South Shore Bank’s response to COVID-19 was one demonstrating quickness, competence and caring in a time of understandable confusion and distress. Committed to its clients and employees’ safety from the earliest days, South Shore Bank enacted immediate measures that would protect people’s health while still giving them bank access and financial assistance. It also went above and beyond in a devoted and successful endeavor to help community members receive the benefits of the newly created federal economic CARES Act programs.
“From day one, our first priority was the health of our employees and clients,” says Carol Farrell, Senior Deposit Operations Manager. Drive-up banking and Face2Face ATMs remained in operation, but branches were open by appointment only, and plexiglass barriers were installed at all locations. Beyond these safety measures, South Shore Bank took proactive steps to safeguard their clients’ financial well-being. They removed the minimum debit card transaction requirement on their Rewards Checking Account, making it easier to qualify for a higher interest rate. “We understood clients would not be spending in the same way, so we removed that condition,” Farrell says. “This ensured that they would still get the preferred rate of interest. People are doing the right thing adhering to stay-at-home orders and they should not lose the advantages they receive from their bank as a result. We also took action when the Federal Reserve Board gave us the option to stop enforcing regulations on money market and savings accounts. We removed tracking and associated fees for withdrawals and transfers because, at a time like this, people should have unlimited and unpenalized use of funds in those accounts.”
Another important aspect of responding to the changes caused by the coronavirus was communicating these accommodations to clients. Director of Retail Banking/Security Officer Julie Heapes says, “We were asking people to change their behaviors overnight. We needed our clients to know that our doors might be locked, but our bank is still open.” South Shore Bank posted information on social media and their website but understood that not all clients would see those. “We took the initiative to call nearly all of our clients on the telephone, and the feedback we received was phenomenal” says Heapes. “We weren’t sure what to expect in response, and it was so heartwarming to hear clients say that they were thankful that we were taking measures to keep everyone safe.” The Bank has also offered payment deferrals to help people and businesses who have been impacted by this pandemic. Again, the Bank was very proactive and reached out to many clients to offer payment options before they contacted us.
It wasn’t just the clients who had to adapt; South Shore Bank’s employees also had to adjust to the new environment and run their branches in a way they never could have anticipated. Immediately, the bank put work-from-home practices into effect and issued each employee five extra personal days. In order to keep everyone informed and create continuity, a pandemic crisis team holds virtual meetings every morning, and a virtual weekly town hall is called each week for all employees, board members and corporators.
South Shore Bank has outdone itself with its expeditious enactment of the federal CARES Act initiatives. When the government began issuing stimulus payments, South Shore Bank’s rejects of direct deposits went from an average of ten pages to over eighty pages, and the Bank makes sure to handle them all. A team comes in early each morning to ensure all payments post. This dedication is also displayed in full force by South Shore Bank’s formidable success with helping small businesses avail themselves of the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP).
South Shore Bank sprang into action when the United States Small Business Administration implemented the Paycheck Protection Program (“PPP”). The PPP provides potentially forgivable loans so that small businesses can keep their workforce employed during the COVID-19 crisis. Thanks to responsive leadership and tireless efforts, South Shore Bank saved over 13,000 jobs by providing more than 900 loans that nearly totaled an incredible $130 million dollars through both rounds of the PPP. Loans were provided on a first come, first serve basis for South Shore Bank clients and non-clients alike, with an average loan size being approximately $140 thousand dollars.
“Given that the country allocated $350 billion nationwide to round 1 of the PPP, the fact that a local community bank provided $115 million of that funding is staggering,” says Douglas Sanroma, Director of Strategic Process Improvements at South Shore Bank. Faced with rolling out a national, emergency response to a health crisis, banks were required to think fast on their feet and put a system into effect. “We needed a system that would handle everything from the application process to underwriting to getting the funds out, and we needed it right away. Much of the reason that South Shore Bank is responsible for getting so many PPP loans to so many people were its ability to rise to this unthinkable occasion.”
South Shore Bank acted so quickly that they were processing loans before other banks even started taking applications. Alicia Martell, Commercial Loan Administrator, hosted video trainings so that employees from any division would learn to run the applications. “We created teams, provided remote instruction and figured it out,” Martell says. “It was all hands on deck.” Close to half of the entire South Shore Bank team pitched in, regardless of their practice area. “We had many people working eighteen-hour days, weekends, on Easter and some very late nights,” says Sanroma. “We had to make a very rapid shift from our normal work habits to working in quarantine through text, chat, phone and video calls. In order to process all the PPP applications, we had eleven different teams functioning at all times, including data entry, quality control, underwriting, closing, funding, project management and client follow-up.” To ensure clients’ safety and to adhere to social distancing constraints, information and signatures were processed electronically.
