those elements in mind, the bank’s employees got to work.
Once per week by bank location, staffers began ordering lunch from community restaurants. The effort boosted employee morale while also helping local businesses when their revenues suffered because they could only offer takeout or delivery.
According to James Wilkerson, senior vice president and chief financial officer, the bank also bought gift cards and Chamber Bucks for each of its employees. The intent by bank leadership was twofold — to help show appreciation for employees and support hometown businesses. The effort resulted in $24,500 being injected into the local economy with each of the bank’s 70 employees receiving $350 in gift cards to help with community outreach.
Despite a budget for sponsorships and community donations being set before COVID-19 came to Wyoming, the bank honored its commitments to local events and nonprofits. Nonprofits often rely on events to raise funds, and as the pandemic forced cancellations, First Federal Bank & Trust recognized that those nonprofits would be in dire need of support to continue providing services to the Sheridan County community. The bank also stepped up as a primary donor for the Sheridan Area Employee Relief Fund, intended to help families affected by the pandemic continue to meet their basic needs.
“Over the last several months, the most common concern we’ve heard from people, beyond health concerns, revolve around the uncertainty of the future,” said Kevin Bailey, president and CEO of First Federal Bank & Trust. “What we’ve tried to do, both in conversation and in action, is let people know that no matter what that future is, we’ll be here for them. We’ve aimed to provide a sense of calm amidst the confusion.”
Beyond philanthropic support, First Federal Bank & Trust’s staff provided support to its clients as well. While ensuring safety through increased precautions and sanitation in the bank offices, employees also helped guide customers — both business and individual — through processes with which they may have been unfamiliar.
For businesses, First Federal Bank & Trust helped more than 260 businesses navigate applying for funds through the Paycheck Protection Program. According to DJ Dearcorn, senior vice president of commercial lending at First Federal, those loans have totaled more than approximately $17 million. In addition, when the PPP program didn’t make sense for a local business, First Federal Bank & Trust worked to help clients connect with other resources.
“We heard from a lot of people we spoke with that the loans would save their business,” Dearcorn said. “We just felt like we had a job to do — to help these businesses survive.”
As mortgage rates fell, the bank increased production, processing nearly double the number of mortgage loans it does in a normal year. Of those, approximately 60-70% helped borrowers secure lower interest rates via refinancing.
Many bank employees have children, and as schools and child care facilities closed, those employees faced difficult choices regarding working and caring for their families. First Federal Bank & Trust staff often worked weekends and evenings to adjust to their new schedules and fit in hours as frequently as they could to address the needs of clients. They did so with a sense of security, too.
Through all of the changes, Bailey reassured the bank staff that no jobs would be cut, furloughs would not be implemented due to COVID-19 and if employees contracted COVID-19 or had to quarantine due to possible exposure, they wouldn’t have to use personal leave time to stay home.
“By taking care of our staff, we knew they’d be better able to help our customers,” Bailey said. “We wanted to alleviate their concerns.”
Staff noticed the efforts.
“During the current pandemic, with so many uncertain variables in the world and in our own community, it has been a blessing to know that the First Federal family has held true to their mission and values,” First Federal Bank & Trust employee Dina Garcia said. “The leadership and support for individuals who have been impacted by having to assist with homeschool, care of loved ones or even self-care, has been unyielding.
“Each one of us has been impacted,” Garcia continued, “and it is a great feeling to know, despite the circumstance surrounding us, that our president and senior management team have made it their duty to ensure we’re all ‘OK,’ showing us gratitude and appreciation throughout, showing support for our local businesses and being a role model in kindness, generosity and thoughtfulness for the community of Sheridan.”
Note: This post was sponsored and prepared by the First Federal Bank & Trust. If you would like to sponsor content, email firstname.lastname@example.org.