Banks Brace for Storm's Arrival

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Banks in the path of Hurricane Sandy braced Sunday for the storm's arrival, while making plans to help their operations weather it without interruption.

JPMorgan Chase (JPM), Bank of America (BAC), Citigroup (NYSE: C), Wells Fargo (WFC), Capital One (COF) and HSBC (HBC) all said they are taking steps to prepare for the storm's arrival on Monday, including in some cases instructing employees to work from home and closing branches in areas where the storm is expected to surge most strongly. A number of community banks in states such as Connecticut, Pennsylvania, New Jersey and New York announced plans to either shutter branches early and leave them closed on Monday.

JPMorgan Chase expects its corporate offices throughout New York City to open Monday, with the exception of 4 New York Plaza in Lower Manhattan, which sits in an evacuation zone, spokeswoman Jennifer Zuccarelli told American Banker in an email Sunday. JPMorgan said it planned to close many of its branches Monday in the New York metropolitan area, though the company said it would add staff and extend hours at branches in the hardest hit areas after the storm passes.

The New York company plans to use back-up facilities in New Jersey, as needed, while shifting some of its trading and technology operations to locations in Asia and Europe, Zuccarelli said. She also said that the company is monitoring the situation and advising employees that they can work from home if needed.

JPMorgan said it would waive or credit fees through Wednesday for customers in seven states and the District of Columbia on transactions that result in overdrafts or insufficient funds, according to a press release. The company also said it would suspend late fees on credit cards, mortgage payments and other consumer and business loans for customers in the storm's path.

Bank of America will close its offices at the World Financial Center but its other area offices, including its New York headquarters at Bryant Park, will remain open, spokesman Mark Pipitone said in an email Sunday night. Its New York City branches and its Merrill Lynch wealth management offices in the area will be closed on Monday.

The second-largest bank will waive fees for most customers who call a branch or come in person to request a waiver, Pipitone said.

Wells Fargo is closing over 150 branches in the Northeast, mainly in New York and in Connecticut, a spokeswoman said in an email Sunday night. "We are monitoring the situation closely and have plans in place to ensure there is as little impact to our operations as possible," she added.

Capital One Financial (COF) decided late Sunday to close its roughly 350 branches in New York and New Jersey on Monday, spokeswoman Tatiana Stead wrote in an email. Stead said the McLean, Va., company also planned to open branches in Maryland, Northern Virginia and Washington, D.C. at 10:00 a.m. Monday, an hour later than usual. She added that customers could continue to bank online and via the company's automated teller machines.

Citigroup said Sunday that it would close two of its offices and all branches located in New York City's evacuation zone on Monday. Citigroup instructed employees who work in those locations to work from home on Monday and Tuesday, according to a memorandum that the New York company's office of emergency management sent employee on Sunday.

"Citi has contingency plans in place including locations that can be utilized to ensure continuity of operations," a spokeswoman told American Banker in an email. "Citi is committed to providing uninterrupted service to our clients during the storm and seeks to minimize any possible impact."

HSBC has taken "appropriate precautionary steps to safeguard our employees and secure company facilities in the path of Hurricane Sandy," according to an emailed statement from spokesman Neal McGarity Sunday night. HSBC has "contingency plans, backup systems and personnel in place to enable our systems and operations to continue leading up to and after the storm," McGarity said, though he would not comment directly on any plans to close either branches or offices.

Several community banks have already disclosed plans to shutter their branches, using social media to spread the word.

Beneficial Mutual Bancorp (BNCL) in Philadelphia disclosed on its Twitter account Sunday that all of its 60 branches would remain closed on Monday, though it told customers that they could still use its online, mobile and telephone banking services. Sun Bancorp (SNBC) in Vineland, N.J., made a similar announcement, noting that it would maintain online banking on Monday despite keeping all of its branches closed.

Webster Financial (WBS) said all of its branches would close by noon, though some would close earlier. "Let's get through this safe and sound," the Waterbury, Conn., company said on its Twitter account. Webster took the extra step of setting up a website to help customers set up online banking accounts in advance of the storm.

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