Texas banks are readying for the nation's roughest hurricane in more than a decade by taking emergency actions, closing branches and stocking ATMs.
Hurricane Harvey is expected to bring “torrential rains and [a] dangerous storm surge” that threaten to flood areas near the Gulf Coast, the National Weather Service forecasts. Parts of Texas’ eastern shore, including Corpus Christi, are under a hurricane warning while areas such as Houston and San Antonio face a tropical storm warning.
The storm has continued to intensify and will likely make landfall as a Category 3 hurricane — it would be the nation's first in nearly 12 years — either Friday night or Saturday morning, according to The Weather Channel. A mandatory evacuation was declared for some areas along the Gulf Coast.
“We’ve been through situations like Hurricane Ike, and we’ve learned from those experiences to have this level of preparation,” said Bill Day, a spokesman at Cullen/Frost Bankers in San Antonio, which recently activated the emergency operations center it formed a couple of years ago.
“Our main focus is on serving customers at times like this," Day said. "When people are stressed, they need their bank.”
The $30 billion-asset company’s operations center — which is housed at an undisclosed San Antonio location — has telephone lines, computers and televisions so staff can monitor weather conditions. Executives can also see what is happening at branches through security camera footage, which allows them to make decisions on when to open or close specific locations, Day said.
Cullen/Frost has already closed branches around Corpus Christi, some of which were built with hurricane shutters that can be closed during severe weather. Management hopes to reopen the branches on Monday, though Day said the decision will be based on weather conditions.
Branches in Houston and the Rio Grande Valley remain open, though Cullen/Frost is monitoring those locations.
Banks such as Cullen/Frost and Prosperity Bancshares have also stocked ATMs in endangered areas in case evacuating customers need cash. The companies will also look at setting up special loan-repayment programs and charitable donations, if needed.
The $22.3 billion-asset Prosperity began discussing storm preparation more than a week ago, though planning became more intense in recent days, said Mike Epps, a senior executive vice president who oversees the Houston company’s contingency planning. Prosperity, which closed branches in high-risk areas, has a contingency call set for Sunday afternoon.
“No. 1, you care about employees and providing a service to customers,” Epps said. “That's paramount.”
The National Credit Union Administration on Friday urged credit unions along Texas’ Gulf Coast to prepare, adding that it was ready to assist with “maintaining or restoring operations, if necessary.”
A day earlier, the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency said banks could close branches “directly affected by the extreme weather.”
Wells Fargo, which has more than 600 branches in Texas, has closed a number of locations, including those in Houston, a spokeswoman said. Management is monitoring the situation and will make decisions on reopening branches as the storm progresses.
The $1.3 billion-asset American Bank in Corpus Christi closed 10 branches early Thursday. Those locations will remain closed through the weekend.
PlainsCapital Bank in Dallas closed offices in Alice, Corpus Christi, Port Isabel and Victoria.
“Our senior management and emergency preparedness teams have been monitoring this situation closely,” Jerry Schaffner, the $9.9 billion-asset bank’s president and CEO, said in a press release. “We made the decision to close our Gulf Coast area branches once the hurricane warning was issued to allow time for our employees to join their families and complete their preparations.”
International Bancshares, which closed 19 branches along the coast, had boarded up those locations and set up sandbags to protect against flood waters, said Dalia Martinez, the Laredo company's executive vice president of operations and compliance. ATMs were stocked and customers received notifications in recent days.
A local response team is set to meet on Sunday and a hotline was established for employees to check on the status of their branches. The focus is starting to shift towards post-storm actions.
"Another group is already planning our recovery efforts, including an assessment of the buildings," Martinez said.
Paul Davis and John Reosti contributed to this report.