Bankers Surf Couches to Maintain Lending After Fleeing Hurricane Florence

(Bloomberg) -- Live Oak Bancshares Inc., the online lender whose headquarters is in flood-ravaged Wilmington, North Carolina, is still operating after it sent employees fanning out across the country ahead of Hurricane Florence.

“Everything is in the cloud and our employees, really what they need is an internet connection somewhere,” said Thomas Hill, the bank’s chief information officer. “It was a natural progression to trickle folks out based on the business need.”

The firm’s home office, less than a 20-minute drive from where Florence made landfall on Friday, is closed. Live Oak doesn’t have any bank branches, so employees handle transactions remotely even under normal conditions. Workers headed out of Wilmington ahead of the storm to various cities, including where they had family members, Hill said.

Record-setting, still-rising floods cover much of eastern North Carolina as the storm moves northeast, with many rivers still days from cresting. The state will be dealing with flooding for at least two weeks, the National Weather Service said. At least 17 people were killed in the storm, according to Associated Press, and almost a half-million homes and businesses are without power throughout the Southeast U.S.

‘Our Problem’

“This hurricane is our problem and our customers don’t even need to know anything about it,” Live Oak Chairman and Chief Executive Officer Chip Mahan said in an interview.

Live Oak began planning for this kind of event about two years ago after Hurricane Matthew struck North Carolina, Hill said. It moved operations into the cloud, meaning off-site data-storage centers. The company had around 520 employees as of June 30.

The company’s namesake oak trees at the headquarters appear to have survived the deluge, Claire Parker, a bank spokeswoman, said Monday in a phone interview.

“We have several on campus,” she said. “They’re still standing.”

Live Oak’s shares have risen about 67 percent since the 2015 initial public offering, and are little-changed after Florence’s arrival. The bank has business nationwide, providing financing to small businesses across about 20 industries including through Small Business Administration loans.

“We’re kind of in the American-dream business,” Mahan said.

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