Preparing your community bank for the coronavirus

By Steven Estep

On Jan. 30, the World Health Organization and U.S. Department of Health and Human Services declared public health emergencies in response to the rapid spread of the coronavirus. COVID-19, which originated in Wuhan, China, has now infected more than 90,000 people worldwide as of March 1. 

Making headlines most recently, though, is the recent spread of the virus outside China. In the past week, new outbreaks have occurred in South Korea, Iran, Italy and Japan, sparking fear that it is not a matter of if but when the virus takes serious hold in the United States.

However, for the vast majority of people, health experts have likened the disease to a bad flu. While it will be very unpleasant, the likelihood of a recovery is extremely high. Already, more than 48,000 of the 90,000 cases worldwide have recovered.

Last week, though, the CDC said it expects to see community spread of COVID-19 in the United States.  So what can you, as a community banker, do to prepare your bank for a possible coronavirus outbreak in your community?

Here are some tips to help you do just that: 

  • Review your bank’s pandemic preparedness plan. Every bank should have a pandemic plan as part of their business continuity plan based on 2006 interagency guidance on pandemic planning. For those who have may not have dusted off the plan recently, the CDC is offering interim guidance specific to the 2019 coronavirus for businesses, which you can find on ICBA’s Crisis Response and Preparedness webpage. 
  • Review travel advisories and restrictions. The CDC has been continuously updating its travel advisories. Currently, it recommends that all non-essential travel be suspended for China, Iran, South Korea and Italy.
  • Consider any third-party dependencies that may be at risk for disruption. As the virus affects different parts of the world, vendors and technology providers your bank relies on may be affected even though your bank’s community is not. Be sure to be in contact with any critical service providers whose outage may impact your bank’s operational resilience.
  • Establish open lines of communication with local authorities, including state and local governments, hospitals, police, and fire and rescue departments. Local authorities will have the most up-to-date information regarding any safety measures implemented in your community. Meanwhile, open lines of communication before, during and after an event will position your bank to successfully manage the pandemic.
  • Communicate with regulators regarding how core business services can safely remain operational should a business disruption occur.

Additionally, we continue to update our crisis response webpage with a variety of resources to help  community bankers prepare for any pending disruptions. Stay tuned to ICBA’s NewsWatch Today for updates.

If your bank has any questions or requires any assistance in planning for potential disruptions due to coronavirus, please do not hesitate to contact ICBA’s crisis response experts at[email protected]

Steven Estep is ICBA director of operational risk.