MARCH 2021
Looking Forward to Spring

I went running early one evening recently. It had been an unseasonably warm day here in Charlottesville, Virginia, where I live, and the weather was still mild. I wore running shorts and a cotton tee shirt. What a treat after a long, cold winter, not to mention a long, hard pandemic! That night I felt free in a way I haven’t felt in a long time.

I don’t know about you, but I am looking forward to spring, in more ways than one.

What terrible and yet amazing a year it has been since last March when lockdown and stay-at-home orders went into effect. Over half a million people have died from the Covid-19 virus in the United States, or as many people killed in traffic accidents over the last 15 years. This has been a national tragedy. We are not alone, of course. Many other countries have suffered as well. And yet, we have also witnessed a miracle in medical science, with the rapid development of three highly effective vaccines for distribution in the U.S. in less than a year’s time. I think history will judge this as an enormously significant achievement, perhaps on par with the development of penicillin or the polio vaccine. 

The U.S. infection rate has plummeted (we’ve all read the stories, so we know the emergence of multiple Covid-19 variants could drive the rate back up), and 12% of the U.S. population has been fully vaccinated while 21% has received at least one shot. The New York Times estimated that 50% of the U.S. population could be vaccinated by late May, 70% by early July and 90% by late August.

We watched in horror as the U.S. economy collapsed in the second quarter of 2020, declining a record 31.4%, only to rebound a record 33% in the third quarter. The economy now seems to be poised for a period of sustained growth as the pandemic recedes.

There is hope for a return to normalcy by fall if not late summer. Take a deep breath, hold it for a second, then slowly release it. Savor the thought. We are, hopefully, at the beginning of the end. Will life be different once the pandemic is under control? Yes, many things will have permanently changed. We lost lives that can’t be reclaimed. The pandemic altered lives in ways that can’t be undone. There will be a new normal, a different normal, but we will no longer live in the pandemic’s tight grip. Whatever the new normal looks like, we’ll adapt to it just like we always have.

Banking has survived the travails of the last 12 months in surprisingly good shape. You have managed your businesses with a distributed workforce, dispensed billions of dollars in Paycheck Protection Program loans, and counseled your commercial borrowers while carefully monitoring your asset quality. You are awash in liquidity and well capitalized. I have covered the banking industry through three economic crises dating back to the early 1990s and banks are better positioned to help drive a recovery today than in the previous two. 

I am eagerly waiting for spring. I look forward to more runs in shorts and a tee shirt. I look forward to a more normal life, for the country, for this industry, for each of you. March has always been one of my favorite months in the Northeast because I begin to see signs of spring even if winter still prevails. 

I see signs of spring in the fullest sense, and I hope you do as well.
Jack Milligan is editor-at-large of Bank Director, an information resource for directors and officers of financial companies. You can connect with Jack on Twitter at @BankDirectorEd.

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