OCTOBER 2020 • LONGISLANDPRESS.COM 21
FIRST NATIONAL BANK OF LONG ISLAND CEO CHRIS BECKER
KEEPING CASH FLOWING
BY CLAUDE SOLNIK
Chris Becker in January became president
and CEO of The First National Bank
of Long Island. We talked with him
about leading a financial institution
during the pandemic
and the role of this nearly
100-year-old, Glen Headbased
bank with 49 branches
(including 10 in New York
City) at a crucial time for the
bank and borrowers.
How did First of Long Island modify
operations during the height of the pandemic?
As the pandemic was building and
spreading, we phased in limited hours.
We had our employees work
from behind the teller line
with glass barriers. We
kept our drive-up windows
and ATMs open
and we kept a few lobbies
open. We always
had our staff in.
Did you personally
shift to remote
work? I’m set up to
work remotely at home,
but I came into the office
every day. We
were deemed an essential business. We
had most of our back-office folks working
remotely from home. I came into the
office. We had people dealing with the
public. I wanted to be here side by side
Has electronic banking accelerated?
We’ve been migrating to digital channels
for years. During the pandemic,
transactions shifted to electronic products.
Our customers can snap a picture
of their check. Those volumes tripled
during the pandemic.
How are branches impacted? In-person
transactions have been going down for
years, as electronic transactions went
up. Branches have become about solving
problems, asking questions, talking
about new products, financial needs,
and things to help their business.
Are you adding branches? We’re
opening a branch in Riverhead. That
should open in the fourth quarter of
this year. We’ve been opening branches
in Brooklyn and Queens and will
continue to look for opportunities
there. We continue to expand our
branch network geographically. We
think there’s plenty of opportunity
on Long Island.
Who was borrowing during
the pandemic and for what? A
lot of loans were the Paycheck
Protection Program loans. We
did $170 million in PPP loans to
our customers. We were very
busy with that. We did another
$600 million of payment deferrals
to help our customers out
during the pandemic. A lot of
customers came to banks and
asked for payment deferrals. I
think the banking community
stepped up and combined
with PPP to help the country
get through this shutdown.
What was it like to help with
PPP loans? When we were
doing the PPP loans, we put
together a team at the bank. I was personally
processing loans and dealing
with customers. The employees were
so excited to help these businesses get
through the pandemic and pay their employees.
I had so many employees saying
how proud they were that we were here
to help. People were working around
the clock. We had people emailing each
other at 2 in the morning. The system
was open around the clock.
How do you decide who gets loans?
When we underwrite a loan to determine
if a person qualifies, you get current information.
You take that information and
determine what’s appropriate for them.
You work with them to try to create a winwin
situation. You have to make sure the
customer has the wherewithal to pay back
How do loan volumes look now? Normal
loan volumes have been down. We’re
starting to see activity pick up. As Long
Island opens up, we’re starting to see customers
come out looking for loans. We’re
starting to see that activity pick up. We’re
encouraged that things are getting better
on Long Island.
As more banking is done online, do
banks have to work harder at security?
Banks have to be mindful of cyber security
and fraudsters trying to steal identities.
They do that more and more through digital
channels. We’re constantly investing
in our security to fight cybersecurity
crimes. With the pandemic and people
using more electronic transactions,
criminals will try to exploit that.
How do you manage stress, particularly
in difficult times? Make sure you laugh
every day. We have a dedicated board
of directors. Even at those meetings, we
make sure we have a good laugh or two.
It relaxes people, helps get rid of stress.
When I go home in the evening, a lot of
times I put on an old sitcom and watch
it for a half hour and get a good laugh. I
find that laughing is the best medicine for
stress for me.
Chris Becker was named CEO of The First National Bank of Long Island in January.
“We think there’s plenty of opportunity on Long Island.”