As businesses close, banks stay open to help customers through hard times



BAR HARBOR  The common theme heard from every bank official interviewed for this article is: if you are having financial trouble, call your bank or lenderLocal banks have a variety of programs and resources to help customers through hard times. 

Camden National Bank is offering a 90-day deferral on loans, according to Chief Marketing Officer Renee Smyth. It’s not an application, she stressed; just a form for the customer to sign. 

“For the next three months, [customers] can take that payment and put it at the end of their loan.” Taking advantage of the deferral will not affect the customer’s credit score, she said. Deferrals are available for business customers as well as individuals. 

Bank employees also have information on programs available, so customers are encouraged to call. Banks locations are open only for drive-through service, or by appointment. 

“We’ve worked with customers through a lot of financial crises,” said Joseph Schmitt, Chief Marketing Officer of 130-year-old Bar Harbor Bank & Trust. “If someone has trouble, our strategy and policy has always been to work with the individual and navigate through it. 

Bank employees can help customers find resources such as Small Business Administration (SBA) loans and Payment Protection Program, under the newly passed Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act. Applications for newly passed programs are not available yet, but will be soon, Schmitt said, and staff is preparing to help customers apply when the time comes.  

“There’s so much information out there, it’s easy to get overwhelmed,” Schmitt said. “It’s really your bank and your banker’s job to decipher through the noise. We’re here as a community resource.” 

At this time all branches are open, Schmitt said, though customers are encouraged to use the drive-through service. Lobbies are open by appointment only. For customers new to online or mobile banking, help is available over the phone. 

Tony McKim, President and CEO of The First National Bank, said his staff is also getting ready to help customers apply for SBA relief loans, which he stresses are not available yet. The bank is also working with residential mortgage customers on a case-by-case basis following FDIC guidance, he said. “We’re doing everything we can to make sure every customer gets what they need,” he said. 

Additionally, McKim noted, due to safety concerns, “we need to do all we can over the phone and through email.” If customers do not have scanners, drive-up windows are open to drop off paperwork. “But we do as much as we can in a non-face to face format,” he said. 

Bill Weir, President and CEO of Bar Harbor Savings and Loan, said his staff is also working with customers individually to modify loans and mortgages as needed. “If you know anything about this bank, you know that’s par for the course,” he said. “We’ll do anything we can to keep people in their houses … We don’t want people to be afraid of us.” 

Possible loan modifications include going to interest-only payments, pushing back payments or reducing interest for up to six months. “In order for this program to work it has to be people who are affected by (the virus) and not previously delinquent,” he said. 

Bar Harbor Savings and Loan does not have a drive-through, but the lobby is open to the public by appointment. Weir encourages customers to make use of mail, phone, and online banking services. 

According to Larry Barker, President and CEO of Machias Savings Bank, his staff has been working to help customers “understand all the resources that are out there. We have a person helping people how to apply for unemployment,” Barker gave as one example. “We’re processing hundreds of loan deferrals,” he continued.  

For nonprofits providing services during the pandemic, Machias Savings Bank is offering a Rapid Response Grant which is an online application process. “We’re in a position to help and we’re thankful to do that,” Barker said. 

For safety, some Machias Savings Bank branches are closed, according to their website. Open branches have reduced their hours for drive-through access, with face-to-face meetings by appointment only. 

Liz Graves contributed to this article. 

 

Becky Pritchard
Becky Pritchard covers the town of Bar Harbor, where she lives with her family and intrepid news-dog Joe-Joe. She worked six seasons as a park ranger in Acadia, and still enjoys spending her spare time there.

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