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A new coalition aiming to stop the spread of COVID-19 is bringing together the WBA and all three of Wisconsin’s major professional sports teams.   

Players from the Brewers, Bucks, and Packers have voiced their support for the “Stop the COVID Spread!” coalition and have recently been featured in advertisements encouraging Wisconsin residents to do their part in slowing the spread of the virus.    

“We know that everyone must do their part to stop the rapid spread of COVID-19 in our state and we are pleased to join this effort through a public service announcement and encourage Wisconsinites to join our team in wearing masks, social distancing and washing your hands. It’s time to get in the game Wisconsin!” said Packers President and CEO Mark Murphy. 

The coalition has released its second public education announcement which features Green Bay Packers players Adrian Amos, Kenny Clark, and Marquez Valdes-Scantling. Leaders of all three organizations have also spoken on behalf of the coalition and Wisconsin’s role in the efforts.   

Learn more about the coalition and their efforts to defeat this public health crisis at: https://www.wha.org/stopthecovidspread

By, Ally Bates

This year’s flu season may feel a bit different, in the midst of a pandemic. Waking up with a scratchy throat or a fever may have you wondering whether it’s the flu — or this year, COVID-19. Both are respiratory viruses producing similar symptoms, but it’s important to be able to help detect some of the differences.

Understanding the similarities and differences may help you determine which virus you’re dealing with, but you should contact your doctor to help ensure an accurate diagnosis. 

Similarities of COVID-19 and flu

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), both the flu and COVID-19 may include these symptoms:

  • Fever or chills
  • Cough
  • Fatigue
  • Sore throat
  • Runny or stuffy nose
  • Muscle pain or body aches
  • Headache
  • Vomiting and diarrhea (though this is more common in children than adults)

Additionally, both viruses may:

  • Spread through droplets released when talking, sneezing or coughing
  • Lead to serious complications for those 65 and older, those with chronic conditions and pregnant women
  • Take one or more days for symptoms to appear, after a person is infected

Different symptoms with COVID-19

“Influenza and COVID-19 share many of the same symptoms. One of the most distinct characteristics that occur with COVID-19 is the sudden loss of taste and smell,” said Dr. Donna O’Shea, medical director for UCS Population Health. “It also may take longer to develop symptoms when you have COVID-19 versus the flu. With flu, symptoms typically develop within four days of infection. With COVID-19, symptoms may appear as late as 14 days after infection. People with COVID-19 may also be contagious and at risk for spreading the virus longer.”

Help protect yourself from flu and COVID-19

While it’s possible to contract the flu all year round, flu viruses are most common in the fall and winter. And with the pandemic still in full force, it may be more important than ever to protect against both viruses.

Dr. O’Shea and Dr. Jennifer Brueckner, leader of the national flu core team for UnitedHealthcare, share five tips to help avoid getting influenza — and COVID-19.

  1. Consider getting your flu shot as soon as possible this fall. You can find a UnitedHealthcare vaccination location here.
  2. Wear a face covering at indoor public places or when you’re within six feet of others and avoid touching your nose, eyes and mouth.
  3. Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds or use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer, if soap and water aren’t available.
  4. Stay home and self-isolate, if you’re feeling symptoms.
  5. Support your overall health by eating healthier, getting adequate sleep and managing your stress levels.

“If you think you have symptoms of the flu or COVID-19, call your doctor,” Dr. O’Shea said. “Most employers and health plans offer 24-hour telehealth providers who can also help you determine the next step that is right for you.”

Taking these precautions is an important step to help prevent the spread of these highly contagious viruses. For more information about COVID-19 vs. the flu, click here.

For more information on WBA Association Health Plan go to www.uhc.com/WBA or contact Brian Siegenthaler at 608-441-1211 or bsiegenthaler@wisbank.com.

By, Ally Bates

Beginning last week, WBA learned that bankers were starting to see payments made by SBA for PPP loan forgiveness applications previously submitted. This is certainly good news to start to bring closure to this program for business owners and lenders alike. With these payments arriving, however, WBA just learned that SBA will only pay loan interest from the first disbursement date (which may be different than your approval date), up to (but not including) the SBA’s decision date. Funds are then usually posted to lenders’ accounts within (2) business days of the decision date. As a result, there typically will be a shortage of interest reimbursed to lenders that lenders will then need to waive. If a weekend is involved, this shortage will include more than 2 calendar days’ worth of interest.  

