Banks are aiming to provide normalcy to customers around Ferguson, Mo., even as branches share a parking lot with the Missouri National Guard.
As protests and unrest continue following the Aug. 9 shooting death of unarmed black teenager Michael Brown by Darren Wilson, a white police officer, area bankers said they are balancing service continuity with safety concerns. Mostly, that's materializing in shorter hours as some banks close early or suspend operations as needed.
Nightly unrest between police and protestors is largely contained near the intersection of Ferguson and West Florissant avenues, about a half mile north of a shopping center area that includes branches for Fifth Third Bank, PNC Bank and U.S. Bank. The parking lot of the Jennings Westfall shopping plaza has been the command center for the police and, as of Monday, the Missouri National Guard.
Local authorities and the shopping center's management "asked us to close up early and we are doing what they asked us to do," said Nate Sykes, branch manager for U.S. Bank in the center.
The U.S. Bank branch typically closes its lobby at 5 p.m. and its drive-thru an hour later. It has moved up the drive-thru closing to 5 p.m. Otherwise, it has been business as usual.
Fifth Third has also been closing an hour or two early, said Stephanie Honan, a corporate spokeswoman. The branch was closed on Aug. 11, the first day of protests and violence, and on Monday. Honan described the situation as fluid the company is trying to keep normal hours, while making day-to-day decisions as needed.
Branch managers for other area banks, including Bank of America, First National Bank of St. Louis and UMB Bank, did not respond to calls for comment.
The police and military presence hasn't hampered business, Sykes said , adding that he is seeing "regular traffic" in the branch. Sykes said he is directing customers potentially inconvenienced by the modified hours to other branches. U.S. Bank has 117 branches around St. Louis, more than any other bank.
Keeping continuity at locations around Ferguson is very important because area residents prefer to transact at the branch, said Frank Evans, human resources director at Alliance Credit Union. The credit union has as a branch at the corner of Ferguson and West Florissant avenues.
"I don't know if it speaks to a lack of affordable broadband internet service or just what our members here are used to, but that branch has the lowest percentage of members who are primarily users of online services," Evans said.
The closest Alliance branch outside Ferguson is roughly seven miles away, making it difficult for local residents to access.
Alliance closed its Ferguson branch during the onset of the protests and redirected staff to other locations. In a meeting last week, the Ferguson branch employees said they wanted to return to their branch, which has been located in or near the same intersection for 65 years, Evans said.
"This was our first branch and is still our busiest, and the people of this community value the social interaction of it," Evans said. "I think that was a reason why our people pushed a little harder to reopen and to keep our normal hours. We know that our customers don't have the cushion a lot of people take for granted."
The Alliance branch has not been damaged, though many neighboring businesses have been burned or vandalized. Like the bank branches to the south, the credit union's parking lot has also become a hub of activity for law enforcement. Evans said the credit union is also taking the situation day by day.
"Any inkling that the safety of our members or staff is at risk and we will close," he said. "We have no qualms about that."
Robert Barba is one of American Banker's community banking reporters.
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