Business As Usual Was Banks Motto Tuesday

June 17, 2002
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GRAND RAPIDS — In the wake of attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon last Tuesday, there was talk of long lines at ATMs and a potential run on banks.

It was just talk.

Representatives of some of the larger banks in town said Tuesday they weren’t seeing any heightened withdrawal activity, though they had received inquiries from customers who wanted assurance they would be able to access their accounts if needed.

James Dunlap, president of Huntington National Bank-Michigan, said a couple of customers came in Tuesday with the intention of taking large amounts out of their accounts, but bank officers talked to them about both the risks and safety of doing that.

In the end, both were “successfully discouraged” from withdrawing large sums, he said.

“The concern was not whether or not the money would be there but whether they could get access to it when they wanted it.

“Nobody typically needs the kind of cash these folks were trying to withdraw,” Dunlap said. “So we reassured them that we have no intention of closing and that they would have access to their money. But both were very isolated cases; we saw nothing of a pattern.”

National City Bank didn’t experience a spike in withdrawals either, but was keeping an eye on it, noted Steve Alexander, the bank’s regional president of Michigan/Illinois. He said the reaction in other parts of the country, however, might have been different than it was here.

Like other banks, National City received inquiries from customers who feared they might not have access to their money for a day or two.

“We told people that the reality is our branches are open normal hours, our ATMs are working and we don’t have a liquidity problem at all,” Alexander said. “In every case we told them not to expect any problems.”

At Fifth Third Bank, it was business as usual, too.

Peggy Janei, corporate spokesperson for Fifth Third Bank, western Michigan, said some people came in to ask whether the bank was going to close for a few days. But she said Fifth Third’s local predecessor, Old Kent Bank, never closed, even during the Great Depression.

“In talking to them, they realized the safest place for their money was in the bank,” she said. “Anytime you have a situation like we’re having today, people question the state of the world.”

And talk has a way of getting exaggerated, too.

Janei, for instance, said one media outlet called Tuesday saying they had heard Fifth Third was going to implement martial law at the bank.

Ruth Vis, vice president of public affairs for Bank One Corp., spent most of Tuesday morning making the rounds of local Bank One branches on a mission unrelated to the attack.

“I can honestly say we have not seen any heightened activity. I would say that, if anything, the offices were less busy than we might normally expect on a Tuesday,” she observed.

In light of Tuesday’s national tragedy, Bank One Foundation announced later that day that it would match dollar-for-dollar all employee donations up to $1 million for disaster relief efforts. The company employs 78,000 across all its operations.

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