Business recovery will require resilience, relationships

  • Michael O'Rourke

    Michael O'Rourke

By Michael O'Rourke
Signature Bank
Updated 1/25/2021 2:49 PM

A banker, an accountant and a lawyer all meet on Zoom. No, this isn't the start of a joke. It's what really happened at the 2021 Business Outlook Webinar sponsored by the Daily Herald Business Ledger.

These three perspectives -- financial, tax and legal -- came together in the forms of Steve Goluch, CPA with Weiss & Co., Elliot Richardson, a lawyer with Small Business Advocacy Council, and me, CEO of Signature Bank, to discuss our post-pandemic vision of business in Chicagoland. As an eternal optimist, I believe the outlook is good, but we will need to focus on the two Rs -- resilience and relationships.


It's been amazing to see the resilience exhibited by many of our customers over the last nine months, pivoting from their core business to assist in producing PPE, while others expanded their services from in-person to robust delivery. One of our longtime relationships and one of our first to receive a Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loan was Joe Shanahan, owner of Metro, GMan Tavern and Smartbar.

Being in the hard-hit entertainment industry, Shanahan pivoted from hosting live music at his iconic Chicago venue to lobbying Congress to pass the Save our Stages legislation. Moreover, he has continued to keep most of his staff on the payroll thanks to PPP and other loan programs. That's resilience.

However, not all business owners were fortunate enough to receive government relief funds, especially in the first round. Experience shows that business owners who had a relationship with their bank were better served than those who didn't.

At Signature we had customers calling, texting and emailing in those early days in March, asking how and when government programs like PPP or Main Street Lending might help them. Our bankers worked around the clock to meet the needs of our customers. We know our customers well and we understand the challenges they face, therefore we were equipped to respond.

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That's what relationship banking is all about. And it's largely the reason that smaller, more nimble financial institutions were better able to serve their customers during this unplanned and urgent period of securing disaster relief loans. I'm proud to say that our bankers, too, showed a lot of resilience -- and we'll need to tap into that again as we balance PPP forgiveness with another upcoming round of relief.

Banks that were prepared, i.e., with the right technology in place and the right people ready to do the job, were able to assure full continuity of service and meet customer needs. Banks that weren't prepared -- or were just too bulky to turn the battleship -- struggled to meet their customers' needs in a time of crisis.

Yes, we are all facing uncertain times ahead. However, there will be recovery in 2021 thanks to policy efforts, including the latest $900 billion fiscal package, but it's difficult to predict when it will start. With this next round of relief, we can only hope that all businesses who need it will get the help they deserve.

And we can also hope that the next time a banker, a lawyer and an accountant get together, it will be in person and not on Zoom.

• Michael O'Rourke is president and CEO of Signature Bank.

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