Hurricane Katrina is a distant memory for most people. For others, the effects of that horrific event continue to be felt, and compelling stories continue to be told – some actually so wonderful that they take your breath away. Just the other day, I saw a great story about the extraordinary response by Hancock Bank after the mega-storm had passed. It came from a blog posting on the website of Realized Worth, a firm with considerable passion for corporate social responsibility.
Aside from the heroic proportions of how Hancock dived in head-first to help people cope with the crisis, the story is all the more remarkable for the impact it had on the bank’s long term business. Even though the events took place nearly seven years ago now, the story has a timeless message that is well worth retelling for people like me who somehow missed it the first time around.
Here’s a slightly edited version of what appeared on the Realized Worth website.
The Crazy Things Hancock Bank Did Following Katrina
Hancock Bank was hit hard by Hurricane Katrina. Approximately 90 of the bank’s 103 branches along the Gulf Coast near New Orleans and along the Mississippi River suffered some damage. Electricity and phones were out in the area for weeks, and many of the bank’s branches lost connections to the main data center. People had no access to their money, and they were desperate for cash for simple things like ice and gasoline. What happened next was quite extraordinary.
Laundering Cash for Good
The day after the storm, Hancock Bank set up stations with whatever was available. Sometimes it was just card tables and chairs. And they went about getting cash into the hands of the people. They kept the cash flow going by using money from ATM’s, vaults, and night deposits.Hancock employees were literally “laundering” the money, putting it in a washing machine to clean it from the sewage that had flooded the area. Bank employees, many of whom were also affected by Katrina, worked extended hours to accommodate everyone. Busloads of employees made 250 mile round trips daily in order to keep the Bank running.
Risk and Reward
All of this was quite admirable, but not completely shocking for a bank or any business during a crisis. However, Hancock Bank went far beyond what the community might have expected. They loaned out millions of dollars during the days immediately after Katrina. Without electricity or other modern technology, they went old school, tracking loans with post it notes. And they didn’t just give the money to bank customers. They gave out cash to anyone who needed it, and trusted that it would be paid back,including $3.5 million to people who were not even customers.
The gamble paid off, and all but $300,000 was paid back. In the words of George Schloegel, Bank Chairman at the time, “Basically, people are honest and want to do the right thing and they’ll stand by you if you do the right thing by them.” The best part of the story is how people stood by the bank after their initial support efforts. In the four months following Katrina, Hancock grew by $1.6 billion, more than they had grown in their previous 95 years. Thousands of new customers opened up accounts with the bank, and George Schoegel was rewarded for his trust by being elected Mayor of Gulfport, Mississippi in 2009 with nearly 90% of the vote.
The insights for business success from this story could fill a book. In a nutshell, it offers striking testimony for the cycle of success a company can generate when its top priority is the common interests of everyone touched by the organization inside and out. When that is done well and selflessly, you’re well on your way to creating a great organization where people love to work and customers love doing business.
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