Crisis at a Small Town Bank

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Crisis Communication at a Small Town Bank

My hat is off to Paul Merlino, president of the small but (until now) venerable and spotless, Lenox National Bank in Lenox, Mass. With the FBI probing a $300,000 embezzlement scheme ¬†— carried out by two trusted employees — Merlino got out ahead of the story¬†with an excellent message. His work is an excellent example of crisis communications.

Paul Merlino, Lenox
Paul Merlino

I wish I could count Merlino as a client, but nevertheless, his response was proactive and excellent. He knew that a crisis of this magnitude, in a town as small as Lenox, would find its way to daylight one way or the other, people will be upset, outraged and worried about their money. Merlino wanted the public to have the right story, as soon as possible. While there’s no “one size fits all” in crisis communications, in this instance, it was the right call, and Merlino even took a chance at scooping the FBI on its own investigation.

His first move was to inform his bank’s leadership, then to send a mailing to customers, and then to contact the media. Internal-to-external: the best ideal way to go. He spoke from the heart about a sense of “betrayal” by “trusted employees” (it is always the longtime, trusted employees who steal money from institutions).

The bank’s challenge now will be to handle subsequent communications that will likely involve some well-known, well-liked and as-yet unnamed bank tellers who are caught up in this scandal.

Sadly, once the FBI gets involved in institutional embezzlement cases, the wheels of justice turn extremely slowly, and when the case goes public again with official action, this story will recycle.

The day this story broke, I called Merlino personally to compliment him on handling his crisis with candor and honesty. I wondered if he might have his calls going to voice mail, but he picked right up.

Good luck to Lenox National in weathering this storm — and story.



Posted on December 2, 2013