In response to a WBA inquiry, SBA shared the above information along with the reminder that lenders should make sure interest is being calculated from the first disbursement date and not the approval date. In situations whereby the lender believes their shortage is greater than the normal (2) business days, SBA suggests that lenders work directly with the SBA forgiveness team, providing the loan number in any communication, so SBA can confirm the calculations and correct any mistakes.  

Finally, remember that the amount of any EIDL grant will be deducted from the forgiveness amount and SBA will only remit the difference back to the lender. In these instances, WBA also learned that at least as of right now, SBA is only remitting interest on the principal amount that equates to that difference and not on the entire PPP loan amount. 

By, Ally Bates

In its most recent version of PPP FAQs, SBA has clarified that the deferral of principal, interest, and fees on all PPP loans to the date SBA remits the borrower’s loan forgiveness amount to the lender (or, if the borrower does not apply for loan forgiveness, to 10 months after the end of the borrower’s loan forgiveness covered period) automatically applies to all PPP loans.  

SBA also clarified that lenders are required to give immediate effect to the statutory extension and should notify borrowers of the change. SBA does not require a formal modification to the note. Additionally, a modification of a note to reflect the required statutory deferral period will not affect SBA’s guarantee of a PPP loan.  

For those banks that seek to provide blanket notice to all PPP customers, the notice below could be used as a template. Before usage, banks should review and change a term in the template to accurately reflect terms within a bank’s own note (i.e., Creditor versus Lender, Borrower versus Maker, etc.)  

Many banks have already executed modification agreements to make changes to a payment schedule and the extended deferral period. Those banks are not required to take further action under the new PPP FAQ. 

NOTICE 

The Paycheck Protection Program Flexibility Act automatically defers the payment of principal, interest, and fees on all PPP loans to the date SBA remits the borrower’s loan forgiveness amount to the lender (or, if the borrower does not apply for loan forgiveness, to 10 months after the end of the borrower’s loan forgiveness covered period). The change enacted by Congress applies to all PPP loans. As a result, the following change has been made to your existing PPP loan terms with [ABC BANK]: 

1. Payments of unpaid principal, interest and fees under the PPP note are deferred until the SBA remits the amount of forgiveness of the PPP note under section 1106 of the CARES Act to the lender (or notifies the lender that no loan forgiveness is allowed). Notwithstanding the foregoing, if Maker for any reason fails to submit to Lender a fully completed and signed loan forgiveness application within ten months after the last day of the “loan forgiveness covered period” as defined in the CARES Act, as amended from time to time or any rules or guidance issued by the SBA pursuant to the CARES Act, then payments of unpaid principal, interest and fees shall begin on the date that is ten months after the last day of the “loan forgiveness covered period.”

By, Ally Bates

While moratoriums on utility cutoffs and foreclosures and other economic assistance have helped keep consumer bankruptcy filings low during the pandemic, a wave of bankruptcies is coming, lawyers say. 

Data from federal bankruptcy courts shows that in Wisconsin, consumer bankruptcy filings through August were 28% below the same time in 2019.  

But that is the calm before the storm – a calm stemming from state and federal initiatives meant to keep people solvent and in their homes while COVID-19 is spreading. For instance, the state’s Public Service Commission this month extended a moratorium on electric and gas disconnections until Nov. 1, when the state’s seasonal prohibition on utility cutoffs kicks in, essentially extending the pause in payments until April 15. 

After that, bankruptcy attorneys say, be prepared for a big jump in bankruptcy filings. 

“As of this month, there’s 56,000 people in the state that are behind on their utility bills,” said James Miller, of the firm Miller & Miller in Milwaukee. “Come April 15 of 2021 there is going to be a landslide of bankruptcy filings, unless We Energies comes up with something and starts forgiving balances.” 

Miller said consumers destined for financial trouble are holding off declaring themselves insolvent as long as they can. Moratoriums that have stalled regular major household expenses, along with aid such as stimulus checks from the federal government and an extra $600 in unemployment income, have kept consumers’ heads above water, if only temporarily. 

Claire Ann Richman, an attorney with Steinhilber Swanson LLP in Madison, said that right now, many consumers don’t feel pressure to file for bankruptcy protection from creditors. In addition, she said, the court system can’t function at its normal pace while social distancing is in effect. 

