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CHAMPAIGN — When the pandemic lockdown was ordered in March 2020, essential workers often had a choice to make: Work from home or remain on site.

But for most in the banking industry, working from home was not an option.

“Like most Americans, we felt the uncertainty people were experiencing surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic and recommitted ourselves to be responsive to our clients’ needs as the pandemic situation and their personal situations evolved,” said Dan Marker, president of Hickory Point Bank & Trust in Champaign.

Employees of financial institutions were immediately placed in the essential category, but that didn’t mean business as usual.

Just days after the World Health Organization formally declared a global pandemic, the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) issued a statement acknowledging the situation could pose significant temporary business disruptions and challenges.

“We encourage financial institutions to work with customers and communities affected by COVID-19,” the FDIC declared.

“We are not immune to the social and financial challenges facing the nation,” Marker said. “We understand a key part of what we do is to be a source of strength to those we serve.”

The FDIC added language, clarifying that prudent efforts to modify the terms on existing loans for affected customers would not be subject to examiner criticism and that certain loan modifications made in response to COVID-19 would not be classified as troubled debt restructurings (TDRs). The FDIC also provided flexibility to enable mortgage servicers to work with struggling consumers and to allow for delayed receipt of required appraisals for certain residential and commercial real estate loans.

“We realized just how flexible our people could be and how quickly we can adjust to the realities before us,” Marker said. “We are fortunate that we already had convenient digital banking services in place, prior to the pandemic, and along with our drive-up facilities, we were able to accommodate most banking transactions without face-to-face interactions.”

The decision to close the banking center lobbies on March 17, 2020, was not difficult, Marker said.

“That decision was made with the well-being of our clients, colleagues and communities top of mind and with the guidance of health experts and agencies such as the Center for Disease Control,” he said.

The World Health Organization and other governing bodies determined COVID-19 was unlikely to be contracted from coins or paper money. All banks frequently cleaned the surfaces in their lobbies, teller lines and public spaces.

“Those practices continue today,” Marker said.

Last year, nearly one-third of all Paycheck Protection Program — or PPP — loans were held by community banks. Hickory Point Bank originated more than $90 million in PPP loans.

“That helped preserve thousands of jobs in our community,” Marker said.

Whether life inside or outside the bank will return to the pre-pandemic level is hard to gauge, Marker said.

“Like many banks, (we) saw an increase in deposits throughout the pandemic,” he said. “Many consumers and businesses elected to save cash given the uncertainties of the time. Many neighbors, friends and businesses were drastically impaired with job losses and illnesses.

“More than ever, it was important that (we) stayed true to our values to do the right thing, treat others the way we want to be treated, and to stand by our customers during this most difficult time.”

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