Holding Louisiana Banking Together

Article excerpt

"Sleep is what I want for Christmas," said Peter Gwaltney, speaking as much for the New Orleans banking community as for himself. One out of three Louisiana banks were affected by the Katrina and Rita hurricanes and their aftermaths. Unprecedented damage caused untold hours and days of work--and that was only for jury-rigged solutions, let alone long-term remedies.

For Gwaltney, chief executive officer of the Louisiana Bankers Association, the sleepless nights began the day before Katrina hit. That's when he and State Banking Commissioner John Ducrest, a career regulator and recent political appointee to the job, worked out a multi-level communications plan so they could stay in close contact throughout the anticipated disaster. And they've used it, too.

Both men are based in Baton Rouge.

"We call each other almost around the clock these days," says Gwaltney in a late September interview. While individual banks have been pursuing their own recovery plans, nearly everything involving industry-wide coordination in areas hit by Katrina and other parts of the state have relied on coordination by both regulators and state-level banking associations.

"At first, we didn't realize how bad things were," recalls Gwaltney. But as news of flooding came in, initial sighs of relative relief gave way to horror, and then to the determination to get things organized.

LBA headquarters helped organize banking caravans into New Orleans and other devastated areas, enabling representatives of area banks to check out their facilities while under the armed protection of troops or other officials.

Gwaltney explains that the bankers had to avoid tying up too many armed guards at any one time, as they were so needed in so many places during the early days after Katrina when looters roamed the streets.

As conditions improved, LBA helped arrange individual bank trips into affected branches after arranging for the visits to be cleared through the relief authorities, as coordinated by the banking commissioner.

Security was at a premium, and this, plus the shortage of usable facilities in some portions of the city, led to limits being set, regarding how many and which branches could be opened. …