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M&T Bank's Jones sees region rallying against Covid-19

M&T Bank chairman and CEO Rene F. Jones knows the region is facing tough times with the Covid-19 pandemic.

But he is also encouraged that the community is rallying to overcome the challenges.

"You see it with the not-for-profits coming out the woodwork to try to help in any way they possibly can," Jones said following Tuesday's annual shareholders meeting.

"What I hope is that the spirit of Western New York is what gives us resilience and allows us to recover and continue on the trend that we were on, which is a trend of growth and a growing economy and some exciting prospects for the future," he said.

Jones has the vantage point of the leader of one of the region's most influential businesses and one of its largest private employers. The local economy is battered by skyrocketing unemployment and widespread business shutdowns.

Amid those conditions, Jones said he believes M&T is well-equipped to help customers through the pandemic because of steps the bank took before the outbreak: knowing its customers and business clients, and understanding their capabilities as well as their limitations.

"That-long tenured relationship we have with them has really positioned us well to figure out what's needed to help them get through the process," he said.

One concrete way M&T is supporting customers: helping them get approved for loans under the federal government's Paycheck Protection Program, designed to keep small businesses afloat and employees on the payroll. Across its multistate footprint, M&T has processed 27,711 such loans, worth $6.4 billion. More M&T customers are hoping to take advantage of the program.

The PPP has reached its $349 billion funding limit, but congressional leaders and President Trump were negotiating plans for an additional allocation.

"If that happens, I think we'll look back over time and find that this proved to be much-needed assistance," Jones said.

Jones said communication with employees is essential during times like these.

"We have experts, 17,773 of them, and they are the ones, whether they are in North Tonawanda or Baltimore, Md., or Albany, they are the ones who know what the customers need, so we spend lots of time listening to our employees and empowering them to make the right decision," he said.

About 90% of M&T employees are working from home. Jones said the bank's workforce is going through a "uniting experience."

"It's one where you rally together in purpose, and once you go through it, I can only suspect we will never be the same and we will be much more closer together as an organization," he said.

Jones delivered a scaled-down, eight-minute speech to shareholders in light of the pandemic. His remarks were broadcast online after M&T switched to a virtual-only format.

"Clearly, this is not a time for big meetings or big speeches," Jones said. "It's a time for action, because as as community bankers, we have much work to do."

Jones alluded to past crises the world has faced and overcome, such as the influenza pandemic of a century ago.

"Time and again, the world has faced great disasters and great challenges, yet time and time again, ordinary communities rise up and come together to accomplish extraordinary things," he said.

M&T normally holds its annual meeting at its downtown headquarters and draws a big crowd. Tuesday's virtual version lasted about 20 minutes. No shareholders submitted questions by email.

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