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Baker Boyer opts to keep lobbies, other public areas closed

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Baker Boyer Bank

Baker Boyer Bank in downtown Walla Walla.

While some Walla Walla County businesses and services reopen to the public, Baker Boyer Bank officials say they will continue to operate through drive-thru and digital platforms for the time being.

That means the closures of lobbies and other public spaces will be maintained by the Walla Walla-based bank.

“This was a difficult decision made in collaboration with our executive committee and board,” Baker Boyer President and CEO Mark Kajita said in an announcement. “However, with the success we’ve had maintaining a very personalized experience through primarily digital means, we decided to take a very cautious, thoughtful approach to reopening our branch lobbies and other public spaces.”

Qualifying businesses, including retailers, restaurants and professional services, began opening last week in Walla Walla County under Phase 2 guidelines provided by the governor’s “Safe Start” strategy, which outlines plans for economic reopening from mass COVID-19 pandemic closures.

Kajita said the bank’s duty to keep clients and employees safe and healthy is behind the decision to maintain closure of its public spaces. Lobbies were closed mid-March.

“We have determined at this time we would be shirking our responsibility to our communities if we unduly risked exposing our clients or employees to COVID-19 while there is no vaccine or readily available effective treatment,” he said. “For us, that would be a violation of the trust that we have with our communities.”

Instead, a focus on the digital branch model has provided more options and flexibility through online and mobile banking, digital documents, video conferencing and enhanced telephone services, while continuing to maintain a personalized experience, the announcement said.

“Although it is not exactly how we would prefer to interact with our clients, it is very acceptable for us considering the circumstances,” Kajita said.

Drive-thru services have also been effective to complete most essential transactions. Those who require in-person meetings on a limited base can schedule those, too.

The 150-year-old company, headquartered in Walla Walla, operates seven branches, along with wealth management and business banking offices in Yakima and the Tri-Cities.

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Vicki Hillhouse can be reached at vickihillhouse@wwub.com or 509-526-8321.

Vicki covers business and economic development, including tourism, the Port of Walla Walla and the Strictly Business column, as well as features. She has been reporting for the Union-Bulletin since late 2001.