First came masks, then food and toilet paper, and guns, and now a handful of customers are reportedly panicking about their money, cashing out their savings.
There have been a few cases where local branches have seen customers come in and take out over $100,000, straining smaller banks with smaller vaults who may be at the end of their cash delivery cycles, one banking industry source told NBC News.
Some banks are enforcing daily withdrawal limits and customers may have to wait until the vault is restocked.
While there is not a broad nationwide spike in demand, banks are definitely seeing an increase, similar to what might be seen “on a big holiday weekend,” the industry source, who wished to remain anonymous in order to speak freely, said.
But these are “isolated and anecdotal incidents,” a staffer with the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC), the federal agency set up in the wake of the Great Depression to protect banking consumers, said. The agency insures up to $250,000 per account.
“We’re not seeing any systemic strain,” the staffer said. “With payment systems available, your money is safer in the bank.”
“Since 1933, no depositor has ever lost a penny of FDIC-insured funds,” the agency said in a press release issued Wednesday afternoon in the wake of a handful of reports of increased withdrawals.
Despite some understandable anxieties, the retail banking sector is fully resilient and well equipped to meet any demand, experts say. Today’s modern banks are well capitalized and have regulatory limits in place to guarantee their liquidity, unlike the self-fulfilling bank runs of the Great Depression or the over-leveraged investment banks of 2008.
“To date, we have not experienced pronounced spikes and have had no difficulty meeting demand for cash,” a spokesperson for the Federal Reserve said, noting that the Fed is able to address several “contingency situations.”
Earlier Wednesday, billionaire hedge fund manager Bill Ackman told CNBC that, feeling like “a tsunami is coming” he had been in a “lockdown” for the past month and had started making preparations, including hefty withdrawals.
“My colleagues at work thought I was a lunatic. A lunatic,” he said in a wide-ranging, emotional, 30-minute interview. “I did stuff I’ve never done before. I never had more than $200 in my wallet. I went into the bank and I took out a large amount of money in cash because of this concern.”
Banks have taken a variety of steps to address coronavirus concerns, including offering increased access to loans and waiving certain fees. Many banks are reminding customers of options other than face-to-face teller banking, highlighting mobile, online and voice banking services, as well as ATMs.
On social media, some customers reported fellow depositors were standing six feet apart while in line, potentially making those lines look longer.
At least one bank, Franklin Savings Banks, has switched entirely to drive-through banking in order to limit the risk of COVID-19 exposure.
A few locations catering to wealthy individuals have seen increases in demand for large denomination bills, which banks typically don’t stock in great quantities due to typically low demand levels, and some large withdrawals.
One Bank of America branch in Manhattan briefly ran out of large bills last week as the more affluent customers in the area made large cash withdrawals, and other banks in the area saw demand spikes, The New York Times reported.
Banks in New York's affluent Hamptons area reported a slew of customers attempting to withdraw large sums. One customer who attempted to make a $30,000 withdrawal from a Chase bank in Southampton saw that request denied as it exceeded their $10,000 daily limit, Bloomberg reported.
Brink’s, a large secure-transport service, last week said it had seen an increase in demand from some of its bank customers to put more cash into their vaults and have their ATMs restocked more frequently.
While cash supplies are ample, the coronavirus pandemic has started to force retail banking to cut back on staffing and open locations in order to protect staff.
On Wednesday, JPMorgan Chase told employees it was temporarily closing 1,000 locations out of its total of almost 5,000 and reducing staffing in those that remain open to “protect our employees as we provide essential services to our customers and the communities we serve.”
Earlier this week Capital One said it was indefinitely shutting down 120 locations.
While the urge to stock up on everything is understandable given the circumstances, experts say your savings should be in an insured, well-secured bank vault, not under a mattress.
“Banks are well capitalized, the Federal Reserve is pumping liquidity into financial markets, and consumer deposits are protected by federal deposit insurance,” said Greg McBride, chief financial analyst for Bankrate.com. “The safest place for your money is in the bank – not out of it.”