Saying Goodbye

by Anne Vieira, MBA Chairman

Rosie Vieira 
"Rosie" by Issy Vieira
I’m dedicating my last column to my black labrador, Rosie. She died April 30 after cancer ravaged her  lymphatic system, leaving her skinny and weak. Yet through her 11 years and 10 months of life, she taught me so much about living, loving and, yes, banking.

Let’s start at the beginning. Rosie’s mother, Condoleezza, had been given to our youngest daughter, Isabella, by my mother who always said, “God outdid himself when He made horses and dogs.” Rosie was born during the 4th of July holiday week in 2008. Issy and I had stayed home from a family getaway to help with the birth of the puppies. What a life experience! I don’t know what impressed me more: watching the pride Leez had after birthing each pup and licking them awake and clean or observing Issy’s deftness as she weighed each one and tied a different color ribbon around their necks. 

Issy spent that summer taking care of seven adorable puppies and prepping them to go to good homes of fellow dog lovers. Meanwhile, I watched the beginnings of what would eventually decimate the banking sector by the subprime mortgage debacle. The financial crisis, spread over four years, caused 14 Missouri bank failures and resulted in a 3,500-page federal regulatory nightmare known as Dodd-Frank. After many stress-filled days at the bank, I would be welcomed home by a furry head in my lap or a sloppy kiss that reminded me to leave my problems alone for awhile and seek the innocent, unconditional love of a dog.

Years later, enter COVID-19 … another crisis that has forced the banking industry into the center of the financial universe as we process economic stimulus programs developed by the federal government. Community bankers have literally worked around the clock to help secure PPP loans for small businesses. While the media and the famous on television go overboard (and rightfully so) to thank health care workers and grocery store clerks for their hard work during this pandemic, how about we include the bank tellers and front line staff who show up at banks everyday to meet the financial expectations of customers?

Last year when I became chairman of the MBA, I spoke about change and how we all go through it personally and professionally. I invited bankers to rise to the challenges of change in our lives and in our industry. Little did any of us know how we would be challenged by something so invisible, so lethal as COVID-19. Yet here we are and, so far, it appears community banks have met and exceeded the goal of transferring federal help to small businesses. In fact, a study from the Institute for Local Self-Reliance found nearly three times as many PPP loans were issued in the 10 states with the most community banks per capita compared to the 10 states with the fewest. Hats off to you and thank you, all of you. 

  • When this pandemic is contained and we have the time to reflect, there will be opportunities. Community banks have always shown resilience in the face of adversity, and this bitter interruption will be no different. As we dissect the impacts of the pandemic to our banks, there are several trends to consider as we dust off our strategic plans for a post-pandemic update.
  • What should our physical footprint look like going forward? Many banks are finding that part of the workforce who managed a home office during the last few weeks worked as smooth, if not better, than in the bank. Would it be more cost effective and productive to set up home offices versus expanding office square footage as banks grow?
  • Is our current digital banking solution where it needs to be? Have customers become more familiar with digital banking tools as they sheltered-in-place? One study shows a 72% increase in the use of fintech apps since the pandemic began.
  • Are we moving forward with the changing payments landscape? While there has been a decrease in card transaction volume as consumers stayed home, we need to be thinking about future demands such as contactless options and P2P. Speed is another factor as individuals and businesses clamor for real-time payments.
I’m sure we can all agree on the desire to get back to the challenges of real banking issues and put behind the unthinkable problems COVID-19 has thrown at our world. Yet it has been amazing to watch with pride the ingenuity of bankers as they stepped up to meet the needs of customers and employees during a crisis. Community bankers know what their customers expect and have found ways to deliver. Because of our persistence with government programs and our creative methods to keep employees safe, the banking system in Missouri has been open for business throughout an unbelievable time in our history.

It’s kind of like Rosie. As she neared the end of her life, despite the weakness of her body, she still knew what made her happy. Though much slower, she still picked up her toy and asked for another throw to fetch. When someone came in the house, she attempted to bark and let us know. And the ice. She always loved ice cubes to chew and would get up off her bed to come sit when she heard someone at the ice machine. Even though she couldn’t chew anymore I would give her one, knowing I’d be back to clean up the water.

I must admit I’m sorry to end my chairmanship amid such tumultuous times. However, where there is darkness there is light, and I hope you have found some recently. Personally, it has been wonderful having Issy back home as her graduate school moved online. Completing the circle of Rosie’s life together has been bittersweet, but I know Issy will soon be a wonderful veterinarian.

Professionally, I have been so impressed by the leadership team at Saints Avenue Bank as our processes and employees were challenged. We are already discussing exciting future changes at the bank, some coming from lessons learned these past few weeks. 

My involvement with the MBA has been nothing short of wonderful. Max Cook and the entire staff have met the challenges this pandemic threw at Missouri bankers by gathering the latest information on the government economic programs and health-related resources and presenting it to us in concise, relevant emails, webinars and teleconferences. Missouri banks are truly blessed to have such an engaging, intuitive group of people working on their behalf.

Thanks to everyone at MBA, Saints Avenue Bank and all my friends and family who have supported me during this amazing year. There are numerous rewards in volunteer service, and I encourage everyone to consider becoming involved in our association. I will certainly miss many things from this past year, but most of all, I will miss Rosie.

The Missouri Banker 
May 2020