Community banks respond to small business needs
Despite the last few months of uncertainty in dealing with all the changes brought about by COVID-19, there has definitely been a bright spot for small businesses: community banks rising to serve the needs of their communities. This crisis magnified the fact that community banks truly are there for the communities they serve.
While this "community first" philosophy is nothing new for community banks, the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) shines a national spotlight on the role they play in supporting hardworking small businesses. Community banks across the country are being recognized for their efforts to put the needs of the small businesses in their community above their own and do whatever it takes.
As small businesses themselves, community banks understand the needs of the small business owners that came to them for help. Community bankers really became economic first responders.
Itasca Bank & Trust Co. was one of those community banks that showed up for their existing customers and other small businesses that were unable to obtain the loan from their banks. That's one of the great traits about community banks -- they are built on personal communication and are used to working with customers step-by-step through complicated transactions.
Every business that contacted Itasca Bank needed help understanding the process and the quickly changing rules.
"We had people in tears wondering if they were going to lose the business they worked so hard to build. In fact, one small business owner just started her business less than a year ago and worried she wouldn't qualify for help," said John Hunt, senior vice president and chief loan officer. "Our loan officers had to become payroll experts overnight."
The entire loan department worked around the clock to get approval for over $86 million in PPP loans providing a lifeline to over 550 customers in record time.
"We recognized how important the PPP loans were to businesses and we did everything in our power to get them approved," said James R. Mensching, president. "The PPP loan kept thousands of employees working who may not have been able to so do if we weren't able to help them. For many of the companies, the PPP loan made the difference between survival and closing their doors. That success truly illustrates the value of a community bank."
"One of the other characteristics of a community bank is the caring staff. The PPP experience provides a snapshot of the type of people who choose to go into community banking. They thrive on helping our customers. They didn't even question what needed to be done to help business people keep their livelihood and dreams alive. It's a good feeling when your head hits the pillow at night," said Mensching.
Looking forward, the forgiveness process is going to be even more confusing and the rules continue to change on a weekly, if not daily basis. Small businesses are going to need help and community banks are based on the model of helping customers.
While COVID-19 has wreaked havoc on our nation's economy, community banks will continue to be there to help pick up the pieces and support customers, small businesses, and others who need a true financial partner.