“All of the reasons that force somebody to file bankruptcy are being slow-played,” she said. 

She predicted that as early as six months from now or perhaps the middle of 2021, a big increase in bankruptcy filings will begin in the state as assistance wanes and permanent business closures from the pandemic will leave fewer jobs. 

Some pandemic-inducted bankruptcies already are happening, especially among business operators, she said. 

“We have a dry cleaner, restaurant owners, agricultural suppliers who distribute fertilizer and ag products and they couldn’t go out and do their sales this spring, and karate schools – things like that,” Richman said. “Those people are shutting down.” 

Attorneys said even though bankruptcy filings are markedly down from last year at this point, lawyers are busy as they work with clients and advise them to hold off filing as long as they can in the hope that the economy and their personal situations improve. 

Through August, there were 8,272 consumer bankruptcy filings – Chapter 7 and Chapter 13 – in Wisconsin, or 28% fewer than through August of 2019, according to American Bankruptcy Institute data. Nationally, consumer filings were down 27%. 

Bankruptcy Court records show that in Wisconsin through August, there were 13 Chapter 11 business reorganization filings in the Eastern District of the state, compared with 14 at the same time a year ago. In the Western District, Chapter 11 filings through August were at 13, the same number filed in all of 2019 in the district. 

In an August report, the head of the American Bankruptcy Institute said a number of key factors continued to keep bankruptcy filings from overwhelming the court system in the U.S. 

“The CARES Act helped businesses and consumers initially weather the economic shock of the pandemic,” said ABI Executive Director Amy Quakenboss

She noted that collection, eviction, and foreclosure activity was largely suspended, and quarantining measures presented challenges for struggling debtors to meet with attorneys. 

“However, with the expiration of government stabilization programs, elevated unemployment levels, and growing economic uncertainty, we anticipate a dramatic climb in filings later this year,” said Quackenboss, who also holds a law degree. 

Miller said an increase in bankruptcy filings in Wisconsin is an inevitable result of the pandemic’s blow to business and jobs. 

“I think we’re really going to see the spike in filings in 2021,” he said. 

Paul Gores is a journalist who covered business news for the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel for 20 years. Have a story idea? Contact him at paul.gores57@gmail.com 

By, Ally Bates

The Wisconsin Legislative Fiscal Bureau (LFB) on Wednesday (Sept. 9) released the line-by-line summary of how the state has allocated the $2 billion in coronavirus relief from the federal government. The CARES Act, signed into law on March 27, laid out certain guidelines for the use of money received from the Coronavirus Relief Fund (CRF), and the U.S. Treasury later issued additional guidance to states.  

Following those guidelines, the State of Wisconsin distributed all $2 billion across three broad categories through a series of aid initiatives: economic support, healthcare and related costs, and local government and education support. Highlights of the programs of interest to the banking industry are below.  

Economic Support 

Wisconsin allocated $25 million for a rental assistance program through which residents with a household income at or below 80% of their county’s median income to apply for direct financial assistance with rent or security deposit payments. Eligible residents may receive up to $3,000 in total, paid directly to landlords on their behalf. To administer the program, the state partnered with 16 local organizations across the state.  

The state supported the vital agricultural sector with a total of $65 million through the Wisconsin Farm Support Program ($50 million) and the Food Security Initiative ($15 million), administered by the Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection (DATCP). The Wisconsin Farm Support Program provided direct payments to farmers in two phases. Phase one disbursed a total of $41.6 million in payments of $3,500 each to 11,900 eligible farmers (defined as having a 2019 gross income of $35,000 to $5,000,000). With $8.4 million remaining at the conclusion of phase one, the Department of Revenue is currently administering a second phase with remaining funding for farmers with 2019 gross incomes of $10,000 or more who have not previously received a payment. Phase two payments are expected to be made by Sept. 18. 

Finally, the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation (WEDC) used CRF funds to create the We’re All In Small Business Grant program, which provided $2,500 grants to up to 30,000 Wisconsin small businesses for a total of $75 million. The program stipulates grants may be used for any operating costs and for health and safety improvements. As of Sept. 4, 2020, preliminary records indicate that approximately $56.4 million has been distributed to 22,564 businesses in Wisconsin. 

