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PCBB Banc Investment Daily March 08, 2013
Banc Investment Daily
March 08, 2013

AVOIDING & RESPONDING TO WAVES OF DAMAGE

It was hard to miss the recent story about a cruise ship stranded in the Gulf of Mexico after an engine fire. The ship lost power and drifted for several days with 4,200 people on board. It was a tale not of survival, but of extreme discomfort. It is difficult to avoid the urge to armchair quarterback what the operator could/should have done differently. Why didn't they just send another boat and pick everyone up or off-load everyone onto helicopters or send a big generator to at least get things flushing. Maybe large ships don't work like that. Instead, the operator paid for everyone's transportation home, gave them $500 and a credit for a future cruise. It will be interesting to see how many take them up the offer and whether there will be a drop off in cruise reservations in general. More than 14mm people in the US took a cruise last year and ships have become larger and larger. We wonder whether these operators even have contingency plans and if so, whether those plans are keeping up with the level of growth. Bankers are familiar with business continuity planning and fallout when an industry is damaged and some still hear "banker" used negatively. The banking industry has suffered for numerous reasons, but in particular because of the actions of a few large players. Community banks in general, are regarded to be of a different caliber than large banks when blame is spread around for the financial mess of the last few years, but "banking" in general has nonetheless lost some luster. What should your bank do if you find your name in a potentially damaging story? To prepare, make sure your bank has a contingency plan in place to avoid or respond to situations that could bring about adverse publicity. That won't be enough, however, because there will always be things beyond anyone's control. If there is a publicized incident that has potential to damage your bank's name, experts say the best approach is to address it honestly, openly and aggressively. Assure customers that your bank remains sound, cares about the issue and will continue to carry on business in the interest of its customers. If adverse publicity relates to an enforcement action, communicate efforts to address those concerns. Testimonials from influential customers in your business footprint can also be helpful to keep customers calm and patient as you work through any issue. Build goodwill in advance by publicizing the bank's efforts as a provider of important services in the community that other institutions do not provide and highlight areas where you are involved in community service. As for the ship operator, giving away a free trip to passengers is a good step, but reassurance that all ships are undergoing a comprehensive inspection by a third party and new contingency plans would probably go further to reassure future customers.