Writer: Joshua Andino
2 min read May 2021 — While 2020 saw the worst of the COVID-19 pandemic, Tampa Bay’s banks and financial institutions were on the frontlines ensuring the business community remained serviced and protected over some of the most challenging and uncertain months that any business faced. At the same time, the industry itself was forced to evolve to keep pace with a world that continues to change rapidly even today.
In Tampa Bay, known for its easy living and strong sense of community, banks and financial institutions were critical in making sure businesses were able to continue operating in what was dubbed the “new normal.” A common thread that emerged across the sector from local community banks to large wealth management firms was to meet clients where they were – at home, virtually – through the adoption of technology in the form of mobile banking options, new treasury and payroll management services, and streamlined processes that provided all the typical services one could find in a typical brick-and-mortar location.
“The evolution of technology in our industry has accelerated. How you engage and communicate with clients has changed forever (for the better) and the transparency and efficiencies afforded us through the ease of these new platforms has forced everyone to raise their game,” explained Joel Stevens, senior managing director at Bernstein Private Wealth Management, told Invest:.
But it wasn’t just clients who were the beneficiaries of new protocols, as Greg Kadet, managing director of UBS, also discussed with Invest:. “2020 also provided a big lesson on work-life balance; we can now offer our people a modified work arrangement between home and our offices post-COVID. We are already hearing feedback from employees who are parents, caregivers, or those who have long commutes about how excited they are to have a flexible work arrangement in the future.”
With the implementation of remote working, the expansion of digital platforms became central to the banking and financial services industry’s continued success, and accelerated trends that had already been noted within the industry.
Cary Putrino, regional president of Fifth Third Bank in North Florida, discussed with Invest: the importance of digital platforms and providing clients the ability to self-serve through expanded offerings that normally might have required clients to visit the bank in person. “We know that our digital capabilities are becoming increasingly important to our customers, and we’re proud of how we’re delivering on that. A year ago, you could not use your smartphone to apply for a mortgage, which is no longer the case.” He added that, “On the commercial side, we’ve invested in our technology platform for clients, called Fifth Third Direct. It provides streamlined treasury management access with single sign on functionality.”
Local community banks also did their part, as Rita Lowman, president of Pilot Bank, explained to Invest:. “We want our banking centers open for our clients but we also saw a great deal of flexibility from clients as they became more adjusted to mobile technologies. It’s much easier to provide services to clients when they are able to utilize their cellphones, iPads, and laptops.”
The resources financial institutions provided was more than just PPP and SBA loan money. They provided a lifeline that restored a sense of confidence in the community, and the volume of loans processed alone speaks volumes about the necessity of banks and financial institutions to Tampa Bay and the economy more broadly. “This was a first for the industry, the SBA, and all stakeholders involved. We processed over $5.4 billion in loans for our customers across our franchise for more than 40,000 business customers that we were able to help during this difficult time. In Florida specifically, we distributed 5,663 loans with an average loan amount of $79.5 thousand.” Putrino said, on the resources Fifth Third Bank provided to the business community.
As the pandemic slowly begins to ebb, optimism has taken root in the industry, as many are bullish on the future of Tampa Bay and the success the region has had, not just in managing the pandemic, but in its continued growth and a pro-business climate that has seen relocations from across the country. “Tampa’s pro-business focus on growing and enhancing its economy, its focus on enriching its already robust educational base as well as the city’s focus on diversity, equity and inclusion and the environment have all made it an increasingly attractive place for young professionals and entrepreneurs from all over the country,” said Stevens.
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