Healthcare and Related Costs 

The state allocated $110 million for providing financial assistance to health providers, including emergency medical services, home and community-based services, and long-term health providers, such as nursing facilities and assisted living facilities. The funds distributed under this initiative are intended to help health providers cover expenses directly related to their COVID-19 responses, in addition to additional expenses such as overtime pay, changes to sanitation procedures, and disruption to standard care delivery. The program, administered by the Department of Health Services (DHS), closed its first round of applications on June 30. On Sept. 3, 2020, DHS announced that it will be opening a second round of applications, so as to provide providers with greater needs additional support from remaining funds. 

Wisconsin also directed $260 million to testing programs. Of that, $202 million will be used to provide testing kits to healthcare facilities.  

Local Government and Education Support 

The state allocated $32.3 million to support the UW system in covering costs of COVID-19 testing, with $8.3 million of that going to UW-Madison. Altogether, the system is purchasing 410,000 tests.  

Finally, Wisconsin divvied up $190 million in grants to reimburse each county, town, village, and city government in the state for unbudgeted expenditures related to COVID-19 incurred between March 1 and Nov. 6, 2020. The funds will be allocated according to each entity’s share of the state’s population, with a minimum allocation of $5,000. If a government does not use the full amount of its allocation before Nov. 7, 2020, the remaining balance will be returned to state to be used as needed for COVID-19 related local expenditures before the federal deadline of Dec. 31, 2020. 

Not included in that $190 million is grants to tribal governments. The state set aside an additional $10 million to provide grants to Wisconsin's tribal governments subject to the same usage guidelines as the grants provided to county and municipal governments. In addition, Wisconsin’s federally recognized tribal governments were eligible to receive direct payments from the CRF under the federal CARES Act. 

Read the full report here.

By, Ally Bates

The below article is the Special Focus section of the August 2020 Compliance Journal. The full issue may be viewed by clicking here.

The Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System (FRB), Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC), Office of the Comptroller of the Currency (OCC), and National Credit Union Administration (NCUA) (collectively, the agencies) recently issued a joint statement to provide prudent risk management and consumer protection principles for financial institutions to consider while working with borrowers as loans near the end of initial loan accommodation periods applicable during the Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID event). The principles are consistent with the agencies’ Interagency Guidelines Establishing Standards for Safety and Soundness and are generally applicable to both commercial and retail loan accommodations. The principles are intended to be tailored to a financial institution’s size, complexity, and loan portfolio risk profile, as well as the industry and business focus of its customers. The following is a summary of the release.  

In the new guidance, the agencies recognize that while some borrowers will be able to resume contractual payments at the end of an accommodation, others may be unable to meet their obligations due to continuing financial challenges. The agencies also recognize that some financial institutions may face difficulties in assessing credit risk due to limited access to borrower financial data, COVID event-induced covenant breaches, and difficulty in analyzing the impact of COVID event-related government assistance programs. 

The agencies provide several principles to illustrate prudent practices for financial institutions in working with borrowers as loans near the end of accommodation periods, including: prudent risk management practices, well-structured and sustainable accommodations, consumer protection, accounting and regulatory reporting, and internal control systems.   

As outlined by the agencies, prudent risk management practices include identifying, measuring, and monitoring the credit risks of loans that receive accommodations. Sound credit risk management practices include applying appropriate loan risk ratings or grades and making appropriate accrual status determinations on loans affected by the COVID event. Further, the agencies believe effective management information systems and reporting helps to ensure that bank management understands the scope of loans that received an accommodation, the types of initial and any additional accommodations provided, when the accommodation periods end, and the credit risk of potential higher-risk segments in the portfolios.  

When working with borrowers who continue to experience financial challenges after an initial accommodation, the agencies believe it may be prudent for a financial institution to consider additional accommodation options to mitigate losses for the borrower and the financial institution. The effectiveness of accommodations improves when they are based on a comprehensive review of how the hardship has affected the financial condition and current and future performance of the borrower.  

When considering whether to offer additional accommodation options to a borrower, the agencies stated it is generally appropriate for the institution to assess each loan based upon the fundamental risk characteristics affecting the collectability of that particular credit. The new guidance further identifies what financial institutions should consider in its evaluation of the borrower’s financial condition and repayment capacity. The agencies also note that the COVID event may have a long-term adverse impact on a borrower’s future earnings and therefore bank management may need to rely more heavily on projected financial information for both commercial and retail borrowers when making underwriting decisions as supporting documentation may be limited, and cash flow projections may be uncertain.  
The agencies also encourage financial institutions to provide consumers with available options for repaying any missed payments at the end of their accommodation to avoid delinquencies or other adverse consequences. The agencies also encourage institutions, where appropriate, to provide consumers with options for making prudent changes to the terms of the credit product to support sustainable and affordable payments for the long term. Eight examples of generally effective approaches to risk management in this context are included in the guidance.  

