The Dividends of Giving

helping-handsIn the wake of hurricane Katrina, numerous people throughout the gulf coast area had lost homes, and were in need of basic food, shelter and care. With sporadic electricity available in the region, cash became critical to sustaining people’s lives.

Serving customers from Texas to Florida, Hancock Bank was one of the primary banking providers in the region. But without power at their banks or ATM facilities there was no way their customers could get access to funds to buy basic needs like clothing, food and shelter. Even if some of their branch locations were able to open, often either the customer had lost their identification in the storm or the bank itself and had power and access to people’s account information.

A few of the managers at Hancock Bank did something remarkable. Reminded of the original charter of the bank to serve communities first, profits second, they established makeshift human-powered ATMs. They decided to provide $200 cash to anyone who asked for it. That’s right. Without either proof of identification or verification of account information, Hancock Bank gave up to $200 to anyone who asked for it in exchange for a written IOU.

During those critical weeks following Katrina, Hancock Bank employees literally laundered money from destroyed ATM machines and gave out millions in increments of several hundred dollars each. Of the millions they gave out, asking only written promissory notes in return, less than $300,000 (1%) was not returned. And in the months that followed the disaster, their cash deposits from existing and new customers ballooned 40% as customers repaid the loan and new customers joined. Andrew Zolli tells the story here.

Shortly after that Hancock Bank Chairman George Schloegel was elected Mayor of Gulfport, MS with over 90% of the vote.