Broker lender lends a hand in Fort McMurray

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With the dust not yet settled in Fort McMurray, one leading lender offers relief to its clients impacted by the wildfire.

Bridgewater Bank has 450 customers in Fort McMurray, and it is doing what it can to help them through the disaster.

“From a very micro business perspective, we have programs in place to assist in times of dire need. We have payment extension programs, short-term loan programs,” Peter O'Neill, chief operating officer at Bridgewater Bank, told “We obviously work with the mortgage insurers who have their own programs we can piggyback on.

“If we can get a hold of clients or they get hold of us, they feel a lot better about their prospects.”

Officials reported last week that 1,600 buildings have so far been destroyed by the wildfire, which has covered 400,000 hectares. Large swaths of neighbourhoods and hundreds of homes have been destroyed.

One Bank of Montreal analyst estimates total insurance losses will total $9.4 billion.

To do its part, Bridgewater has vowed to match employee donations to the cause – it accepts cash and vacation time donations.

For its clients, Bridgewater has all hands on deck to provide service. And they’ve felt the impact of the tragedy.

“When we’re talking to evacuees, whether we call them or they call us, our people are starting to feel it emotionally; things that just tug at your heartstrings,” O’Neill said. “Where we tend to deal with these things as a one-off during a normal cycle of business, it’s a little different when you deal with them hundreds at a time.

“We’ve provided access to counselors. When you listen to five or six stories in a row, it’s hard on your psyche.”

Several industry companies have offered a helping hand, and O’Neill – who has taken in several evacuees, himself -- is calling on the rest of the industry to do what they can.

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