The new guidance also includes a discussion regarding accounting and regulatory reporting that financial institutions need to consider for all loan modifications, including additional modifications for borrowers who may continue to experience financial hardship at the end of the initial accommodation period. Institutions are reminded to consider regulatory reporting instructions, section 4013 of the CARES Act regarding temporary relief from troubled debt restructuring, and the Interagency Statement on Loan Modifications and Reporting for Financial Institutions Working with Customers Affected by the Coronavirus (Revised).  

Lastly, the guidance sets forth the importance of internal control functions, commensurate with the size, complexity, and risk of a financial institution’s activities. The internal control functions typically include appropriate targeted testing of the process for managing each stage of the accommodation. Included in the new guidance are six examples of the type of activity the agencies believe can be confirmed through prudent testing by a financial institution’s internal control functions.  

As financial institutions work to determine whether certain borrowers need additional accommodations due to the effects of the COVID event, and in preparation of federal and state examinations resuming, the new guidance provides examples of prudent risk management and consumer protection principles that each financial institution need weigh. Additionally, the new guidance provides factors to consider when working through accounting and regulatory reporting requirements as it relates to each particular credit. The new interagency statement may be viewed at: www.ffiec.gov/press/PDF/Statement_for_Loans_Nearing_the_End_of_Relief_Period.pdf

By, Ally Bates

It's not exactly a bubble, but there are dark clouds on the horizon for commercial real estate. Commercial real estate (CRE) loans are under pressure, squeezed between two external forces brought on by the novel coronavirus pandemic: shutdowns and work-from-home (WFH) arrangements. And the long-term effects could strain bank portfolios as they work to provide “prudent accommodations” to struggling borrowers. Are we in the calm before the storm? 

Several sectors—most notably hospitality, retail, and food and beverage—are still reeling from forced closures and additional government ordinances and cleaning requirements designed to slow the spread of the virus. The initial hit to the hospitality sector was the immediate impact of the pandemic on transportation and business travel, according to Michael Wear, CRC, owner and principal of 39 Acres Corporation, which specializes in bankers education and consulting in the areas of credit risk and loan portfolio risk management. “The second punch came from local government ordinances prohibiting groups and requiring extra cleaning procedures.” According to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, about 4.8 million leisure and hospitality jobs have been lost since February, and the sector could lose over $120 billion this year—half its revenue. 

This spring, government-ordered lockdowns forced the global business world into the largest-ever WFH experiment, with (surprisingly, to some) positive results. “There likely will be a large shift in demand for office space in the future,” said Stanley Koopmans, senior vice president – commercial relationship manager at the State Bank of Cross Plains. Regarding WFH, “Many of my customers are saying they’ve not seen a decrease in productivity, and in some cases, they’ve seen an increase. They still want office space for those employees who want to come in, but they may not need as big of a building.” Allowing employees to work from home results in significant cost-savings for businesses, especially considering office redesigns to accommodate physical distancing requirements are more costly (more space per employee). Nationwide, demand for office space could drop by up to 15%, even after the pandemic is over. 

Despite ongoing COVID-19 challenges, the CRE situation doesn’t look dire… yet. “So far, there hasn’t been a huge impact,” Koopmans said, indicating while State Bank of Cross Plains has done deferrals, many customers haven’t needed them. Associated Bank, the largest bank headquartered in Wisconsin, had completed $638 million in commercial real estate deferrals as of June 30 but expects over 90% of corporate banking and small business deferrals to resume making payments. The true difficulty for bankers will be the severity of the pandemic’s future impact on consumers. 

Watch for ‘False Positives’ 

Government relief programs may be artificially postponing, not eliminating, fallout from the virus. Federal programs alone have poured over a trillion dollars into businesses through direct lending, guaranteed loans, grants, and tax breaks. “Because of all the stimulus that was put in place so fast, we haven’t seen as large of an impact as we could have,” said Koopmans. “For a lot of the multifamily businesses, they’ve not yet been affected significantly because of all the money that’s been going in, but it’s definitely something that may change going forward.” 

