There have been 403 cases of H1N1 flu reported, 82 of those in Illinois as I write this on Wednesday morning. Get the latest state-by-state breakdown of cases here.
Banks are more prepared to deal with an outbreak of the flu than almost any other business. The Federal Financial Institutions Examination Council issued an interagency advisory on influenza pandemic preparedness in March 2006; it issued an update in December 2007.
I remember first hearing about the potential impact of flu pandemic from Dr. Michael Osterholm, speaking at the ABA’s National Agricultural Conference in November 2005, held that year in Minneapolis. Dr. Osterholm painted a dark picture, referring to pandemics a century earlier that led to 50 million deaths worldwide. Dr. Osterholm was talking about the potential spread of avian flu; the current flu situation involves a milder strain of flu and, to date, there has been only one reported death associated with it.
One banker in Central Minnesota told me he was pleased regulators had required bankers to compile preparedness plans. He said his bank maintains a detailed, four-phase plan. He said he has reviewed it with staff, checked contact information in their calling tree, and verified responsibilities, including back-up duties. The bank also keep supplies, such as wipes and masks, in the vault.
Dr. Kevin Streff, director of the National Center for the Protection of the Financial Infrastructure at Dakota State University in Madison, S.D., said banks need to have plans that identify priorities. If staff is unavailable to offer all normal services, then which services will the bank provide in a limited-services environment? He said bankers also need to consider the preparedness of their key vendors. If a vendor reduces service, will the bank likely be one of those that continues to get service? If not, then what will you do? Dr. Streff encouraged bankers to review vendor contracts for information about service guarantees. He said bankers should have conversations with vendors to gauge their flu preparedness and to get a sense of how they may be treated in the event the vendor losses a substantial portion of its employees to illness.
The advent of the internet and other technology means that many banking functions can be performed remotely or with no human contact. Ultimately, however, banking is a people business, where face to face contact is important. We have to hope that an outbreak of illness is limited and swiftly resolved.