Relationships Matter: Lessons Learned from the Pandemic and the Paycheck Protection Program

VisionTech Partners is pleased to offer this Expert Insight from your sponsor, Stock Yards Bank.

In early March, life was good. The conveniences and immediate gratification of the digital world had us all clicking along and feeling comfortable. Nothing was wrong with the status quo.

Then COVID-19 reared its ugly head. Americans were ordered to shutter their businesses and hunker down until the virus could be contained.

The coronavirus pandemic has greatly strained business owners, large and small, from all walks of life.  From industrial to tech, fashion boutiques to restaurants, everyone has been impacted by the global economic paralysis that began last March. Well aware of threats to the nation’s financial health, the federal government and Small Business Administration (SBA) moved swiftly to put a rescue plan in place. Thus, the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) was born.

Let’s be honest here. It was a difficult birth.

The idea was to deliver PPP dollars to small businesses when they needed funds most, which for most meant immediately. The federal government assumed banks would be able to execute the PPP application-to-funding process from day one. In most cases, the expectation was loans would be processed virtually overnight so businesses could continue operations. As a banker, it was obvious that the expectation of rapid-fire loan processing was an afterthought during the creation of the program. Unfortunately, as business owners found out, some banks were never actually ready or able to deliver PPP loans.

It was an ugly surprise for business owners and banks.

As a private banker at a community bank where we’re used to being flexible and quick on the uptake, the PPP process seemed like a monumental task. In the early days of the PPP program, the constant iterations of SBA forms and process changes made it feel impossible to accomplish even one step. Little information was given at first, and we were faced with an avalanche of questions from clients who were eagerly awaiting their turn to apply. The first three days were nothing but a rush of uncertainty, emotions and stress; we were challenged with managing the bank’s changes in operations and personally communicating with each client to soothe the fear and uneasiness they were experiencing.

And that’s when the integrity and the culture of Stock Yards Bank & Trust took over. The institution literally stopped EVERYTHING to establish a well-organized process to manage our workflow on behalf of our clients. We had every sales, service, and operations person in the bank dedicated on improving and streamlining our PPP process. For more than a month, we worked nights and weekends, without question or concern. We kept our clients in the forefront of our minds and ensured their needs were our priority.

Each day our process would improve, but our applications were mounting. The first completed application and funded loan felt like winning the lottery! I had clients crying tears of joy and relief. We cried with them.

Thanks to Stock Yards Bank’s perseverance, we managed to turn our application-to-funding time down to less than 24 hours. While many other banks struggled and continue to struggle with the process, we mastered the mayhem of the moment. I give credit to our leadership, my colleagues, and to our loyal (and patient) clients for how well our bank has executed the PPP process.

I could be critical of other banks and identify the breakdowns in their processes, but that isn’t the purpose of my writing. I have heard the horror stories from you. I have read the blogs and other articles where business owners were told their loans were “in process,” only to get an email weeks later saying, “Sorry, better luck next time.”  If this is what you experienced, and you were told you weren’t getting the funds to keep your business on life support during a global pandemic, answer this thought-provoking question:

How did this experience make you FEEL?”

If you spent weeks, or even months, chasing down the slightest bit of attention from your bank, begging for an update on the status of a loan that you didn’t get because they “were missing paperwork,” they had “incorrect information,” or some other vague reason, ask yourself, why do they still have your hard-earned money? Have they earned it? Is this your own business model? Have you ever treated a customer so poorly and expected them to stay?  If so, I have some recommendations on customer loyalty training for you and your team.

The reality is many folks see banking as a commodity and settle for mediocrity. What we’ve all experienced over the last several months of the pandemic and PPP program is that personal relationships with bankers and other key advisors are more important than ever.

Even before the PPP process, it is absolutely critical to the health and growth of any stage business to have an honest and active relationship with a banker. You want a banker as part of your team. You want to actively involve your banker in conversations that include planning for your business. As your business enters different stages (start-up, growth, maturity, continuity), you have different needs that your bank can provide you that you may not be thinking about. That’s perfectly okay. I never expect a business owner to be a banking expert.  It’s your job to go be the expert at what you do. It’s our job to be the financial expert and support you and help provide solutions along the way. Great banking relationship managers will also partner with your CPA, attorneys, and other advisors to ensure you are supported wholly, and that we are all working as one to support the health of your business.

So, let me ask the question again…. How does that make you FEEL?

Are you getting this kind of knee-to-knee experience with your current bank? If you applied for a federal PPP loan, did you receive daily update phone call/text/emails during the application process? Were updates delivered by a person with a genuine interest in your situation who calmed your fears and anxieties? Do you have a banker now who you trust and who really KNOWS your business?  Did reading that sentence make you think no one knows me at my bank?

If you answered no to any of these questions, maybe it’s time for you to take a step back and decide whether you should be with a bank that knows you better. After all, you’ve likely spent years building your company and pandemic or no pandemic, you want to continue building it. Shouldn’t you be with a bank that knows your story, shares your vision and can support it?

I’m very proud of how Stock Yards Bank & Trust handled the PPP loan process and have received nothing but praise and thanks from our clients. Looking back, this was just “what we do.”  We show up for our clients every day. We talk to our clients every day. We communicate. We calm fears. We celebrate successes.  Every day. That’s how we do business. That’s just us.

If the pandemic and economic upheaval have taught us anything it’s that nothing can replace personal relationships. Life is too short and sometimes too hard to go it alone. I’m not asking you to choose Stock Yards as your banker, I’m asking you to choose you.  You’ve worked hard to own your own company. You deserve to have a bank that’s there with you. Every day, good and bad, without fail.

Denelle Key is a relationship manager in Private Banking for Stock Yards Bank & Trust. As such, she has worked round-the-clock throughout the pandemic in support of her clients. If you have questions about PPP or other banking matters, reach Denelle at denelle.key@syb.com or 317-238-2806.