On top of business aid, individual consumers have received a financial bump via stimulus checks and/or increased unemployment benefits. “As those programs dry up, we’ll see a lot more outcomes where people can’t make mortgage payments or don’t get take-out as often,” Koopmans said, predicting more negative impacts this winter. Sustained record unemployment numbers are a big part of that. Wisconsin’s unemployment spiked from a record-low near 3% in late 2019 to 13% in April 2020 and remains high (8.5%). 

Continued high unemployment means lots of consumer buying power is removed from the market, which negatively impacts many of the same industries already hit hard by the virus. For example, community commercial properties (a.k.a. strip malls) are another type of CRE loan that banks should anticipate struggling, even if they’re performing now. “It takes a bit of time for the tenants to burn through their cash and capital before they are late with rent,” Wear explained, calling these properties “the next wave” in risk as discretionary spending drops off the longer the recession lasts. 

Batten Down the Hatches 

Whether a storm is on the horizon or not, banks should invest time and energy in evaluating their current CRE portfolios and begin evaluating prospective clients more thoroughly. “In order to quantify risk, you first have to identify risk,” said Wear. He recommends reviewing clients’ liquidity and capital positions as well as debt structures. “For current loans, it all depends on the liquidity of your borrower and your guarantors,” he said. 

Some general best practices for weighing your portfolio’s risk: 

Review every loan 
Banks, especially community banks, should assess their risk exposure loan by loan for the most accurate read on the situation. The pandemic’s impact on businesses has varied widely, according to Koopmans, so bankers should assess each loan’s performance on an individual basis. “Some restaurants in smaller communities have hardly skipped a beat because of an outpouring of support from their community,” he explained. “Restaurants that are chains or have drive-through service weren’t affected nearly as much, and some are even up year-over-year.” 

Stress test prospects 
While organic loan demand and expectations for business development fell off sharply during the height of the pandemic, the University of Wisconsin-Madison's Center for Research On the Wisconsin Economy (CROWE) found a strong rebound in early-stage business formation in the state through the end of June, reaching levels seen in prior years. Businesses are also resuming growth plans stalled this spring. “We’ve been surprisingly busy with new opportunities,” said Koopmans, explaining that low rates are enticing new projects and word-of-mouth referrals from PPP lending are bringing in additional business. “With PPP, there was an opportunity to help non-clients who couldn’t get a loan because their existing financer didn’t offer them, and now they’re moving their whole relationship to us. We quickly helped over 1,000 customers and non-customers, which generated a lot of positive buzz for State Bank of Cross Plains.” 

Price for relationships 
To avoid adverse selection, Wear recommends stress testing prospects’ liquidity and capital access. “Use realistic assumptions about the projected depth and breadth of economic impact in their sector as well as the timing and slope of their industry sector recovery,” he advised. With interest rates at historic lows, using relationship-based pricing packages can help community banks compete. “It’s a bidding war,” said Wear. “Relationship-based pricing will hopefully help banks get the value of a total relationship as opposed to low-bid on a transaction.” 

The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has—and will continue to—reshape the world in many ways, but disruption makes space for opportunity. Commercial lenders who are able to accurately assess their prospects’ and current clients’ needs will be able to forge new and deeper relationships between clients and the bank. As Wear put it: “Where there’s adversity, there’s opportunity.” 

Seitz is WBA operations manager and senior writer.

By, Amber Seitz

For many communities across Wisconsin, there is still extreme uncertainty about what this school year will look like. The only thing we know for sure is that it will be a year unlike any other. With schools still constructing plans for opening virtually, in-person, or in some combination of the two, businesses are grappling with creating their own plans for how to accommodate working parents suddenly in need of childcare. 

Jim MorganTo get more actionable insights for member banks, WBA spoke with Jim Morgan, vice president of business development and workforce strategies at MRA-The Management Association, Inc (pictured right). His advice centers on one major theme: flexibility. 

The first step to being flexible is to create options, i.e. banks should create a set of plans for more than one scenario, including all-virtual. “Even if your school district is going back in person, create a plan for virtual,” Morgan advised. No one knows what the impact of the virus will be going into the fall and winter, so sudden school closures are a very real possibility. 

