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Availa quick to adapt to pandemic

Bank had disaster protocols ready to put in place when COVID-19 arrived

— Daily Freeman-Journal photo by Anne Blankenship The Availa Bank drive-through is open for business. The lobby is open by appointment for those needing to access safe deposit boxes or to conduct loan business with the financial institution.

Editor’s Note: The following article is part of a continuing series on how Webster City area businesses are faring during the COVID-19 pandemic

No business was fully prepared to handle the day-to-day juggles associated with the novel coronavirus pandemic when it swept across the country in March. Some were better equipped than others though.

With disaster protocols in place for such a moment, Availa Bank was quick to adapt and make the necessary changes, and Scott Bargfrede, the market president and senior loan officer at the Webster City branch, says those fast decisions have made the last 60 days easier on employees and customers.

“We were prepared,” Bargfrede said. “We have a disaster team type thing, so we had a lot of protocols already in place. Every bank has their own disaster type recovery plan when something happens like a tornado. We just had to do a little bit more tweaking because it was all banks instead of just one or two.”

With branches in 14 Iowa communities — Webster City, Jewell, Fort Dodge, Carroll, Coon Rapids, Holstein, Roland, Ames, Council Bluffs, Sioux City, Ankeny, Nevada, Arcadia and Pocahontas — Availa Bank was quick to communicate with its customers about necessary changes.

“The basic plan, we’ve had that in place for a long time, so it wasn’t that tough,” Bargfrede said. “The main thing was getting it all communicated to our customers in such a short time.”

The lobbies at all of the Availa Bank locations have been closed since March 18. Bargfrede says the hope is to re-open within the next month, but no date has been set in stone as COVID-19 continues to evolve inside the state’s borders.

“We haven’t really figured out what the time frame is or a specific time,” he said.

Customers have been able to continue to utilize the drive-up window. The Webster City branch’s drive-through is open from 8 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Monday through Friday, as well as 9 a.m. to noon on Saturday.

“There have been no problems, no push back or anything like that with our customers,” Bargfrede said. “It’s been different, but the customers have bought into what’s going on with everything.

“There are a lot more questions being asked and a lot more communication through email and text messaging, or by cellphone communication. Our customers can still apply for loans, it’s just through the website. Or if they want, we can mail out the applications and we can process things in a 24- or 48-hour period.”

In-person appointments are also available, Bargfrede said, and Availa Bank is doing everything it can to protect both the customers and employees during those interactions.

“There are people that have to get into their lockbox or sign some specific loan papers and we have appointments for those things,” Bargfrede said. “We just make sure that we go into our conference room and make sure to have the social distancing. Everything is out on the table for them to sign and then we get through everything as soon as possible.”

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