Five Star Bank Announces Roadmap for Next Phase of Reopening
Bank is embracing the opportunity to transform business at an even faster rate
Five Star Bank has announced its plans for the next phase of reopening to ensure continuation of services as New York State moves from pause to reopening.
The regional community bank’s approach will be unique to each of its 50-plus offices in Western and Central New York to keep its customers and more than 600 associates safe, the bank resilient, support the community, and remain responsive to orders from New York State and the Centers for Disease Control (CDC).
“We have proven during the pandemic that we are flexible, can work remotely, and that we have resiliency and redundancy to maintain services. We will continue that as we move forward,” said Marty Birmingham, Five Star Bank President and CEO.
“What we have learned has been significant, in terms of how we operate and how our customers are doing business, as well as trends relative to new distribution, accessibility, digital adoption and reliance. The pandemic has accelerated all of those trends. We are wide open to the possibilities and embracing the opportunity to transform our business at an even faster rate. The pandemic is advancing society, the economy, and business practices 10 years.
“Going into this next phase first and foremost is the safety of our associates and customers, and continuing to serve our customers in a first-class way. We are developing a roadmap not a calendar. We are not in a hurry. As an essential business we have continued our operations throughout the pandemic, and do not expect to go back to business as usual. We fully expect and are committed to maintaining remote access until we have an all clear, and that will result in a less dense workplace and flexibility should the situation turn negative again. We were thoughtful going in at the start of this pandemic and are being thoughtful as we proceed.”
Sean Willett, Senior Vice President and Chief Administration Officer, who leads Five Star Bank’s business continuity and re-entry efforts, said, “Our protocols have been and will continue to be based on science and metrics. We have the infrastructure and operations in place to meet public health obligations and are putting in place additional layers of safeguards at all locations that can be monitored and revised as appropriate. It’s about execution and delivery, complicated by things we can’t control, and flexibility if we need to pivot.”
Building on a Head Start
As an essential business, Five Star Bank enters this next phase with the advantage of having maintained day-to-day banking services throughout the pandemic and taking early and quick action to adapt to the current environment.
- It implemented an array of actions for consumers and businesses helping more than 1,700 small businesses and 18,000 small business employees through the Payroll Protection Program (PPP) and thousands of consumers through its COVID-19 CARES relief efforts.
- It did so with 65 percent of employees working from home or at remote sites, maintaining the workforce with no layoffs and only negligible absenteeism, despite having many associates who care for children and other family members.
Preparation for doing business in this new environment began long before New York State declared a state of emergency.
Birmingham said it was inspiring to witness the bank’s business continuity plan put into motion as a result of the crisis. “We worked together and embraced this, put aside business as usual and moved to new temporary business as usual, immediately addressing the key issues, modifying processes, over communicating, and executing plans faster than ever. Our employment levels have remained the same and productivity has increased across many areas.”
Working Differently in the Next Phase by Combining Resources, a New Partnership with URMC, and New Technology
To implement next phase plans, Five Star Bank is combining expertise and resources from its internal team and the community and is pursuing a unique new partnership with the University of Rochester Medical Center. The overall approach is consistent with and aligned with New York State guidelines.
Willett said, “We will be working differently when we reopen and the challenges for re-entry will vary by location. We have completed significant preparation, incorporating local directives with practical considerations for each location so that when customers come in, they feel safe and can make their transactions safely.”
“Our reopening will start in Warsaw, which we will view as a pilot,” said Willett.
“Over the next two to three weeks we will put new protocols in place, including installing temperature check kiosks that will allow us to further ensure the safety of our associates. Such kiosks will also soon be installed in other non-branch locations. Each step of the way we will assess what is learned, craft next steps, and apply that to the larger population.”
Next, the bank will move to reopening at Five Star Bank Plaza in downtown Rochester, continuing to use same number of floors, but decreasing density, by assessing who needs to be there and who can work from various remote locations. It is also working closely with the building owner, Benderson Development, which has been making building modifications in bathrooms, in the HVAC system and elsewhere. The last mile of the plan will include a gap analysis, taking into account Benderson’s safeguards and the bank’s protocols to determine what additional measures if any need to be taken.
Safety protocols reinforcing the bank's commitment to public and associates safety will include:
- Continue remote work with video and teleconferences.
- Maintain drive-thru only and by appointment banking for the foreseeable future.
- Adjust hours and shift design to avoid congestion and maintain distancing.
- Implement protocols around entry and exit for employees and customers.
- Require all associates to wear masks inside and at appointments. Associates will receive a welcome back package with a branded reusable mask.
- A 2-step health screening process linked to badge access will be required for all employees to enter the workplace.
- Temperature checks will be done at kiosks being installed at every non-branch location. If someone’s temperature is in an acceptable range he or she can swipe through. If not, they are barred from accessing the building and additional protocols apply.
- A new web-based tool developed in partnership with the University of Rochester Medical Center will ask employees questions about their health status and symptoms. A similar process phone-based questionnaire is used with customers prior to banking by appointment.
- A dedicated person at each location will monitor new procedures.
- Cleaning protocols will be specific to each location.
- A queue for buildings with elevators will be implemented in conjunction with any other tenants.
- Enhanced signage for customers and employees will reinforce guidelines and public health recommendations and responsibilities.
- Comprehensive communication with associates continues, with transparency, real time alerts and fast communication of re-entry protocol.
- Communication to customers and the public continues via social media, emails and a dedicated COVID-19 Response page on the Five Star Bank web site.
“No one envisioned an event of this magnitude,” said Willett, who lived and worked in New York City following 9/11 in the shadow of the World Trade Center and when Hurricane Sandy struck. “Those experiences drove home the importance of business continuity planning. Changes I saw arising from those events continue to persist today and affect people’s lives.”
Keeping Cultural Values Intact
“Also critical to this next phase,” added Birmingham, “is maintaining the culture. If we envision staying in this state for an extended period, we must assure that our organizational values and cultural values stay intact. That means maintaining regular communication and assuring that our associates don’t feel cut off or siloed. We all benefit from being a small impactful and collaborative organization, that’s part of our success, and we need to maintain that. I believe we can become even stronger.
“Even though we are apart, in many ways we are closer than we've ever been, continuing to push forward on key strategic initiatives. We are executing a major digital upgrade in the middle of this pandemic, and this is a testament to how well our associates have risen to the occasion and how effectively we are working together.”
Preparation for a Second Wave
In addition to keeping an eye on its culture, Five Star Bank is also operating under the assumption that it needs to be prepared for the potential for a second wave.
“We will focus on what we can learn, what we can do better, what works, what doesn’t, adjust the plan, and in the process our plan will become stronger and more responsive,” said Willett.
“Science still has a long way to go to develop a vaccine and more ubiquitous testing,” said Birmingham, “but the plan we have developed will allow us to be stable.”