‘Banks should be dependable’


OKEECHOBEE — Imagine her surprise when 77-year-old Joanne Linehan arrived at Bank of America three weeks ago to withdraw some money from her account and found a note on the door saying the branch was temporarily closed. “I didn’t know what to think,” she said. “The note didn’t say when they would open again. I didn’t know how I was supposed to get any money out. I don’t have a debit card. Maybe I’m the only person left in the world who still uses checks,” she laughed. “Everyone else is dead now. Oh wait. That’s not funny.”

On June 22, the bank reopened, but at first was only open Monday through Wednesday and on Saturday morning. Now they are offering six days a week again, but Linehan has decided she no longer trusts the bank to handle her money. She is afraid she will get up next week and find out they are closed again.

“I don’t want to drive all over creation just to get some money out of my account, and I shouldn’t have to. They tell older people to stay home, because we are the most vulnerable to the coronavirus, and then I’m supposed to drive 40 miles to another bank to get some money to go to the store to buy bread?” she said. “Young people don’t worry about it as much I guess because they bank online, but I don’t want to drive to another town to do my banking, and I don’t want to bank online,” she explained. “They didn’t even give us any warning at all. They just closed the doors and put a sign out front. What if I had something in a safe deposit box? It isn’t right to just walk off and leave your customers like that with no advance warning. Banks should be dependable.”

She opened an account at another financial institution. Now she has to go through the hassle of transferring her Social Security check to the other bank. “I guess I will leave my phone plugged in while I sit on hold for eight hours,” she sighed. She also had to change all of the bills — electric, water, etc. which were paid out of her bank account. She did her research to see which bank was considered the most reliable in the area and chose one she felt would be the most dependable, so she would not have to go through this again.

On Monday, July 6, Bank of America closed more than 50 locations in central Florida. All locations had similar notices on their doors stating the location was temporarily closed and giving no information on how long they will be closed.

When contacted regarding the closing in Okeechobee, Senior Vice President, External Communications, Southeast U.S. Media Relations Matthew Daily said, “Throughout this time, we have balanced the need to stay open to provide access for our clients while prioritizing the health and safety of our employees and clients with temporarily closing on occasion.” He went on to explain that they are taking steps to support not only their customers but also their staff during the health crisis. “This includes some temporary financial center closures. Those temporary closures are happening in areas either where there is low foot traffic or there is not sufficient staffing have all of the centers open.” He said the Okeechobee site was opened earlier than the other sites because they know there is not another one near by, but he could not guarantee it would not close again tomorrow.

“These are all fluid. These could happen every day,” he said. “I can’t speak to what could happen in the future, but if it does happen again, it would be temporary.”

Their goal is to reopen the other locations at some point, but he could not say when that would happen.

Although other banks in the area have made changes such as closing their lobbies and doing some business out in the parking lots, none of them have had any unscheduled closures since the beginning of the pandemic.

According to the Bank of America website, 22 of the 50 locations within 59.7 miles of Okeechobee are temporarily closed. If you wish to access your safe deposit box, you can email to make an appointment. The email address is safebox@bofa.com.