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Banks remain open, but make adjustments

From schools to restaurants, hundreds of businesses have seen the way they operate changed due to COVID-19. Banks have certainly not been immune.

Branch lobbies have closed and most business is now conducted at drive-up windows, online or at 24-hour automated teller machines. The changes, however, do not mean that banks have lost touch with those they serve on a daily basis.

“As a small community bank, we know our customers,” said Craig Zurn, president and chief executive officer of Jim Thorpe Neighborhood Bank. “We have staff personally calling on some of our customers to make sure they are OK and to reassure them that we are still here to take care of their financial needs, questions or concerns. We are all in this together.”

Zurn said the number one concern from customers in the past few weeks is from those who have a loan relationship with the bank and recently were laid off.

“They are looking to obtain some type of relief regarding their loan payments and/or overdrawn accounts,” Zurn said.

The same is true for Mauch Chunk Trust Company, where President and Chief Executive Officer Pat Reilly said loan payments are being deferred to help people stay current.

“We are maintaining regular hours so people have access to their money,” Reilly said. “People are worried about paying their bills and we are trying to help out a little and give them peace of mind.”

Banks are also working to assure customers that their money is safe and FDIC insured.

“We had a few people wanting to take cash, but we were able to assure them that their money is still safe and will continue to be,” Zurn said. “We want people to know that the bank is strong financially and well-positioned to handle this type of crisis.”

The Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation has released statements assuring customers that it will continue to meet their currency needs.

“The safest place for your money is inside an FDIC-insured bank,” the FDIC said in a recent press release. “Having significant sums of cash to fund more than your normal activities might seem like a good idea, but cash is also subject to loss or could make you a target for theft.”

Reilly said all MCTC office staff can work from home, and 67 percent are doing that.

“Next week, the bank office staff working on site will do so in shifts so that fewer people are on site at the same time,” he said. “We are trying to be very flexible with our work and time off scheduling so employees don’t need to worry about getting paid. We are adapting the way we do business to protect our staff but continue to serve the customer.”

JTNB has also segregated certain departments and sent some employees to a different branch to work.

“We are gathering as much information over the phone to prepare documents and transactions for the customers to limit their need to come into the branch,” Zurn said. “We are also scheduling loan closings by appointment only. We’ll continue to open accounts by obtaining information over the phone, preparing papers and running them out to the parking lot where the customer is waiting in the car.”

Night depository and ATM deposits have increased, Zurn added, as well as online banking.

The FDIC is also warning customers to beware of increased scam activity in light of COVID-19.

“Do not divulge your bank or credit card numbers or other personal information over the phone unless you initiated the conversation with the other party and you know that it is a reputable organization,” it said in a press release. “In addition, you should be cautious about online solicitations. Be on guard against impostors who contact you claiming to be government employees or volunteers and who ask for personal financial information or money.”

Banks are asking for patience as customers adapt to different methods of doing business.

“Please be kind and respectful to the bankers who wait on you,” Reilly said. “This is a challenging time but we are here for our customers.”

Drive-thru hours for all local banks can be found on their websites.