4-16-2020 – Persistence, patience key for businesses

Posted on: April 16th, 2020 by admin


April 16, 2020





Many small business owners are up late at night worrying about surviving the COVID-19 crisis. Jason Triplett and an army of bankers are also up late, working on the flood of paper work to get business owners the money they need to stay afloat.


Triplett, First Horizon Bank’s Northwest N.C. community bank president, said the most important thing to him and his team is to help small businesses survive.


“I want to assure small business owners that First Horizon and other banks want to help them in every way they can,” he said. “I personally worked 85 hours last week just processing loans for clients. I was literally working until 1:30 in the morning every night, and most of my teammates were, too.”


The sudden tidal wave of applicants that banks are now facing is largely composed of small business owners’ interested in loans from the Small Business Administration’s Paycheck Protection Program, a $349 billion project included in the federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act.


Congress passed the CARES Act on March 27, and the PPP went live on April 3. But passing the legislation was only a small first step toward getting money in the hands of suffering small business owners, Triplett said.


Banks did not receive guidelines from the SBA until Thursday evening, April 9, and all week the SBA was providing updates to smooth out wrinkles that were the result of using the SBA’s existing network to process the new types of loans.


Non-profits, for instance, are eligible for a PPP loan but are not normally able to borrow from the SBA, he said. Last week, the SBA rewrote the network code to allow applications from non-profits.


Banks also needed to have an army of workers with access to the SBA’s network. Two weeks ago, just five of First Horizon bank’s 5,000 employees had that access. Now that number is over 400, but with more than 15,000 applications for SBA loans currently in the works at First Horizon, Triplett said, the work won’t slow any time soon.


The number of applicants in the first few days put a heavy strain on the system, said Deborah Murray, the executive director of the Caldwell County Economic Development Commission. But business owners should not be afraid that the money will run out, and some local businesses already have been approved for PPP loans, she said.


“There is somewhat of a panic out there,” she said. She advises business owners, “Be persistent and be patient at the same time.”


“There is money out there,” she said. “The bottleneck is thick, and everything will get through at some point.”


Loans are drawn from the $349 billion stimulus package and are available to lenders and their clients on a first-come, first-served basis. Most of the loans will not have to be paid back if the business uses it as instructed by the SBA: At least 75% must be used for payroll costs, while the remainder can be used for overhead costs such as rent and utilities.


In a best-case scenario, Triplett said, an applicant who submitted all of the correct information and was approved could be funded in less than two weeks.


Although business owners may want to apply as quickly as possible to get a spot towards the front of the queue, sending in an incomplete application could be worse than being late, Triplett said. He asks his clients to be patient so that they can submit an accurate application and won’t get far into the process only to find out that something is missing.


“I am personally texting (my clients) each step,” he said. “Because if something is wrong, we could risk the forgiven part of the loan,” and the business then may have to repay the full amount.


Triplett said that all of the new processes and regulations have understandably led to frustrations.


“Banks can’t just turn around and flip a switch,” he said. “We’re trying to process more loans in two to four weeks than we might normally do in a year.”


But like Murray, Triplett is confident that the money will start flowing soon. As of Wednesday morning, First Horizon had approved approximately 7,000 applications for $1.5 billion in funding.


“There are a lot of people working very, very hard because we want to do everything we can to help protect the employees of these small businesses and help these small businesses get through a very tough time that is not their fault,” he said. “This is the time for our industry to really be there for our customers.”


Reporter Garrett Stell can be reached at 828-610-8723.

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