The staff was in awe of the labor of love that they saw, with workers sacrificing their own time in order to help save jobs in their community. “It is an unprecedented time and we did unprecedented things,” says Martell. “Helping this many people during a pandemic was something we never anticipated doing and we all found it within ourselves to be able to do it.”
Employees also give immense credit to South Shore Bank’s President and CEO, James Dunphy, and Chief Operating Officer, Pamela O’Leary, for coming up with an immediate action plan. Right away, they made the rule “first in — first out.” Unlike some of the larger banks, South Shore Bank did not favor bigger businesses that could potentially lead to greater profits. Whether you were a business with one employee or 500 employees, whether you were a South Shore Bank client or not, it would take your application. It processed loans from as little as $1,000 to as great as $10 million, with an average loan size of approximately $140 thousand dollars. “Many people who came to us had been rejected by other banks who refused to take an application because they wouldn’t have been able to make much money from them,” says Mark Pitts, Commercial Credit Manager. “We focused on people instead of the dollar.”
Dunphy and O’Leary worked around the clock in order to ensure that one of them was always available to their team and their clients. “Jim and Pam are true leaders,” says Pitts. “They walk the walk. Even on Easter, they were in the office answering phones and making calls.” Members of the Board helped to process loans and volunteered their time. Dunphy says, “Our entire senior team would not leave without reviewing the paperwork of any clients stalled in the process in order to make sure anyone who needed a loan received one. We had a primary goal: helping our community save jobs.”
Thanks to these significant efforts and the funds secured, local businesses are maintaining 13,000 jobs while figuring out how their business models may need to evolve post-pandemic. The funds processed by South Shore Bank account for more than one percent of all the money distributed in Massachusetts during the PPP's first rollout. “That is an incredible statistic,” says Sanroma. “We are a small institution, and to see everyone—volunteers, our leadership team, our board of directors, our tellers and retail officers—pull together to make this happen is really rewarding.”
Processing clients’ loans personally has added a connection that is appreciated on both sides of the table. When Christopher Walker, Credit Analyst at South Shore Bank, called The Children’s Museum in Easton’s Director, Karen Frick, to let her know that she received a PPP loan, she became emotional about being able to pay her employees. “She thanked me again and again. It was the best call I’ve made,” says Walker. “The Children’s Museum in Easton is a place my children and I love to visit. Karen’s reaction shows just how important these funds are to small businesses in the area.”
Michael Sheskey and his family opened Pour in Norwell in 2017, and its warm atmosphere and delicious food were an instant hit. The Sheskeys then opened two more locations, in Cohasset and Hanover. During the coronavirus quarantine, Pour has continued to operate their drive-up windows and it still makes deliveries, including birthday cakes and special heart donuts for first responders. Still, the business has been hard hit and needs assistance. “Five banks rejected me for a Paycheck Protection loan because my business is too small,” said Sheskey. “One national bank wouldn’t even allow me to apply.” He reached out to South Shore Bank and got a call back on a Friday night after dinner. “I couldn’t believe they were still working over there. Everyone was so pleasant; any time I had a question, I got a call back within 20 minutes. I have switched all of my bank accounts to South Shore Bank as a result,” Sheskey says.
Nat Boughton of StrategyMD, an analytics and coaching company, was also able to get PPP assistance thanks to South Shore Bank. “At the time, I was banking with a large national bank, so I reached out to them first. I was their own client, yet they would not even take my calls. When I called South Shore Bank, it was a completely different story: I connected personally with the President and CEO, James Dunphy.” When Boughton received the PPP paperwork, Dan Picha, Director of Commercial Services and Digital Solutions, and Jill Vail, Cash Management and Specialty Banking Coordinator, walked him through it. “The whole process of filling out the paperwork, scanning it and sending it back to them took less than an hour. What shocked me the most was how seamless it was and how collaborative the organization was.” Once Boughton received the loan, Picha called him personally to let him know. “The sincerity and compassion I experienced surprised me. It’s beyond anything a big bank would do. My entire family has moved all of our accounts to South Shore Bank.”
The overall effect of South Shore Bank’s actions has been to help clients save their businesses, help employees keep their jobs, and help people stay healthy. Dunphy has received messages of gratitude from clients expressing what it means to have their bank call just to check in. “South Shore Bank truly nurtures relationships,” says Boughton. “This type of empathy resonates with a community and makes all of us better.”
Employees express it has been a source of pride to support the community in which they live and work. “During this time of social distancing, we have become more connected,” says O’Leary. “Pulling together during this situation is helping South Shore Bank become a better organization for our employees and for our clients.”