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As the coronavirus continues to bring a great deal of uncertainty to our world, one thing is clear: the business community is on the frontlines of the fight against the pandemic, demonstrating unparalleled agility and innovation to help our country navigate this health and economic crisis as fast and effectively as possible.
The U.S. Chamber Foundation’s Corporate Citizenship Center is interviewing business leaders driving the global corporate response to COVID-19 to learn more about their efforts, how they are navigating this uncharted territory, and what advice they have for others.
Read on to hear from Reba Dominski, executive vice president of U.S. Bank and chief social responsibility officer and president of the U.S. Bank Foundation, to learn how the bank shifted operations and focused on supporting small businesses. What follows has been edited and condensed for clarity.
Q: Can you tell us a little about your efforts at U.S. Bank to address the impacts of COVID-19?
Our response to COVID-19 at U.S. Bank is focused on supporting our employees, customers, and communities.
Our employees are at the heart of everything we do. Financial services, like health care companies and grocery providers, are considered critical services. Across our entire operation, we are taking steps to protect the safety of our employees and customers. We’ve temporarily adjusted the operation of our branches. We’ve decreased lobby use, encouraged drive-through, and wherever possible, we're consolidating operations. In March, we announced a premium pay program that provides our critical frontline employees with a temporary 20% hourly wage increase. We’re also providing additional paid time off for employees affected by COVID-19.
For our customers, we've made temporary adjustments to several of our lending products and services to make them more affordable and accessible. It has been an enormous effort to fulfill the requests coming through the Small Business Association (SBA) Paycheck Protection Program (PPP). As of early May, we have secured funding approval for over 75,000 applicants with the potential to impact more than 800,000 employees across the country. I'm particularly proud to share that more than 90% of the approved loans went to businesses with 20 employees or less. So, our PPP support was truly focused on small businesses that need our help to get through this unprecedented event. We also have advanced our digital capabilities – making adjustments to help our customers move and deposit money as quickly, securely and easily as possible through our mobile banking options.
Additionally, we announced a $30 million commitment to support COVID-19 relief and recovery efforts in communities across the country. Initially within two weeks, we put $4 million in grants into the hands of three of our most trusted national partners: LISC, United Way, and Operation Hope. By year end, we will have provided an additional $26 million that will serve as general operating funds for local non-profits to support financial education, affordable housing work assistance and arts and culture institutions.
The other component of our $30 million response was to double our employee matching gifts in 2020 so that our employees can support the organizations they care about and their local communities. We also established a virtual volunteer network of employees within a week. One of my favorite stories is that we started a sewing circle for employees who want to make cloth masks for their community or for organizations in need.
Q: This is a fast-moving situation, and the needs are evolving every day. What are some of the immediate needs you’re seeing in communities and how can businesses help?
I'll put this into three buckets. First, small businesses. Small businesses need support with a variety of expenses, from paying employees to adapting to online resources to paying rent. One of the really cool things we've done at U.S. Bank is #SupportLocal, an effort to support local restaurants in our communities by ordering lunches and having our branch teams deliver them to frontline workers, such as health care and emergency professionals.
Second, nonprofits. Nonprofits have similar needs to small businesses. They pay their staff and have general operating expenses to keep their programs and services going. Just consider how you can give back either in money or in the form of virtual or in-person volunteerism.
The third thing I would say is to think about the disparate impact of this pandemic on underserved communities and people of color. And that's why the investments that we're making in low-to-moderate income communities in response to COVID-19 are so important. Our investments will continue to focus on equity now, and when we emerge from the current pandemic state.
Q: Over the course of this crisis, we’ve seen unprecedented agility and ingenuity from the business community as they’ve rearranged operations or shifted production overnight to find real-time solutions. What do you think this crisis has shown about the role of business in society?
I think it's shown that business is and should be an essential part of the solution and that together we're better. When I think about what we were able to accomplish at U.S. Bank; we moved most of our workforce to work remotely. We moved wealth management bankers to support other banking teams. We moved branch employees to assist our call centers with responding to the high volume of customers in need. We took our entire philanthropic plan for the year and shifted it to support COVID-19.
We’ve also found small ways to adapt as a business. For example, we have a food truck we have been using to help promote small businesses in our markets while sharing details of our mobile banking options. With the pandemic, the truck was sitting idle. Recognizing that it could be repurposed, our team in Arizona came up with an idea to use the truck to help local food banks deliver food to individuals and families in need. I have just been amazed and truly impressed by the creativity and collaboration of our entire U.S. Bank team.
And I don't think we're the only business that’s stepping up in a significant way. So, I do think we are better together. As socially distanced as we need to be, we are more interdependent than ever and business is a part of that.
Q: How is the coronavirus pandemic different than other disasters or crises you’ve responded to? Do you have any lessons learned or best practices you’d like to share with the larger business community as they navigate their response?
I think this is unprecedented. As a global enterprise, we've continued to closely monitor the spread of COVID-19 and have taken steps to minimize the impact of the virus on our employees, customers, and operations. The safety and well-being of our employees was core to our response. Our efforts have been coordinated by this incredible centralized command center with all of our key teams involved to help streamline our response and recovery activities across the entire operation.
The key lesson I'm taking away includes the importance of strong, swift and transparent communication and action, balanced with the need to listen with what I would call “radical empathy.”
For more interviews with business leaders visit the U.S. Chamber Foundation Corporate Citizenship Center’s Business in Action Series.