They were the lucky ones. Unlike the workers and rescuers trapped under the stories-high rubble that was New York City's World Trade Center, they escaped - or never made it to the office on Sept. 11. Now they're coping with their own stunned sorrow and trying to get on with business - though not quite as usual.They worked in the WTC or nearby. Only some of them are back in their old offices, and some may never be. Still, in a variety of ways, they have managed to keep operations going. Clearly, contingency plans, multiple means of communication, dispersed locations, and technology, as well as good luck, contributed to helping affected firms keep operating with minimal disruption of service to clients.
Daniel Boccara, chief executive, Coface North America, part of the Coface Group, a provider of trade-credit protection, was flying back to New York from Paris when his plane was diverted to Gander, New Foundland. It remained there for two days. The South Tower of the WTC that housed his firm's New York office lay in ruins, but miraculously all 15 staff members were safe. Several were attending a seminar in New Jersey, and the rest had not yet arrived at the office when the first of two hijacked airliners crashed into the building. "By late afternoon," Bocarra says, "we knew where everyone was. And because we travel so much and most work with laptops, our technology systems were not affected. Our servers are in New Haven, Conn. with backup in Paris. All our files were safe." For the time being, Coface is operating in mid-town Manhattan, in space provided by the French commercial attache. "We were very lucky," he says, "but it's very disturbing. People we used to do business with are missing."
Commercial credit reporting giant Dun & Bradstreet had about 80 workers in its WTC office. All of them escaped. "Our backup plan kept service available to our customers, but the WTC crew remain shaken," Forrest Old, executive vice president, D&B Receivable Management Services, reported two weeks later.
E Commerce Group, makers of electronic payment system Speed Pay, had about 100 employees in its New York City offices at 7 Day St., located in the immediate zone. The employees evacuated when the second plane hit. "We had a lot of employees who have lost family and friends - aunts and uncles and one immediate family member - and that is the one thing that has been the most difficult to deal with," says Melissa Steinhauer, the company's marketing and communications manager. "A lot of people saw a lot of horrific things that day."
On the business end, E Commerce emerged in better shape than many. The firm's backup site is not far away in Englewood Cliffs, N.J., and while the power went out at its New York location, E Commerce rounded up its technical support staff and had some client applications running within 24 hours. Most were back online within two or three days. "It clearly gave us an opportunity to test our disaster-recovery plan and we think it actually went pretty smoothly. Our New Jersey facility isn't that large, but everyone really came together," Steinhauer says.
The emotional toll will take much longer. The company has organized group discussions where employees can go to talk about their feelings about the tragedy, and has also given a lot of leeway to employees who need extra time off.
Until dependable phone service and utilities can be restored, many firms in lower Manhattan are opting to remain in temporary quarters. Moody's Investors Service reports its headquarters sustained little damage but will remain closed until utility and communications services in the area are restored. The company established satellite offices, secured conference space in midtown Manhattan, and arranged more videoconferencing facilities for communicating with clients. Moody's offices in Europe, Asia, Latin America, and other areas of the United States continue to operate.
Despite the troubles and cost caused by temporary relocation, firms whose staff members are alive and able to relocate count themselves lucky.
...As Donations Pour In...
Horrified by the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center in New York and the Pentagon outside Washington, D.C., and stirred by the bravery of rescue workers, everyone, it seemed, wanted to help - from Hollywood stars to children with piggy banks.
Members of the credit and collections community were no exception. General Electric Co., parent of GE Capital and the largest credit grantor in the world, pledged $10 million for the families of firefighters, police officers, and rescue workers who died trying to help victims. Citigroup started a Relief Fund with a $15 million contribution from the Citigroup Foundation to offer scholarships for postsecondary study to children of those killed or permanently disabled, including airplane crew and passengers, WTC and Pentagon employees and visitors, and firemen, policemen, and emergency medical technicians. At last report, additional donations from employees and clients were pouring into the fund at the rate of tens of thousands of dollars a day.
Morgan Stanley, with about 40 of its employees dead or missing, set up a Victims Relief Fund and committed $10 million to provide support directly and through nonprofit groups engaged in relief efforts. As part of its $10 million pledge to provide continued relief for victims, Fannie Mae, the nation's largest source of financing for home mortgages, announced a $1 million contribution to the Realtors Housing Relief Fund established to help pay mortgage and rental costs of victims' families.
