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The Crisis Chapter

The Crisis Chapter

If more than 135 years of doing business have taught us anything, it’s that every generation is tested. And with every test, our FIRST Values have shone brightly through even our darkest hours.

The COVID-19 pandemic certainly proved to be one of those tests.

Financial First Responders

Imagine this scene. It’s 11:00 p.m. in downtown Sioux Falls. The streets are empty and office windows are dark — all except for those at 100 South Phillips Avenue.

Inside, lights glowed as cross-functional teams worked to keep our community in business by processing Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loans.

Because the Small Business Administration (SBA) and other federal government agencies lacked the resources to roll out such a massive and urgently needed program, they turned to community banks like ours to partner in this national rescue effort.

Early estimates place the pandemic’s total economic impact at over $8 trillion.

Restaurants and retail were crippled, and events were canceled or postponed indefinitely. In short, our business community had just suffered the most massive blow since the financial crisis of 2008–2009.

So, we worked on hundreds of PPP loans all at once.

The team was spread out to observe social distancing rules for safety — and spread thin to provide lifelines to our customers. Most of our on-site teams arrived at the office before 6:00 a.m., ready to start processing applications, and left well past dark.

One of the earliest challenges was processing loans without total clarity from the Treasury Department and SBA. But the reality was, we had customers trying to keep their businesses operating and staff paid, and we were unwilling to let them sit and wait until the government finally provided rules.

The process was almost like building a city from scratch.

We were starting with empty fields and had to design, execute, and coordinate intricate plans at a rapid pace.

One team drew up the blueprints while the other built the roads. It was tireless collaboration at its finest.

At the end of day one, on the night of April 3, 2020, we turned out the lights at 1:30 a.m. — everyone exhausted, but filled with a sense of accomplishment having processed over 190 applications.

The intense urgency came from the limited pool of money available in the first round of funding. The application deadlines were real and immovable.

This meant documentation had to be organized, gathered, and input at a breakneck pace. In multiple instances, this meant our team was on the phone with customers late into the evening, finalizing details so applications would be accepted.

Team members even went so far as to meet customers at socially safe distances in our parking lot well past closing time to gather last-minute documents.

By the time our “Hub” team had worked through the initial round of the Bank’s PPP program, during an extraordinary period of time, the Bank:

  • provided $101 million in Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loans
  • served 923 businesses
  • helped keep over 10,700 small business employees on payroll

Meanwhile, the pandemic transformed the way we work.

Suddenly, we went from hundreds of employees and customers working together, on-site every day, to rolling out an entire remote working program!

First National Bank teammates being set up for remote work in March of 2020.

Teammates being set up for remote work in March of 2020.

We have weathered many crises. From world wars to the Great Depression. Through each we have seen the best in our people emerge.

We see fierce loyalty to one another’s well-being and success. We see a financial institution innovating with astonishing agility through deep trust. We see humble teamwork and intense collaboration.

As America’s financial “first responders,” the FNB team shows up for each other, our customers, and our community.

Family shareholders of First National Bank in front of an eagle statue.

Andrea Kuehn (front left) and Stephanie Gongopoulos (front right) led the Bank through a two-year process of outlining and defining our FIRST Values, which have guided our decisions for countless years.

Every Generation Tested

For then-CEO Bill Baker, his testing began on September 15, 2008, when Wall Street’s Lehman Brothers collapsed and the Great Recession officially began. Suddenly, the world changed.

Bill Baker completing paperwork in First National Bank's board room.

One by one, all the major Wall Street investment houses began to fold or merge with a bank to survive. The world as we knew it changed overnight.

Bank failures plagued the headlines for two years, with hundreds closing without warning. And this doesn’t even count the consolidations.

The industry was cut to half the number, and no financial institution escaped challenges. However, you couldn’t advertise them because you had to maintain confidence.

During the years leading up to the financial crisis, we had set aside funds to undertake a construction project that would vertically expand our downtown headquarters.

As the team met and survival was our primary concern, we immediately took that money and put it back on the balance sheet.

Rather than falling to a consolidation or merger to stay afloat, we kept our family together. After all, we are a team, not only a bank.

In terms of growth and new development, we stood still for a time. Locally, these were difficult years, especially in 2009 when the recession settled into Sioux Falls with full effect.

During this downturn, our high view of teamwork was reinforced.

Rather than relying on a single leader, the most enduring organizations can bring together their best thinking on any given day for any given crisis. This also develops shared trust and experience to weather the inevitable difficulties ahead.

While no one can predict exactly when challenging times will come, or what they will be, it’s a certainty that they’ll come again. But high-performing teams like ours are well-prepared to shoulder the burden together.

Even though unprecedented events like the coronavirus pandemic are challenging, our teams meticulously prepare.

And the past two decades of Business Continuity Planning (BCP), including pandemic planning, prepared us well for moments such as these.

Our financial ship sailed into this storm in its strongest condition ever. Every aspect of our FIRST Values —including steady leadership, intensive communication, on-the-fly innovation, and can-do spirit — has been visible at FNB.

First National Bank's leadership team celebrating 100 years in business with a large cake.

In 1985, our leadership team celebrated 100 years of “building successful relationships.”

Every Generation Tested

For then-CEO Bill Baker, his testing began on September 15, 2008, when Wall Street's Lehman Brothers collapsed and the Great Recession officially began. Suddenly, the world changed.

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