Fidelity Bank and Trust of Oelwein reopened its lobby on Monday, June 8, and continues to offer paycheck protection loans during funding round two for the federal program.

“We’ve been closed I think 73 consecutive days,” said Kent Nelson, Oelwein Fidelity's market president, who added they were looking forward to the lobby re-opening. 

“It’s interesting that over this eight- to 10-week period, people do have a tendency to adapt to new environments, and I think our staff and customers have adapted very well to doing business via electronic banking modes,” Nelson said, listing mobile banking, internet banking, and the drive up.

“Interactions with customers particularly on the loan side and a little on the deposit side as well — where we have customers either renewing certificates of deposit or doing file maintenance with a checking or savings account — we’ve been doing a lot of that over the phone and scanning and emailing documents for customers to sign (now electronically) and they could scan and email or fax those back to us, and we’ve been utilizing those doing business as much as normal as possible.

“We have implemented electronic signatures now for both loan and deposit documents. I’m not sure how fast we would have pushed that envelope without the pandemic.

“During the time period our lobbies were closed, we did meet some customers and vendors by appointment, and during that time period we did have them fill out and sign a questionnaire, asking about their travel, whether they’d been sick, those kind of things.”

Internally, the monthly regional in-person loan meeting moved to teleconference, and other communications have been done via phone or email.

“Close to 300 people company-wide, we had zero COVID cases, we all reported to work every day, and knock on wood, I think (it’s) a combination of good luck and some good habits that we made those changes as far as sanitizing as well as social distancing helped with that as well.

“We do have one lender that due to some extenuating circumstances with daycare chose to work from home, and we accommodated that request, and we did have a few people within the company that did that as well,” Nelson said.

The staff continues to stay active in the community.

“Nothing really changed as far as community support with our volunteer hours with a lot of agencies and local nonprofit organizations, we’ve continued to serve in those roles.”

With reopening, some changes were made.

“When we reopened the lobby we tried to make it less accommodating for customers to stay a long period of time,” Nelson said.

Chairs in the waiting area were spaced out and complimentary beverages removed. Customer traffic was reduced to one door to assist in monitoring and restroom use was restricted to staff only.

“We have put signage up and like a lot of businesses we have asked, if you have been sick or are quarantined, please do not visit during that time period."

The experience has been technologically educational.

“I do think it’s opened up our eyes as well as far as being able to utilize our electronic methods of business," Nelson said. "I think people maybe that were on the fence as far as electronic banking, some of those people have become more comfortable with that.

“Between that and the PPP loans, we stayed very busy. I won’t say our business was uninterrupted but it was pretty close to normal course of business, obviously with some adjustment.”

SMALL BUSINESS LOANS

One of the products Fidelity and many other community banks have been offering through the federal Small Business Administration is the Payment Protection Program.

“We’ve processed approximately 65-70 of those loans just here in the Oelwein Office,” Nelson said. “Companywide within all of our 33 locations (including the recent acquisition of State Bank in New Hampton) we’ve processed close to 1,000 of those loans. Locally those 65-70 loans added up to about $3.5 million, and then companywide I think we were close to the $50 million mark as far as total dollars we processed.”

The second round of funding for PPP began on April 27.

The funds this year came as a response as businesses began to struggle during the shutdowns enacted at various levels to slow the spread of the novel coronavirus.

“They’re set up as a loan to start with, and if a certain percentage of those dollars are used for payroll and a few other qualifying expenses during that time period, then the loan is forgiven,” Nelson said.

“It’s a good program, it’s helped stimulate and keep a lot of local businesses and their employees active during this pandemic period," he added.

“There’s been all types of businesses that have qualified for those PPP loans, but just for a business interruption standpoint as far as revenues I would say those hospitality businesses were more adversely affected than many others.”