By Scott Meacham
We can get the national perspective of the pandemic’s current and after-effect on the banking and finance industries from the Wall Street Journal, but to get an Oklahoma banker’s perspective on the industry post-pandemic, I reached out to Darryl Schmidt, CEO of BancFirst. BancFirst is the largest state-chartered bank in Oklahoma with more than 100 service locations in 60 Oklahoma communities.
“We remained open through the entire pandemic,” Schmidt said. “We implemented the safety precautions prescribed by the CDC and we are able to serve our customers through all of our channels.”
Banks have made strong accommodations to their customer bases. “We must continue to manage our risk,” Schmidt said, “but if there is an opportunity where we can accommodate a customer, we will. It is important that our consumer customers know they can depend on us for the same quality service they have always received, that we will be here, we will be open, and we will assist them.”
The pandemic has affected the bank’s customers unevenly. Although the overall economy in Oklahoma has suffered in the pandemic, some sectors were hit harder than others such as hospitality and restaurants. The story with energy and agriculture commodities remains grim with demand dropping coupled with supply chain disruption.
“Federal stimulus including PPP loans has helped. You can’t extend those programs forever,” Schmidt said, “but that may be exactly what it takes for many months. Our businesses and consumers have all been impacted differently. With so many factors out of our control, we will continue to provide accommodations with things we can control, like extensions of maturity or payments.”
BancFirst has also been proactive in assisting working parents with the challenges of distance learning. “The choices parents are having to make right now are some of the hardest choices anyone faces,” he said. “There is no easy answer, but at BancFirst, we are providing temporary incentive pay to help with childcare while school is in session.”
Schmidt expects that restoring the economy in Oklahoma will look different than in other states and even different from county to county.
“I look to local leadership and local decision-making,” he said. “By saying that, I realize that we are going to get 77 different solutions, and we have to be comfortable with that. Many people in Oklahoma must go to work. If you are putting rivets in an airplane, you have to be there to put rivets in that airplane.”
Schmidt looks at the pandemic as a unique circumstance and as a process—one that will shape the future of regional banks. Success will depend on flexibility and the ability to adapt as circumstances change. And he expects startling innovation.
“Today we live in a time of uncertainty,” he said. “Before 9/11 banks were exchanging checks in paper form, then when airplanes were grounded, you couldn’t get a check from San Francisco to New York. Legislation facilitated the move to digital exchange of checks, and that changed our industry. There will be something like that coming out of this pandemic. It will be something we can’t see yet, but will be something innovative, and we will all be better for it.”
Scott Meacham is president and CEO of i2E Inc., a nonprofit corporation that mentors many of the state’s technology-based startup companies. i2E receives state support from the Oklahoma Center for the Advancement of Science and Technology and is an integral part of Oklahoma’s Innovation Model. Contact Meacham at i2E_Comments@i2E.org.