Opinion: Bankers Answer the Call

As our nation and New Jersey battle the COVID-19 virus, it’s gratifying to see so many Americans come together and unite. Our leaders in Washington, for the most part, have put partisanship aside as the Administration and Congress respond to the critical needs of the American people and help to support our nation’s economy. Here in New Jersey, the country’s second hardest hit state by COVID-19, Gov. Phil Murphy has provided New Jerseyans with strength, resolve and compassion as he leads the Garden State through this tragic and unimaginable pandemic.

All of us have been inspired by the many heroes that are fighting COVID-19 on the front line. Healthcare workers, first responders, supermarket employees, truckers, custodians and others are putting their lives at risk to care for patients and support all those who are sheltering at home. I came across a quote from the legendary Mr. Fred Rogers about something his mother had told him during times of crisis to comfort him and that was, “Always look for the helpers. There’s always someone who is trying to help.” In New Jersey we don’t have to look too far for our helpers.
They’re our family members, neighbors and friends on the front line of COVID-19. They’re our heroes.

Our bankers have engaged with COVID-19 on another front, the battle to help people save their homes and jobs and to take care of their families. Our New Jersey banks are well-positioned to fight this battle and came into it with strong levels of capital and liquidity. As the Coronavirus hit New Jersey, over a period of weeks our banks responded with a series of actions to support their customers and communities. Designated an “essential service” by Governor Murphy’s Executive Order, first our banks ensured full access to banking services while at the same time protecting
the safety and well-being of both their employees and customers. Bank lobbies remained open by appointment and drive-up windows were resourced to handle increased activity. The massive investment in technology and innovation that banks have made in recent years paid huge dividends as customers accessed their accounts through digital options like online and mobile banking.

Our bankers also mobilized to support their borrowers who were negatively impacted by COVID19. Bankers pro-actively reached out to commercial customers to determine who was impacted and what could be done to help. Thousands of customers were assisted with loan restructurings. On the residential side, NJBankers partnered with the New Jersey Department of Banking and Insurance to enlist banks in a 90 day mortgage forbearance program to give COVID-19 impacted borrowers some relief. In a matter of days Governor Murphy announced that close to 70 banks of various sizes had committed to the program. The next priority was to support small businesses and the jobs of their employees. The $2 trillion CARES ACT was passed by Congress with $349 billion allocated for the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP). Once again New Jersey’s banks stepped up with both traditional SBA lenders and banks that were not SBA lenders joining the PPP in an effort to support their customers and communities. After some initial challenges in launching the massive program, in less than two weeks New Jersey banks approved 33,519 loans
totaling $9.5 billion with an average loan size of $284,000. Bankers worked 24/7 and through the Passover and Easter holidays to handle the overwhelming volume. Congress just approved another $320 billion in PPP funding and New Jersey banks have close to 50,000 applications totaling almost $6 billion ready to be submitted. Our banks have also stepped up their charitable giving during COVID-19 to support New Jersey’s not for profit community. NJBankers launched a charitable initiative that has raised over $112,000 to date for the New Jersey Pandemic Relief
Fund in just over a week. In addition a number of New Jersey banks have announced six figure contributions of their own to worthy organizations in their communities.

The COVID-19 crisis is a terrible tragedy that none of us will ever forget. Our hearts go out to those who have lost loved ones and friends. If we can take any solace it’s in the way that New Jerseyans have stepped up to help each other. God bless all the heroes on the front line who are risking their lives to protect us. They’re an amazing inspiration to everyone else who is battling COVID-19 in their own way. That includes our bankers who have answered the call on the economic front. There’s a lot of planning underway now to help reopen our economy. Our banks are ready to play an important role in that because New Jersey’s banks never closed.

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