Supporting Our Community with the Help of Technology

By Laurie Stewart

At Sound Community Bank, we like to say that we’ve been making our customers’ dreams come true for more than 60 years. As a bank CEO deeply committed to the community, it’s been difficult to watch the pandemic turn customers’ dreams and financial lives upside down. Headquartered in Seattle, we were at the epicenter of the initial COVID outbreak with no tried-and-true roadmap to follow.

Those early months raised tremendous challenges for employees and customers alike, with health concerns compounded by the economic downturn and double-digit unemployment figures. As a critical frontline resource for our customers, I knew we had to get our response right.

As the pandemic took hold in March we decided that our back office staff needed to work remotely to keep employees safe and free office space for social distancing. We didn’t have enough laptops for the entire back office, so we spent the first two weeks purchasing new equipment and delivering it to employees’ homes. During those early days we encouraged our customers to use alternative banking channels whenever possible, while following Gov. Jay Inslee’s stay-at-home mandate.

We advertised our online banking and bill-paying services and encouraged customers to take advantage of mobile banking and EZ deposits through their mobile devices. We used social media to advertise our services, from SBA Paycheck Protection Program loans to COVID-19 checking accounts. We also provided personalized assistance to customers who needed help with online banking and loan applications. We used our website to reach those facing hardship and worried about making timely loan payments. We also used social media channels to advertise drive-through banking locations, branch hours and interactive teller machine sites while warning customers of virus-related scams surfacing online.

Like many banks across the country, we geared up quickly to meet the needs of our small business customers as they applied for PPP loans. We not only processed our customers’ loans but handled applications for many who had never banked with us before. During the first phase of the SBA program, we funded 300 PPP loans totaling $49 million in a round-the-clock effort that saved an estimated 4,453 jobs in our community. In the second phase of PPP funding prior to our press date, we had processed over $72 million in loans—personally contacting each customer when their applications were approved.

During this same period, we also processed a record number of real estate transactions. A real estate lender was available at each of our branches to field inquiries, but we encouraged customers to use our online application. By June 1, we had processed more real estate loans in six months than in all of 2019.

Thanks to a resourceful and dedicated staff combined with critical on-line and digital resources, we were able to meet our customers’ needs during this difficult period. From assisting with online applications to helping small businesses retain employees through the PPP loan program, we filled critical needs, expand relationships and welcome loyal new customers to the bank.

As we look to the challenges ahead, with the pandemic lingering like a houseguest who refuses to go home, it’s reassuring to know that we can meet a full range of customers’ needs with the help of online and digital technologies. I am proud of our staff’s resourcefulness and gratified that our bank—like so many banks around the country—can serve as a lifeline to our communities in a time of singular need.

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About Author

Laurie Stewart

Laurie Stewart, president and CEO of Sound Community Bank in Seattle, is the 2019-20 chair of the American Bankers Association.