Community Bank Customer Service Can’t Be Shut Down

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The government shutdown has come to an end, though the debate over federal policies and spending is far from over. Among the chattering classes, there are numerous and varied opinions over who won or lost the political stalemate and what, in the end, our nation gained from the impasse.

I won’t get into all that. But what I can tell you is that the relationship between community banks and their customers—particularly those who have not been working the past 15 days—has proven more resilient than ever. Reports have come in from around the nation about community banks that have stepped up when their customers needed it most by offering flexibility to furloughed workers.

From Boston to the Washington area to Colorado and elsewhere, community banks offered payment forbearance and interest-free loans to help their customers through this unique circumstance. And while the agreement to fund the federal government and lift the debt ceiling authorizes retroactive pay for furloughed federal workers, this community bank flexibility was essential at a time of great financial uncertainty.

As a representative of the community banking industry, this kind of customer support makes my job easier. Here’s an example. After the federal banking regulators last week issued guidance encouraging banks to work with customers affected by the shutdown, House Financial Services Committee ranking member Maxine Waters (D-Calif.) sent a letter to ICBA reiterating the importance of the guidance. Our response? This is what community banks do, we wrote in a follow-up letter. They work one-on-one with their customers to solve problems. They are relationship bankers who are personally available to their customers in good times and in bad. In fact, this is what makes a community bank a community bank.

So while there might not exactly be peace in Washington after this latest political battle, there is peace of mind in communities across the nation because of the community banks that serve them. While government operations may be suspended and federal employees furloughed, the relationship-based banking model that community banks have long employed can never truly be shut down.

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