While social distancing and the economic slowdown in response to the COVID-19 outbreak forced many businesses to embrace the work-from-home concept, it’s a concept that is far from brand new although it was not even close to being as ubiquitous as it has become.
In September 2019, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics published a survey in which it found that 29% of wage and salary workers said they could work at home, 25% said they actually did work at home and 15% said they had days when all of their work took place at home. Of the workers surveyed, 33% said they had a flexible schedule but could not work at home and 24% said they had a flexible schedule and could work at home.
While some businesses have become largely virtual out of necessity and are using video conference calling, emails and online document exchanges and posting, others have been trending that way for years. Financial and banking services that were early adopters of technology and have been revisiting their deployment of personnel were well positioned to adapt to a world in the throes of a pandemic.
“Nothing can replace face-to-face communication, but financial technology is a wonderful and powerful tool,” Jeff Papa, the region director in Westchester for Chase, told the Business Journal. “We’ve been able to adjust our capabilities so that employees can still provide our services in an uninterrupted way, and in a safe work environment.”
Papa said that 70% of the bank’s employees are working from home across the company. For those who still need to go into the office or into a branch, there are extra precautions being taken to help ensure safety.
“For example, we’ve enhanced nightly and daily cleaning globally in our offices and branches, and placed alcohol-based hand sanitizer throughout the branches,” Papa said. “For our frontline employees, 75% of our Westchester branches are operating ‘business as usual,’ with reduced hours, 9:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. Our advisers in the branches, financial advisers, small business bankers, home lending advisors are serving customers, business as usual, while working at home to reduce density in our branches.”
Papa said that some branches were temporarily closed and bankers redeployed to branches that are open. He said that employees are being paid for their regularly scheduled hours, even if their hours are reduced.
“We made sure that any branch with a drive-up window or glass partition teller window were among those that remained open for business, to give us the maximum flexibility to continue to provide critical services to our clients,” Papa said. “We’ve also stepped up our cleaning processes in all branches and ATMs to help reduce the spread of germs.”
Papa said that the bank has been receiving a high volume of phone calls and is encouraging people to use self-service options as much as possible. For private or investment banking needs, video calls with clients have helped keep that face-to-face interaction.
He said that Chase’s retail customers are being encouraged to enroll in online banking, while citing statistics from the AARP Foundation showing that two-thirds of adults over age 50 do not use financial technology. Papa said Chase has created instructional videos showing step-by-step how to do things such as downloading the Chase mobile app and then using it to make payments or send money to family members or others.
“It’s also important to note that as digital banking is on the rise, so is financial fraud,” Papa said, noting that Chase has internal security procedures, security measures built into its systems and offers security advice to customers. “Only access your bank via the mobile app or website. Financial institutions will not ask for confidential information, such as your name, password, PIN or other account information, when they reach out to you. Triple-check any social message, email or solicitation you receive, especially if it mentions COVID-19 and avoiding emails that have an urgent call to action or suspicious links, especially when the call or email asks for personal information.”
Papa said that Chase was heavily involved in placing Small Business Administration loans during the first round of the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP), with its business banking section funding around 18,000 loans for businesses that collectively employ approximately 350,000 people. “Commercial banking, dealer commercial services and the private bank — all combined — funded roughly 8,500 loans for businesses that employ over 750,000 employees,” Papa said.
“In Chase business banking we are proud to have secured more funding for small businesses than anyone else in the industry,” Papa said. When the interview took place, 80% of Chase’s PPP loans had been for businesses with less than $5 million in revenue and about half of the PPP loans have been for less than $100,000.
“In addition, more than 60% of our PPP funds have gone to businesses with fewer than 25 employees,” Papa said at the time.
The bank subsequently reported that the sum of small business loans had grown to $15 billion and included 50,800 New York businesses. It placed the average loan size at $136,000. The bank also reported that overall it was expected to fund about $29 billion for more than 239,000 businesses having a about 3 million employees.
Papa said that Chase’s customer service specialists have been helping with things like delaying payments or increasing lines of credit for consumers and small businesses that have told the bank they’re struggling financially as a result of COVID-19.
“Our bankers have been calling clients and walking them through online banking and making sure they know all the resources available to them and at times have walked them through setting up the app via the phone. So far, the feedback has been very reassuring and positive,” Papa said. “This is the time our customers need us the most and it’s part of our jobs to be there for them and help them feel comfortable and safe.”