Banks such as National Bank of the Virgin Islands (shown) are modifying services and hours in response to COVID-19. (FILE PHOTO)

Virgin Islands banks are taking “proactive steps” to help customers struggling through the global coronavirus pandemic, according to a statement issued Friday by the seven-member BVI Bank Association.

This might mean concessions for some customers, but also limited hours and services at many locations.

“We are working closely with the BVI government to monitor the changing situation on COVID-19,” said BVIBA Chairman Sjoerd Koster, general manager of client business at VP Bank.

Concessions at some banks might include special loan financing and suspended payments for clients experiencing hardship due to business closures and unemployment caused by the virus, which was already taking a toll on the economy even before the first two cases were confirmed in the territory yesterday.

Hardships

“For clients in financial hardship, please directly reach out to your bank to discuss your financial needs so that the banks can assist you with the various available solutions,” Mr. Koester said.

Besides VP Bank, the association represents Banco Popular, Bank of Asia, CIBC First Caribbean, First Bank, National Bank of the VI, and Scotiabank.

“We have no ‘one size fits all’ solution, but we are all willing to work with our retail and commercial customers on a case-by-case basis,” the statement added.

Concessions

In the case of CIBC First Caribbean, which issued a separate statement last week, concessions may include up to six months’ worth of payment moratoriums on loans and mortgages, and temporary revolving or working capital financing options for corporate clients.

Chief Executive Officer Colette Delaney said in the statement that the bank is “very conscious of the financial dislocation which the ongoing COVID-19 event will have on our clients across all segments of our business, and we are moving to mitigate the effects as best as we can.”

Meanwhile, as banks enact social distancing procedures to curb the possible spread of the virus, they encouraged customers to bank online or over the phone when possible. CIBC is now limiting daily hours to between 9 a.m. and 1 p.m., with senior customers given priority between 9 and 10 a.m.

For employees, CIBC announced a plan to implement a work-from-home strategy for certain functions across the bank.

“This includes some members of our teams who serve our wealth and corporate clients,” the bank’s statement read. “Although we do not expect any interruption in the level of service you receive, there may be some delays in responses as we adjust to our new working environment.”

Limited hours

Banco Popular is also cutting hours, and will limit service to drive-through and walk-up windows only, with no lobby service.

The bank’s Virgin Gorda branch, following a robbery last week, is closed until further notice, further frustrating the sister island, which has struggled in recent years to keep a full-service bank open.

Mr. Koester noted, “Due to the fluidity of the situation, the opening hours of the banks might change per bank operation.”

For customers who do come in, according to BVIBA, the banks are taking safety seriously. All member banks are being mandated to enact “standard practices for personal protection,” including hand sanitising stations, in accordance with directives from public health authorities.

National Bank of the VI

CEO Joy Penn issued a statement explaining, “We take your health and safety seriously” and added that the bank is “allowing a small number of individuals in our lobby at a time. …We are asking that you form a line outside the branch.”

First Bank issued a similar statement, stating, “We’ve reinforced our daily cleansing procedures, developed an educational awareness campaign for our employees, and are in the process of distributing cleaning kits and hand sanitisers to all branches.”

Scotiabank and Bank of Asia did not issue separate statements and did not immediately respond to requests for comment.


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