A year after the COVID-19 outbreak was declared a global pandemic, employees and leaders of a bank wholly owned by the Chickasaw Nation reflected on the challenges they faced and the progress that resulted.

The COVID-19 pandemic began soon after Chickasaw Community Bank (CCB) set into refocusing its services. The bank’s name changed from “Bank2” to “Chickasaw Community Bank” to better reflect its mission.

CCB is a bank for Chickasaws and the community – a bank on a mission to better the lives of those it serves. This is its guiding light, and helped navigate the stormy waters caused by the pandemic.

“Like every business, when this pandemic first hit, and we all became aware of the risk, we started thinking about the safety of our employees and also the safety of our customers – and how we can do that and still provide a service,” said CCB Chief Executive Officer T.W. Shannon.

“We always say you can’t take care of your customer until you take care of your employees,” Shannon said. “Our employees were not unlike our customers. We were all going through the pandemic together, you know? And they were being impacted by students being out of school, taking care of elderly loved ones and adapting to new norms of wearing masks and social distancing. We had all of those same concerns.”

Shannon said CCB’s employees and leadership rose to meet these challenges.

“I’m very proud to say that, through the entire pandemic, our services were never disrupted. In fact, I would say our level of service increased as a result,” he said.

Shannon attributes the bank’s recent record-breaking success to the visionary leadership of Chickasaw Nation Governor Bill Anoatubby and the direct support the bank receives from the Chickasaw Nation and its people.

The right people

People like Shannon, Sarah Brown and Hunter Paul are Chickasaws who shaped the services offered by CCB from within.

Shannon, who served eight years in the Oklahoma House of Representatives and was the state’s first African American Speaker of the House, drew on the insight of Governor Anoatubby to guide the bank and its crew.

Brown is the bank’s vice president and head of human resources. She joined the team just in time to guide the bank’s new pandemic procedures, which kept employees and customers safe and continue to do so.

Paul is director of CCB’s marketing and community involvement. By the nature of what CCB does – helping community members build a home, start new local businesses or keep doors open – the bank plays a role in life stories. Paul tells those stories, a key aspect of the bank’s community goals.

There are 117 employees at CCB who collectively made sure customers would not miss out on the bank’s services during the pandemic.

The right plan

The bank’s first proactive adjustment was guaranteeing every touched surface was sanitized. Places like entrance doors and meeting rooms were cleaned after each use. Every Friday, a bank-wide deep cleaning was performed by professionals. Eventually, at times of heightened public infection rates, the lobby would also be closed.

At the same time, CCB ensured employees could work safely and remotely while also being a part of a connected workplace culture.

“Technology was a huge part of getting our team to be remote last March, just out of the interest of safety,” Brown explained. “In doing that, we purchased quite a few laptops. We deployed TeleWorker, which is a relatively new thing not a lot of companies are using. It allows our employees to work from home and securely file directly into the bank without having additional steps.”

CCB equipped its employees with new laptops, processors, peripherals and cameras. Now, they are able to meet the needs of customers securely and remotely.

Shannon said more than 60% of CCB employees are working from home, and productivity has increased.

“Our customers got an even higher level of service, because our employees were accessible and more productive,” he said. “We realized there can be a lot of efficiency in it. That was a major culture shift and service model change. For our customers, they don’t see a change. Everybody is still available, if not more so than before. Now we are able to support a more remote workforce.”

Their efforts to rebrand and refocus melded with the pandemic response.

“When COVID-19 was at its highest points, we considered how to show we care about our people and our community. We want to remain a part of our community even when we can’t be there in person,” Paul said. “We are all storytellers. We want to make sure we are showing the bigger story of how we can impact the community for good. We are wanting to lift up those people that the larger banks wouldn’t.”

There’s a story of community outreach in every home loan, commercial loan or new savings account, and CCB began telling those stories.

“For us, it’s about building better lives for everyone,” Shannon said. “Because when the community does well, the bank does well. We are interrelated to our community. We take to heart our mission of building better lives for everyone and improving the overall quality of life of the Chickasaw people.”

Growth and positive outcomes

Shannon credited the pre-COVID-19 health incentives CCB offered as well as their extensive response measures for the low impact the pandemic had on bank personnel.

At the same time they were minimizing the impact of the virus, the bank’s assets grew north of 30%, according to Shannon.

“Last year was growth, but it was smart growth driven in part by our rebranding of our name to Chickasaw Community Bank and leaning in on the values we had as a bank to do what was right for our community,” Shannon said. “We were able to serve our community like a community bank should.”

One of the ways the bank has come to know its customers is by helping them tell their own stories through video features. Wise leaders, pillars of the community, good neighbors, responsible citizens – all are “community avengers,” which the bank has given a platform and spotlight.

“We identify real people in real situations that we can lift up in the community for doing good deeds,” Paul explained. “It helps us live out our mission of building better lives for everyone.”

Working to know the community helped CCB reach out a helping hand throughout the pandemic.

“Because we are a community bank, we know our customers, and we picked up the phone and called every one of them and said, ‘We’re here to help, how can we help, what issues are you having?’ We worked with our customers and, frankly, had the best year in the bank’s history because of it,” Shannon said.

CCB is the number one provider of HUD 184 home mortgage loans, with customers seeking this service in nearly all 50 states.

Low interest rates brought in new housing and commercial customers. Through the CARES Act, the bank also began offering Paycheck Protection Program loans, which proved to be a boon. New employees had to be brought on to meet the demand.

Paul noticed that while some employers were laying staff off, CCB was doubling its staff.

“We were bringing people on, helping them feel safe and loved from afar. That has definitely defined our first year as Chickasaw Community Bank,” he said. Paul was impressed by the overall effort to ensure CCB employees and customers are safe and able to fulfill their banking needs.

Shannon said the bank was also able to attract a lot of talent by becoming more aligned with the Chickasaw Nation, which is known for integrity and caring.

Looking back on last year, Shannon, Brown and Paul realized a focus on community led to enhanced safety, better banking services and a closer community connection.

“As employees with the Chickasaw Nation under Governor Anoatubby’s leadership during these historic times, we take it as a comfort,” Shannon explained. “It helped us, having that confidence. We were able to go out and do what was right for our customers, even when it was tough to do, even when we weren’t exactly sure what the future was going to hold. And we’re still not; we still don’t know. What I’ve learned is, when you do the right thing, it does pay benefits down the road for you. We’ve seen that.”

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