For more than a year, we have spent holidays, milestones, wins, losses, work, and leisure in the new normal created by the pandemic. At this time in 2020, many banks were planning on how they could open their branches back up to full capacity in the coming months, hoping things would get better as the weather became warmer. A goal that felt like it never moved out of phase one is beginning to appear more likely each passing day. Now, banks are planning out how they will once again open their doors to their communities.

The pandemic made us realize how difficult it can be to not see the regular smiles of customers. Although we have seen fewer faces, the industry continues to keep spirits high. The total amount of PPP loans provided in Wisconsin reached nearly  $10 billion with this number still growing as the deadline was extended, helping the businesses in need to fight through the uncertainty.

This help has also gone beyond financial assistance and shows how bankers have volunteered their time. The outcome from Power of Community saw bankers volunteer their time to food drives, animal shelters, fund-raisers, roadside cleanups, and so much more. Many banks also participated in Teach Children to Save Day by recording a banker reading a book on financial literacy to send to classrooms or using online resources provided by the  Wisconsin Bankers Foundation.

Looking ahead, an ongoing push for the Enhancing Credit Opportunities in Rural America (ECORA) Act introduced in part by Wisconsin Rep. Ron Kind aims to assist the farmers struggling through another year of instability. Removing the taxation on certain farm real estate loans will make it easier for those in the ag industry to acquire the credit they need.

We may not have seen the smiles, but rest assured they are there. Opening our doors again does not mean returning to how things were before the world shut down; it means expanding on what we have learned since this crisis started. It has made us stronger, and these struggles have given many of us new perspective. As an industry that has named our strengths in always growing, learning, and remaining nimble to change, this event has forced us to evaluate if this claim still holds true today. Wisconsin bankers have proven to be all this and more — not for themselves, but for the benefit of their communities. As many open their doors and others consider the next steps in their plans, be proud of those you have supported and thankful for those who have dedicated their time and effort to do so. The challenge may not be over, but neither is our will to provide for our customers, give back to our community, and further develop our industry.