Executive News: Nightmare on main street

There I was, minding my own business, with thoughts of the upcoming anniversary of my heart attack. Happy thoughts they were because I was so very blessed to have survived it.

That memory brought back feelings of gratitude and praise that I lived to celebrate my 74th birthday. It was the best one ever, as you might imagine.

Photo of Roger M. Beverage
Roger Beverage, OBA President and CEO

Now I’m facing the reality of birthday number 75 while at the same time trying to understand the enormity of the current pandemic and what it means.

Today’s reality is like nothing I’ve ever experienced or even imagined. When I served as the director of banking in Nebraska 35 years ago, I thought things in general were bad. The state’s economy collapsed. Main streets across the state were staggered by the economic blow to the state’s main industry (food production). Many farms and small businesses collapsed. As a result, I was forced to close a lot of banks.

I was also the receiver for a failed industrial bank, the deposits of which were not insured as everyone had been led to believe. Its customers were mostly senior citizens and retirees. People were frustrated and angry about the state’s ineptness, followed by the state’s denial of any legal responsibility for the losses incurred by the depositors as a result of the entity’s collapse.

I sent people to jail. I helped impeach the state’s attorney general, who was a friend of mine. Some of the banks I was forced to close were owned by other friends, people I had worked with and for when I served as executive vice president of the Nebraska Bankers Association. We had 24-hour protection by law enforcement agencies. It was not a good period in that state’s history.

The collateral damage incurred during that period, and its negative impact on the business to which I had and have dedicated my professional career, was unbelievable. It was also unprecedented for my generation. We’d never seen that kind of adversity before and we didn’t quite know what to do about it.

Standing by, watching banks being sold or liquidated, because of the actions I’d taken by closing them, was painful. I watched what was happening to individuals, to small farmers and other businesses that supported them. It was and remains well beyond my ability to adequately describe, either then or now. There was no real understanding of what it all meant.

But we were Nebraskans. We were Americans, by George, and we would not be beaten. We would not allow our state, or our country to falter. We would be back, stronger than ever. And, after a few years, we were for the most part.

Fast forward to early March 2020 – just a few short weeks ago. Main street and small businesses in general were staggered again – worse than ever before – even after the 9-11 attacks or the near-meltdown of the global economy. It is worse than anything I’ve previously experienced, and this time it was personal – impacting every individual in our state and across this grand country.

When I say it’s “personal” I don’t just mean the pandemic’s economic impact on our savings and 401(k) accounts. That’s bad enough. But its impact extends to matters of life and death to which many of us may have (unknowingly) been exposed, perhaps for the first time.

If you’re older (essentially 65-plus) and you have some underlying health issues, you are deemed to be in the most at-risk health category of all.

Hmm. 74 years old; the proud owner of four stents in my left coronary artery. I look in the mirror and conclude, “Yep, we have a winner here!” Marvelous.

So, my wife and I have been self-quarantined now for more than three weeks, and we’re still friends. I think. There’s a house that’s been under construction across the street. Other than watching various laborers arrive and depart daily, it’s about the only movement or activity we see in the neighborhood.
And the accompanying silence, due to the mandate we all stay home, is deafening. It’s like a ghost town out here. It’s so quiet.

Everyone asks, “When will it be over? When can we resume normal activities?” Obviously, we’re not there yet. In fact, we may not have yet reached the peak of infections or deaths as this issue of the Oklahoma Banker goes to press. That’s pretty sobering.

I can’t help but think about future bank examinations and what it will be like going forward. I remember what it was like for me 35 years ago, trying to manage the chaos that resulted from the economic crash in agriculture, and I wouldn’t want to do that again, ever.

Thank God for Mick Thompson, our state banking commissioner. He’s absolutely the best. Mick’s been on the head of the spear while battling alongside of the industry from the outset. He’s been fighting to make sure that examiners here and elsewhere stay calm and collected as we try to sort this out together. No one could ask for more.

In addition, thanks also go out to the OBA’s chairman, Frazier Henke, and our board of directors. They know what we know, and they have been supportive of everything we’ve been doing to keep you informed about the latest developments and the speed with which those developments have been coming.

We are your OBA. We are here for you and your bank, 24-7 if need be. There are never too many questions, too many emails or too many phone calls from our member banks. Take advantage of this tremendous resource that’s at your fingertips. And stay healthy and safe.