2020 Year in Review Part II
By: Chris Ferris
Welcome back to my 2020 retrospective. My last blog (which I recommend you read before starting this one) ended when, after some debate, our team agreed to move forward with processing PPP loans for all applicants, not just existing customers. So, without further ado, let’s pick up right from there.
By April 2020, we were full steam ahead. We had come to terms with the massive disruption COVID-19 presented and had learned to work within the constraints of our new reality. We had a plan to move forward, and after much discussion, we’d arrived at an approach we felt embodied our mission and values as a company, and moreover, provided for some of the urgent needs of our local community.
When the first round of PPP opened, our associates and bankers worked around the clock and throughout the weekend to handle the volume, and ensure everything was done correctly. It was a big moment for our team and a moment of which I’m very proud; it was the moment when we really stepped up and demonstrated how much we care about our clients and our community through our dedicated service under pressure and with a ticking clock. Moreover, it wasn’t just our bank that came through for our small businesses, it was community banks around the country. (My thoughts on the critical role community banks like Fidelity play in the economic health of the country in are also covered in this blog.)
Meanwhile, outside the (now virtual) walls of the bank, the rest of April was marked with grim milestones and difficult news. On April 14th, 129 people in Louisiana died of COVID-19 in a single day. The following day, Mayor Cantrell extended the stay-home order for the city of New Orleans through May 16th and Governor Edwards announced Louisiana schools would remain closed through the end of the year; on April 30th the Governor would also extend the stay-home mandate through May 16th for the entire state. All of this news was difficult and scary. I did my best to offer support wherever I could in both personal and professional capacities, and to ensure Fidelity remained engaged with all relief efforts within the community. One major way we achieved this was by continuing to process all PPP loans when the second round opened on April 27th.
In May, we started to see some improvement. By May 15th, we had “flattened the curve” and slowed the infection rate enough the state of Louisiana moved to Phase I of recovery. At this point, I was hopeful we’d continue to see downward trends with the virus and upward trends in the economy. I was cautiously optimistic about the prospects around our economic recovery and felt there was a strong possibility it would be V-shaped— the steady downward trend in the markets and the employment levels of the spring would be mirrored by a steady upward trend once we moved farther into recovery mode during the summer.
While my attention was focused on serving our clients and supporting our community in the best way possible, life—in its new and unfamiliar form—went on around the world, as it always does. On May 25th, over 1,200 miles away from New Orleans, police killed George Floyd. The dramatic and grotesque video footage of this event spread rapidly, and within a few days, protests erupted around the world, decrying the event itself and the ongoing systemic inequalities that allowed tragedies like this one to occur. There’s no question this was a watershed moment in the collective consciousness of Americans, and for many of us, it catalyzed difficult and sometimes painful conversations with friends, family members, and coworkers.
As a human being who believes all people are inherently equal, and as CEO of Fidelity Bank, I could not ignore what I was seeing.
Part of our bank’s mandate is to serve our community, and that means doing what we can to make our community a more just, fair, and safe place for everyone. Internally, we began the work of finding new and more impactful ways of doing so. You can read my full statement on the topic, written in the days after Mr. Floyd’s death, here.
On June 4th, Governor Edwards moved Louisiana into Phase II. But as COVID-19 spring turned into COVID-19 summer, things took a dramatic turn for the worse. With infection rates high, government officials opted not to move forward with our July reopening plans. For a time, we had the highest infection rate in the world. At this point I accepted my hopes for that V-shaped recovery were unrealistic and I adjusted my plans and expectations accordingly.
As I was coming to grips with this disheartening reality, a record-breaking hurricane season besieged Louisiana. The season began quickly with Tropical Storm Cristobal on June 7th and continued to wreak havoc on families and businesses right up until October 28th, when Hurricane Zeta crashed into New Orleans. In total, 5 named storms made landfall in Louisiana in 20202, further complicating the logistics required to serve our customers. Furthermore, the stress of spending so much time in the “cone of uncertainty” was a terrible additional burden for a community still reeling from the events of the spring. I’d like to give a special shout out to my business continuity team. They kept the doors open to our customers through months of unprecedented and record-breaking challenges. Thank you.
For the Fidelity Bank family, there was a wonderful bright spot amidst all the chaos. On November 2nd, we opened our very first “owned” headquarters building, located in downtown New Orleans. For me personally, opening day provided hope; it was a light at the end of the proverbial tunnel. It also showed how resolute we as a team can be. We followed through on this commitment to open our headquarters, even through a pandemic and 5 storms.
The completion of this project—a 12-month long endeavor—will always be remembered for providing us with some good news and a cause for celebration in a year that didn’t offer much along those lines. The opening of our headquarters was tangible, physical proof that through teamwork, there’s very little we can’t accomplish. Transforming a vacant, historically significant building into our modern corporate headquarters in record time during this most challenging of years, required the contributions of our entire team. (For more background on this project, see my earlier blog on the topic here.)
As the year draws to a close, we have come to grips with the current reality and also the possibility it will be months before we can expect to see “precedented” times return. In the meantime, as an institution, we have found our footing and a rhythm that works (at least until the next thing!). We remain focused on helping our community and our associates. We are looking forward to a working environment that feels more “normal,” but as a company we are aware it’s going to take some time, and we don’t need to take an “all or nothing” approach to getting back to way we worked before the pandemic began in March. We continue to prioritize the input of our associates when it comes to determining what protocols and processes are most important to keep them feeling safe and comfortable at work, and to hear them when they share feedback from clients who have expressed confusion or concerns.
We’re also focused on staying on top of the changes related to PPP loan forgiveness, the potential for new small business stimulus programs, and communicating next steps and new developments with our community. To me, it’s a matter of personal pride our customers feel comfortable coming to Fidelity with questions and are confident in the accuracy of the answers we provide. I am doing my best to ensure this objective is approached holistically, from the top down.
For those of you who have read my retrospective of 2020, thank you for reliving the wild rollercoaster ride with me. It is my hope sharing my perspective will be at best, informative to those of you researching different crisis management approaches, and at worst, an interesting look at my personal and professional journey navigating uncharted waters in the middle of a storm (or 5 storms, if you live in Louisiana). In closing, I invite you to reach out to me with any questions or comments or stories you’d like to share by emailing me at [email protected]. And finally, of course, I wish you all a calmer, more precedented 2021. May it be a record-breaking year for your health and happiness and unexpected good news.