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FSIs Offer Financial Relief to Hurricane Victims

Bank One and Western Union offer help to customers affected by Hurricane Charley.

In an effort to aid residents affected by Hurricane Charley, financial institutions have so far focused mainly on humanitarian efforts, such as providing discounted loan services and rebates to customers in need of funds to cover the cost of damages to their homes and businesses. Currently, it appears that existing contact center and branch facilities will be sufficient to handle any related increase in call or inquiry volume (although that could change as the impact of Hurricane Frances, which followed Charley two weeks later, becomes clear).

Among the banks joining the effort is Bank One, with offices in Fort Myers, Fla. (part of JPMorgan Chase & Co.; $1.1 trillion in assets). It is offering reduced-cost loans to help Florida-based consumer and business customers with disaster-related expenses, reports Jeff Carter, retail market manager, Bank One. To qualify, the customer must be a residential or business owner of a property located in one of the 25 counties in Florida that were designated disaster areas by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). At press time, Bank One had not decided whether or not to extend the program to victims of Hurricane Frances.

The bank has not added to its call center or loan origination staff because there are enough employees to process the increase in loan applications and incoming calls regarding the loan program, according to Chris Spencer, a spokesperson for Bank One. Perhaps because Hurricane Frances hit so soon after Charley, the bank had not seen an increase in loan volume at press time. "We have not yet seen an increase in loan volume, but part of that may be because Hurricane Frances was on the heels of Charley," Spencer suggests. "Folks are still just processing their needs."

The consumer lending plan consists of a loan of up to $25,000 with a discounted loan rate, deferred first payment for up to 90 days and no fee. Business owners can borrow up to $35,000. Both loans have a maximum term of 60 months. The deadline for applications is Dec. 15.

Bank One has encountered similar disasters in other states and wanted to help customers get back on their feet, Carter says. "It's important to respond quickly to our members and our customers in need," he says. Bank One also is offering grants to employees who were affected by Hurricane Charley.

Western Union Financial Services (Denver) also is aiding victims of Hurricane Charley. The money transfer services provider is offering rebates to customers who wire money to family members and friends located in the disaster areas as determined by FEMA. According to Sherry Johnson, Western Union's manager of external communications, the company felt it was important not to charge fees for money transfers and wires earmarked for those in need. "We have made it easier for customers to send money to people in those areas," Johnson says. The rebate is in effect for transactions that took place through Sept. 24, regardless of the transaction amount.

At press time, Western Union could not say if there had been an increase in wire transfers as a result of the rebate, because it had not begun processing statistics and generating reports on the volume of money transfers after the hurricane.

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