As one of the many small businesses displaced by the fury of Katrina, Mississippi River Bank, headquartered in Belle Chasse, Louisiana, needed help mustering its resources after the hurricane hit. Although the main branch suffered minimal damage, it was still unable to open for more than a week; the other two branches have yet to open; one is still completely under water.
"The hurricane scattered all our customers, as well as our 45 employees, throughout nine different states," said Mike Bush, president and CEO, Mississippi River Bank, who was able to set up a temporary headquarters at the Bank of St. Francisville, in Baton Rouge, but during the disruptive aftermath of the hurricane, the bank had no way to tell depositors that the bank had survived, or how they could access their funds. Among other problems, all the bank's phone lines were down.
A logical solution would have been to post relevant data on the bank's Website. Unfortunately, the business did not have one. "One of the reasons we never had a Website before was that we're such a tight community, everyone is closely related, through family or through business. There just didn't seem to be a need for one," said Bush, who changed his mind once he saw the difficulty of communicating not only with customers but also with his employees.
"A friend from the Banker's Association told me he knew just the man to talk to," recalled Bush, who was referred to John Munsell, CEO of Bizzuka Inc., a Lafayette, Louisiana-based software development company specializing in Web-based business applications. In less than 12 hours, Bizzuka launched a Website for the bank (www.mississippiriverbank.net), live with check-cashing information, an FAQ (frequently asked question) section, an email form that account holders could use to ask questions, and an easy-to-use administrative console that let bank personnel manage the content of the site remotely. "We went from zero to 100 miles an hour in just one day," said Bush, who said this experience really "opened his eyes" to the value of having a Website.
"I had no idea that so many people were so Web-savvy," said Bush, who said that within the first 24 hours more than 200 people accessed the site even though the bank had done nothing to promote it. "Word got out quickly."
Happily, Mississippi River Bank, a $100 million bank which has about 15,000 customers, is going to survive. "We've lost a few million, what with having to spend money and not having any income yet. But it could have been a whole lot worse. All in all, we've been able to rally very quickly," said Bush.