Wells Fargo, Bank of America, and Wachovia Corp. each pledged $1 million to aid disaster victims. Wells Fargo also established a Wells Fargo-Red Cross account in its more than 3,000 banking stores for customers, employees, and other concerned individuals to contribute to the disaster relief fund. Sprint contributed $500,000 to the American Red Cross and provided more than 2,000 wireless phones for the disaster workers. And those are just a few examples of corporate generosity.
Associations rallied too. The Risk Management Association, Philadelphia, pledged $100,000 to the "Victims and Families Relief Fund" created by the American Bankers Association and state banking groups. ACA International, the Association of Credit and Collections Professionals, the former American Collectors Association, urged members to take part in the Collectors Challenge month in October to help those affected by the disaster. Partners and employees of collections law firm Weltman, Weinberg & Reis contributed $19,000 to victims of the attacks and the firm hosted a blood drive in its Cincinnati office.
Employees of Outsourcing Solutions Inc., St. Louis, also responded, says Timothy G. Beffa, president and chief executive. "After the attacks, there was an outpouring from our associates about acknowledging the tragedy and helping victims and their families," he says. "OSI locations participated in a day of remembrance including one minute of shared silence, and fund-raising for the American Red Cross and the New York Firefighters 9-11 fund. Our associates raised nearly $47,000 in one day, which we will combine with a company match of the same amount, to split between the two groups."
Several technology firms donated services, including Intell-A-Check Corp. which gave electronic check processing services to the National Organization for Victim Assistance (NOVA) to ease acceptance/processing of contributions for its services to attack victim services directly through its call center or website operations.
Canadian-based Thomson Corp., a leading provider of information and technology solutions worldwide and parent of a number of financial publications, including Collections & Credit Risk, donated $5 million to three separate funds established to help the victims. The company also pledged to double-match employee donations to these funds and other charities designated by families of Thomson employees lost in the disaster. Employees could also take advantage of the firm's volunteer leave program, spending a day with pay helping in disaster relief efforts.
Everyone wanted to help the recovery effort in some way.
The Economy Shudders...
Insurance companies, airlines, and the entire leisure industry are among the most immediately obvious collateral business victims of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks on the Pentagon and World Trade Center, effectively the financial capital of the country. But they are not alone.
In the weeks after the attacks, several credit grantors and the only publicly traded collections firm quickly indicated there would be a negative impact on earnings. American Express Co. expects third quarter earnings to be below the previous estimate. The attacks, the company says, have created additional economic and market weakness throughout the travel, payment services, and financial services industries. Another negative for AmEx is the cost of leasing alternative headquarters and relocating as many as 5,000 employees because its headquarters in the World Financial Center were damaged in the collapse of nearby World Trade Center buildings.
Citigroup, whose major brand names are Citibank, CitiFinancial, Primerica, Salomon Smith Barney, and Travelers, is more specific in quantifying expected losses. Insurance claim payments, including lower Manhattan property claims, business interruption insurance claims, workers compensation exposure, and life insurance claims could total $500 million, after tax. The company says the closing of the stock exchange as well as a number of branches for much of the week following the attack would reduce earnings by $100 million to $200 million after tax.
Fort Washington, Pa.-based NCO Group Inc., the only publicly traded collections services provider, is lowering third-quarter earnings projection, citing a slowdown in the wake of Sept. 11. NCO anticipates September revenue will be about $6 million below previous expectations. Client restrictions on making collections calls in the week following the attack, as well as the decline in consumer confidence and willingness to repay debt, is said to be impacting the company's earnings.
An economy teetering on the brink of recession appears to have been pushed over the edge by the devastating attack. As consumer confidence dropped in September and the stock market took a beating, economists argued about what actions would stimulate the economy without risking overheating it down the road. The Federal Reserve announced two more interest rate cuts, one the week following the attack and a second the first week in October. Businesses are being advised to tighten credit granting and collections operations. "We are forecasting an adjustment period," says Forrest Old, executive vice president, Dun & Bradstreet Receivable Management Services. "We are telling our customers that the adjustment period will be followed by an economic recovery; however, such a recovery is contingent on government expenditures, Federal tax strategy and potential rate cuts. The adjustment period could be lengthy."
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