Next, banks need to find out what their employees need and want, though Morgan says how banks do that may vary depending on the size of the bank (number of employees and locations). Some may be small enough for leadership to simply host a meeting for all affected employees. Others may need to consider a survey or other mechanism to determine needs. Either way, the best first step is a pulse survey of employees, whether that’s done in a meeting or via a traditional digital survey. “Get the demographics of your employees so you know the scope of impact for each department or area of the bank,” said Morgan. Ask about the number and ages of children and whether the employee has non-school childcare available. 

The final plan—or set of plans for different circumstances—will be as individual as the company, says Morgan. “How you want to handle this is a strategic discussion,” he explained. The bank’s hours, customer preferences, and school district choices are all variables, as are the number of employees affected, which teams/departments they’re in, the ages of their children, and the availability of local childcare. 

Ideas to consider: 

Alternate shifts – Morgan says he’s seeing a lot of this in manufacturing, but it also applies for frontline bank staff. 

Align schedules – Give staff options to align the school and work schedules, which can be especially helpful for situations where the school is taking a hybrid approach. Ex: Week on, week off, or alternating days. 

Fill in gaps – Look at hiring more part time employees to cover shifts left open if some employees need to reduce hours or change schedules. 

Offer emergency childcare leave – This can be a valuable benefit, especially with many childcare centers in Wisconsin now closed

Supplement childcare costs – This benefit allows the bank to make direct payments on behalf of participating employees to their chosen childcare provider. The funds can cover all or part of the employees’ childcare expenses. 

Set up childcare onsite or nearby – While the initial costs and liability considerations are significant, this convenience could be a high-value employee benefit long after the pandemic is over. At least a few banks in Wisconsin are considering this. 

Be a facilitator – Banks can take on the role of connector, matching up employees with concierge services (nannies, sitters, etc.) or creating a daycare match program for employees (where employees take turns watching one another’s children). 

When deciding which combination of these ideas, or others, to implement, bank leaders should consider their institution’s culture along with cost constraints and logistical feasibility. Not all banks have a culture where employees would be comfortable watching one another’s children, for example. 

Again, the key to implementing the bank’s plan successfully will be to stay flexible. An employee’s circumstances may change from week to week or even day to day, and that uncertainty multiplies the more variables are affected. “If the bank has staff across 10 different school districts, know how you are going to keep track of everything,” said Morgan. “It may be a morning briefing so you know what’s happening.” Some banks may even need a pool of frontline employees to be “on call” to cover shifts on short notice if a peer is unable to come in. 

Throughout this entire process, Morgan says clear, authentic communication is essential. “If there was ever a time for transparency and communication, this is it,” he said. “Leadership needs to tell people the plan, why they’re doing it, and acknowledge it may change quickly.” Regarding communication—with employees, customers, and vendors—Morgan says more is always better. "You can’t over-communicate, even if it’s ‘we don’t know’ or a brief update,” he said. “Give people a chance to ask questions.” 

Read more from Morgan on this topic here

Seitz is WBA operations manager and senior writer. 

MRA-The Management Association is a WBA Associate Member.

By, Amber Seitz

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE                                                                                                            July 30, 2020 
For more information, contact: 
Eric Skrum, Wisconsin Bankers Association  
608-441-1216 | eskrum@wisbank.com 
Twitter: @wisbank 

Statement on Governor Evers’ executive order requiring face coverings from Rose Oswald Poels, president/CEO of the Wisconsin Bankers Association  

“Governor Evers’ executive order requiring face coverings offers certainty to banks and businesses across the state. For those financial institutions that had been operating in multiple jurisdictions under differing rules, this provides a uniform set of parameters for everyone to operate under. 

We also want to remind the public that each bank will have different procedures for identifying customers using their lobby. While complying with the governor’s executive order, customers may be asked to:  

  • Lower their mask for a few seconds while facing a security camera  
  • Lower their mask for a few seconds to allow staff to identify them  
  • Answer security/identification verification questions (similar to using phone banking services)  
  • Use the drive-through if they are unwilling or unable to comply with the bank’s guidelines for masks  

We encourage consumers to contact their bank directly with specific questions about wearing masks and/or other face coverings in the branch.” 

 ### 

The Wisconsin Bankers Association is the state’s largest financial industry trade association, representing nearly 235 commercial banks and savings institutions, their nearly 2,300 branch offices and 23,000 employees. 

By, Ally Bates