On Monday, August 29, 2005 Hurricane Katrina made it’s third and most devastating landfall with sustained winds of over 125mph. Inside the headquarters of Hancock Bank in Gulfport, Mississippi, Katrina’s 30 foot storm surge had driven 4 feet of water throughout the ground floor and destroyed the elevator system.
A tornado had ripped out 1300 windows on the face of the building and blown glass, furniture and debris throughout the interior. The bank had a 1-inch steel roof that had been peeled off by the gale winds, exposing the interior of the 17-story building to the storm and deluge. And in the basement, the central data center was being flooded and blasted with falling sheet rock as the interior walls crumbled and fell.
In the shelter of a nearby building COO John Hairston managed to call Security IT Manager Jeff Andrews sitting in Chicago. With the winds howling outside, John yelled into his cell phone,
“Jeff, the building’s a total loss. You’ve got 4 days. Bring up the systems, get it current. I may not be able to talk to you again for a while…If we cannot get the systems up, we don’t have a company.”
The following morning, the bank executives huddled over the hood of a car in the parking lot. It was Tuesday, August 30. Payday. Most of their customers would be getting paid today, many by direct deposit. They needed those funds desperately for basic food, shelter and clothing. Credit cards would be useless. The region was devastated, the infrastructure flattened. With sporadic electricity available, cash would be 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. Fifty of their regional bank branches were offline, with no power or access to customer account information.
Those executives in the parking lot of Hancock Bank then did something remarkable. Reminded of the original charter of the bank to serve communities first, profits second, they asked their branch managers to open no matter what. Without power or lights, and some without doors or windows, that afternoon 10 locations opened for business. Several of those locations served customers from card tables in front of the shattered bank. Within three days, 30 locations opened for business, and invited people in.
In exchange for an IOU on a post-it note, with only a name and an address if they had no identification, each makeshift bank provided $200 cash to anyone who asked for it. That’s right. In the critical week following Katrina, without requiring either proof of identification or verification of account information, Hancock Bank pulled cash from destroyed ATM machines, dried it out, and put $42 million into the local economy.
According to bank CEO George Schloegel, Less than $200,000 was not returned. And in the five months following the disaster, 13,000 new accounts were opened, and bank deposits grew by $1.5 billion. Yes, billion. Hancock Bank had definitively become the people’s bank of the community.
That’s the power of knowing the right thing to do, and actually doing it. That’s what happens when you cross the bridge between the knowing-doing gap.