The measures to contain the spread of the coronavirus are still shifting from day to day – as are the reactions from investors, developers, builders, banks and buyers. In order to follow the effects in real time, RE | source Miami is asking local real estate experts in various sectors for on-site reports.
Today we hear from Jorge Gonzalez, Vice Chairman and CEO of City National Bank. With $ 16 billion in assets, 900 employees, and more than 30 locations across Florida, City National Bank is one of the three largest banks in Florida.
Gonzalez joined the bank in 2009 when the country was in recession. Since then, he and his team have grown CNB from a $ 2.7 billion bank with a focus on South Florida to a $ 16 billion bank with a nationwide presence.
Q: How has the Covid-19 outbreak affected CNB’s nationwide operations?
City National Bank has a continuity plan that outlines the steps we must take in the event of a pandemic or other crisis. You never want things like this to happen, but now it is happening and we were prepared for it. We already put our plan into action in February. In April almost everyone was working from home, with the exception of a reduced number of people in our banking centers.
There is the logistical element of continuity and the most important thing is to make sure we continue to deliver the service our customers depend on. Fortunately, our team has systems in place to support our business regardless of the crisis. At the same time, we are in regular contact with our customers to ensure we understand their changing needs and help them run their own business.
Our customers see the CNB as an alternative to big banks. We’re big enough to deliver the products and services our customers need while providing local decision making and personalized service. Our size and community roots give us a built-in advantage in times of crisis as we can stay in direct contact with customers and address their evolving needs. We serve companies in nearly every industry that drives Florida. So when the economy is experiencing volatility, our customers turn to us for assistance. That is our role as a community bank.
Q: How is CNB using technology to keep pace with this rapidly changing business climate?
Technology enables us to continue serving our customers and running our business even when the vast majority of our team members are working from home. All of the investments and time we’ve put into technology and security over the past few years add significant value amid this crisis.
We use Webex for internal and external video conferencing and encourage our customers to use the online and mobile banking tools we offer. Since so many people use our systems every day, we have significantly increased our digital capabilities and bandwidths.
This pandemic proves that technology can be an invaluable tool for banks and our customers, but there is no substitute for picking up the phone, calling a customer, and strengthening that relationship.
Q: The introduction of the Paycheck Protection Program has puzzled many ailing business owners. How did CNB react and how did customers react to the program?
The decision of the federal government to start the PPP program was a monumental undertaking in a short space of time. Everyone is working towards the same goal: to save millions of jobs through mobilization within a few weeks.
While US banks lacked detailed information early on, CNB acted quickly to ensure that after opening the application window, our clients had the information and materials they needed to apply for the program. CNB was able to start funding loans last week, and we’ll end up funding about $ 2 billion in total in loans. For the CNB, this is roughly equivalent to lending for a full year in three weeks.
To put the scale of this program in context, it would take the SBA 14 years under normal circumstances to fund a total of $ 350 billion in loans, which is the size of the PPP program to date.
Our team has worked 24/7 from home and amid a pandemic and economic downturn, handling more than 6,000 requests on behalf of companies in need of help – both customers and non-customers. I am proud of the way our entire company has come together to create a program that will ensure we can help our customers and the wider community at a very difficult time.
Q: The federal government will approve additional funding for small businesses. Will that have a noticeable impact?
The program provides much-needed funding for small and medium-sized businesses to keep their payrolls intact and meet short-term expenses as the pandemic unfolds and we take steps to flatten the infection curve.
We hope that the program will support businesses while we prioritize public health and enable us to stimulate the economy as quickly and safely as possible in due course. The sheer number of applications we have seen over the past two weeks suggests how urgently these funds are needed.
Q: Looking ahead, how do you see the local economy picking up again and what role will the community banks play?
Public health should remain our top priority until we can safely open businesses and get people back to work. Without a healthy community, we cannot have a healthy economy. The two go hand in hand. I expect some aspects of society will gradually come back online over the next month or two.
For example, small businesses with a limited number of employees can open first, followed by larger ones. Public events that draw crowds will follow later. It will be a gradual process led by our local and state officials in consultation with public health experts. In the meantime, we must maintain social distance and take steps to conduct business safely.
Like most community banks, the CNB is an important source of capital for small and medium-sized enterprises. We have been filling this role for decades and we are doing so now through the PPP program. The capital we lend over the coming weeks and months will help fuel an economic recovery. Ultimately, the most valuable service we can offer is taking care of our customers during a time of crisis. This is one of those moments when the value of personal relationships and local decision making is crystal clear.
This story was originally published April 23, 2020 8:04 am.