Richard CollinsIn the wake of life-altering storms, West Springfield-based United Bank is offering help the best way it knows how: Loans.

CEO Richard Collins spoke with Banker & Tradesman in the bank’s quiet, undamaged headquarters on West Springfield’s Main Street. But mere blocks away, wind-whipped streets were cordoned off by emergency personnel, and United’s downtown Springfield branch was hemmed in by National Guard vehicles on another blocked-off street.

Banks forever want to play up their credentials as community supporters, and the deadly tornadoes have provided an unfortunate opportunity for local banks to show their value.

Lots of people are hurting right now, Collins told Banker & Tradesman. Insurance is going to cover a lot of the damage, but for some businesses, that insurance check is going to be too long in coming. They’ll need something extra to get by, both to make payroll and take care of customers.

For those people, United Bank has come to the table armed with a rough-hewn loan application form for emergency loans.

The forms were newly drawn up and distributed to every branch by Thursday, Collins added, after an impromptu meeting that morning.

“We’re a bank,” he said. “We’ve got money to lend… for us, it’s part of reaching out to support the community.”

In addition to the emergency loan funds – details of which have yet to be determined – United will also make a $25,000 donation to the Red Cross. The bank has also formed a partnership with Springfield’s ABC television affiliate, WGGB 40, on a fund soliciting donations from the community – seeded with a further $5,000 from the bank. United Bank will also dedicate the next funding cycle of the United Bank Foundation to disaster relief, which will net an additional $50,000 to $75,000 in direct assistance, according to a bank spokesman.

Measured Responses

Hampden Bank, headquartered in downtown Springfield, is looking at a $100,000 check to the Red Cross and other agencies just as soon as it can get the money out, said Richard DeBonis, senior vice president and marketing director. It’s also working to create a Greater Springfield Tornado Relief Fund, operated through the bank, to collect donations and pass them along to the Red Cross or other organizations in need.

Emergency loans aren’t on the schedule right now, DeBonis said, as the bank wants to encourage borrowers to focus on getting their insurance claims handled before anything else. But as of Thursday afternoon, Hampden loan officers had been sent to assess the state of the bank’s commercial customers, some of which had taken hard hits from the storm.

But local banks weren’t the only ones rushing to give a hand. Help was coming from giant financial institutions, too. Bank of America announced a $50,000 donation – half of which will go to the Red Cross immediately, and the other half to be doled out gradually in the coming weeks and months. MassMutual, another Springfield institution spared major damage, will chip in $100,000 to the Red Cross.

Country Bank, based in Ware but with branches throughout much of the damaged area, was still busy pondering whether it would make any emergency loans available, said spokeswoman Patti Mitchell. She said a storm like this, coming on so unexpectedly in mostly tornado-free Massachusetts, requires some time to assess customers’ needs and think through a response.

“We’ve never had a storm like this before, where these issues have come up,” she said.

United Bank Set To ‘Lend’ A Hand To Western Mass.

by Banker & Tradesman time to read: 2 min