If you’re a small business owner – or a banker – chances are you haven’t gotten much sleep over the past couple of weeks.
Elizabeth Dobers knows how you feel. She is the Executive Director of Corporate Banking Services at BBVA. Based in Birmingham, she has overseen the sometimes chaotic, sometimes inspiring course of the past two weeks – an unprecedented time in banking and commerce.
The 3 a.m. emails between clients and bankers were routine. Where bankers typically have a year to prepare for a new program, they have less than a week.
“In a week and a half, we did more volume than we did in a whole year,” she said. “The number of requests we received was five times the volume we would normally do in a year. “
It’s a familiar story that unfolds across the country. Small business owners, caught in the clutches of the coronavirus lockdown, have spent the past two weeks asking banks to throw a lifeline on them through the Paycheck Protection Program.
The $ 349 billion program, who has no more money since, granted 1.4 million loans to small businesses across the country. The program was intended to prevent companies from laying off employees during the weeks of inactivity that most of the United States has spent on lockdown. Congress has indicated that it intends to add more to the program as companies continue to apply. Over 19,000 small businesses in Alabama received $ 3.8 billion in loans from the Small Business Administration under the program.
Dobers is a 30 year veteran in the banking industry and has spent the past 20 years in small business lending.
“I’ve never seen anything like it,” she said simply.
The idea behind PPP loans is to bring money to businesses as quickly as possible. But banks signaled early on that they needed more advice from federal officials to make the loans work. BBVA ranks 13th nationally in the area of small business lending and already had a backlog of experience in the area.
“When it all started, we immediately knew that the owner of the small business was going to have the worst impact because he gets it from all sides,” she said. “They get it from the business side and from the consumer side. They traditionally do not have many reserves and employ labor.
Usually it takes about a year for the bank to launch a new product and process. This time, like other banks, BBVA received the instructions at 10 p.m. the day before receipt of requests began.
The only way to prepare, she said, was to consider alternative situations and be ready when a decision is made. At the same time, they needed to have sufficient staff to cope with the sheer volume of applications. It took hundreds of workers, ready to be available at virtually any hour.
“We used all the resources we had to help,” Dober said. “We were using our front line people in the back office, training people on how to process documents, how to enter data. And to top it off, everyone was working remotely.
When the program opened, workers began to receive hundreds of requests per minute. Along with the inevitable process of checking information, weighing applications, background checks and other minutiae, there was the challenge of working remotely.
“You find yourself on a conference call all the time, on a web conference,” she said. “In fact, getting the job done takes extra time, and there are system constraints. Technical things are going down. It has been a challenge.
The most successful businesses in obtaining loans are those whose owners have already arrived armed with the necessary documents and information, she said. For them, the loans came out as early as two to three days after opening.
And during those busy hours, she said, the workers bonded at a critical time.
“It has changed the way we all work together,” she said. “Knowing that we were able to do it. There is nothing you can get in our way that we cannot overcome. We have proven that we can do it. This program is a big part of what we believed to be the vocation of the industry, to get the economy back on track.