“We gave out over $3.5 million to people who we found out didn’t have accounts with our banks. But, we got all but $300,000 back,” said George Schloegel, CEO of Hancock Bank in Gulfport, as he was explaining his post-Katrina actions. And, he was boasting about it! A banker bragging about having lost $300,000 wasn’t like any other banker I’ve ever met. I had to learn more and soon wished that we had more like him.
He went on, “We knew that we had to get money back into people’s hands after Katrina. Even a couple of hundred dollars was going to make a big difference for many of these people who had lost everything. We opened our bank the day after the storm. One of our employees had evacuated to near Atlanta. We had him load $30 million into his car at the Atlanta Fed to bring back home.” That is not a typo—Thirty Million Dollars!
“Our tellers were in the building working with flashlights and we set up a line outside with a senior officer of the bank to screen everyone who went in. All of our computers were down and we had no way of knowing what people’s balances were. But, we hoped that everyone was good for at least $200. We just did what we thought was right.”
“We washed money. We ironed it. We did everything we could to get money back into circulation.”
The public noticed what George’s bank did. And, that is why only $300,000 was lost in his heroic effort to get cash into survivor’s hands. He told us, “Within a month we opened 13,000 new accounts. People noticed what we did. This bank was started in 1899 but in the five months after Katrina we grew more in assets than what we had grown in the first 95 years of our existence.”
George rebuilt the bank in Gulfport, spending twice what he spent to build it originally because he rebuilt it to international hurricane specs. He rebuilt the bank without ever getting a building permit, telling the local authorities, “You check it afterward and if there is something you don’t like we’ll change it.” His competitor, an out of state bank across the street still is out of business.
George went on, “We will reopen our branch in Pass Christian in June at a cost of $1.5 million. Bay St. Louis (shown in picture) will also reopen shortly at a similar cost. We’ll never make those investments back, but we are a symbol to people on the coast of recovery.”
I just love it when local people like George Schloegel do what they know is right and are rewarded for it.