Partners, Volume 15, Number 3, 2005

Q&A—Interview with Bob Musso, New Orleans Branch Manager

Branch Employees Resilient Through Storm

Partners: In the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, you were faced with the daunting task of having to take care of continuing bank operations while ensuring the safety of Branch employees. How did you balance those priorities?

Musso: The storm was...bigger and stronger than anything we’d seen in 30 or 40 years; it was pretty clear that this time we would have to tilt the scales in favor of employee safety. There was no doubt about that. Once we secured the facility, all of our priorities were centered on taking care of the employees and making sure that they were safe and out of harm’s way. In every case, we did err in favor of safety for the employees.

Partners: Obviously, right after the storm, without electricity, there was no access to ATMs. What was the immediate impact on cash following the hurricane?

Musso: There was a huge demand for cash, and it wasn’t even as large as it could have been. The area was so devastated that some of the banks couldn’t even open up in temporary locations. Many of their employees relocated out of the state. The banks with locations in the areas that were most devastated were totally inaccessible or they were underwater. Those banks in areas on the periphery of the destruction had a huge demand for cash. Even some of those banks lost electricity and had to set up tents outside of their offices. They were working off records that had been previously run several days before that showed checking account balances, and they were allowing cash to be given out to those people presenting checks. I spent a few days in my hometown of Thibodeaux, La., and for two or three weeks the grocery stores there were only accepting local checks or cash. Credit cards, debit or ATM cards were not acceptable. So it did turn into a cash society in many areas for about three or four weeks.

Partners: In your view, what is the importance of the New Orleans branch going forward especially as it relates to community and economic development initiatives and rebuilding in that region in the future?

Musso: I think it is extremely important. We are up and running now. We have restored cash operations for paying and receiving functions totally. We are feeling pretty good about the future of the operations in cash in New Orleans. That we were able to get up and running that quickly is certainly a symbol to the city, to all of Louisiana and to the banks. And the fact that we are going to be there and our presence is going to be known will make others consider coming back to the city.

Partners: As a native Louisianan, you have seen many storms and hurricanes in the area. Do you think that Hurricane Katrina will weaken the resolve of residents to want to rebuild?

Musso: I think that Katrina has temporarily shaken the confidence of a number of our citizens. It certainly has had an effect upon the business community. I think it has even had an effect on the staunchest politicians. I do think that the resolve will return.... The more I see this situation evolve, the more I hear people saying that they have decided to come back and rebuild. The companies that initially said that they weren’t coming back have changed their minds. And I think that with the help of everyone involved and with the construction of a wholly new concept in levees...that we will be fine. I really do think that we can come back. And hopefully you’ll come back to a better New that is more economically viable and one that has a better lifestyle for all of its citizens.

Note: Many employees at the New Orleans branch lost or suffered damage to their homes. Soon after the hurricane, all 176 New Orleans Branch employees returned to work—either in New Orleans or elsewhere in the District or System. As of mid-December, 95 New Orleans staff are back working at the branch.

Interview was conducted by Jennifer Grier, community affairs project manager at the Atlanta Fed.

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