Hawaii financial executives note signs of stress, not panic

By Dave Segal

Top executives at Hawaii’s largest financial institutions say there hasn’t been much panic from customers during the COVID-19 pandemic, although there have been signs of increased stress levels.

But all the financial institutions have put programs in place to help those financially strapped either borrow money or work out a loan repayment plan. The institutions said they are working individually with customers to tailor a program for their needs. The banks also distributed millions of dollars as part of the CARES Act Paycheck Protection Program to enable small businesses to keep their employees on  the payroll for a set period.

Lending standards haven’t changed much despite lost income for many individuals and companies, the institutions said. However, banks and credit unions are now making sure to look at customers’ most recent pay stubs and to check with employers to make sure there has been no change in the borrower’s employment or pay status since beginning the loan process.

Financial institutions have been urging customers to take advantage of online banking tools and services and mobile apps to reduce possible exposure to COVID-19, even though the institutions are cleaning and disinfecting the branches, practicing 6-foot social distancing, stressing the wearing of face masks, using plastic shields to protect the tellers and customers, and implementing kupuna hours during the first hour of business to protect those most at risk from the virus.

“We have seen our borrowers being resilient, resourceful and, ultimately, realistic in facing previous financial difficulties,” said Allan Kitagawa, chairman, president and CEO of Territorial Savings Bank, the state’s fifth-largest bank. “We continue to believe that these same characteristics will allow them to overcome the COVID-19 challenge as they did after the Great Recession, Hurricanes Iwa and Iniki, and the Kilauea volcanic eruption.”

Bank of Hawaii, the state’s second-largest bank, said customers have displayed myriad emotions during the pandemic.

“Customers seeking PPP (Paycheck Protection Program) assistance were perhaps more anxious than other customers,” said Peter Ho, chairman, president and CEO of Bank of Hawaii. “The need for funding coupled with the added pressure of ensuring that the application was submitted accurately in order to qualify for the full loan forgiveness increased the stress levels.

“Customers seeking loan forbearance or deferrals were also feeling pressure since they didn’t want to miss monthly payments. Other clients were concerned about the volatility in the markets. We were actively reaching out to clients to help them understand their options based on their financial goals. We were working closely with all of these clients to help guide them through the turbulence. There were also clients who saw the market volatility as an opportunity rather than a reason for panic.”

Central Pacific Bank, the state’s fourth-largest bank, said it offers several programs to help customers, including consumer loan and residential mortgage payment deferrals. It also has referred customers to credit counseling for assistance on their overall financial position.

“We’re all understandably concerned about the COVID-19 pandemic and the economic impli­cations, but we have not seen panic,” Central Pacific Bank President Catherine Ngo said. “Rather, our customers have been focused on taking the right steps to weather the storm.”

First Hawaiian Bank, the state’s largest bank, said it has a complete range of products and services to help with customers’ needs. “We’re committed to our customers and understand everyone’s situation is unique,” First Hawaiian Chairman, President and CEO Bob Harrison said. “We work with our customers personally to identify their needs and provide an appropriate solution for them. There are a number of ways in which we can help, so we like to encourage everyone to talk to their banker.”

Hawaii State Federal Credit Union, the state’s largest credit union by assets, said that at the beginning of the pandemic, it dealt with a large volume of member responses and requests.

“The first wave of unemployment as a result of COVID-19 forced many members to take out emergency loans or request loan payment deferrals,” Hawaii State FCU President and CEO Andrew Rosen said. “The number of requests we’re receiving has been declining, but now we need to ask the question, How long will this recession last? Will those members who first sought help need additional financial assistance?”

American Savings Bank, the state’s third-largest bank, said throughout the pandemic that its bankers have made thousands of “Malama Calls” to customers just to check in and see how they were doing and offer support and guidance.

“Our team has done an excellent job of modeling calm for our customers,” said Rich Wacker, president and CEO of American Savings Bank and president of the Hawaii Bankers Association. “This has been a great opportunity for us to connect on a deeper level with customers, get to know more about their financial situation and educate them on banking options to suit their personal needs. We’ve also gained new customers through our efforts assisting small businesses with the PPP loans. ASB was one of the few banks accepting applications from noncustomers, and that allowed us to help more people in need.”

Hawaii National Bank, the state’s sixth-largest bank, said once the pandemic started it encouraged customers to reach out to the branches so that they could work with customers individually.

“This helped us identify and address issues right away,” Hawaii National Bank President and CEO Bryan Luke said.

Luke said the bank “thankfully” has not received many calls from customers who cannot pay their bills.  “We have been able to proactively work with most customers to help them with financing options, COVID-19 assistance programs and banking services,” he said. “This is where it can be particularly valuable to have a relationship officer who is familiar with your situation. It’s easy to feel overwhelmed with a number of new COVID-19 programs available, so we encourage customers to contact their relationship officer directly to see what options are best for them.”

See More News

Stay up to date with the latest additions in entertainment, seminars, and exhibitors