“At a time like this, we cannot over-communicate,” Chairman Jay Sidhu advised all Customers Bank senior leaders at the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. He was so right. His advice was taken to heart by all of the business teams at Customers Bank who spent the first weeks simply calling customers to say, “We’re here. What can we do?”
As Congress rolled out economic stimulus efforts to cope with the consequences and business and trade shut-downs, communication became even more essential. “What’s available? How do I apply? What are the rules? How can I spend the money? What must my bookkeeper know? When will I have to pay this back?”
In round #1 of the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP), Customers Bank, like most lenders, dealt largely with current clients: people and businesses we had worked with for years and knew like our own families. By the end of Round #1, however, with the advent of PPP Round #2 we were leveraging fintech partnerships to provide assistance nationwide. And, communication was never more important.
Using Salesforce Marketing Cloud to power our emails, we maintained a steady stream of communication with thousands of borrowers – clients new and old. The cumulative total was several hundred thousand messages. Our social media team monitored platforms around the clock, providing updates and information to PPP applicants and recent loan recipients. We created a toll-free hotline manned by relationship managers and team members from across the bank’s back-office operations to respond to questions. Of course, our website was updated on nearly a daily basis.
And, using WebEx Events and other platforms, we produced webinars and participated in the webinars of partner organizations speaking directly to hundreds of PPP borrowers in live broadcasts.
Moving from the lending phase of PPP to the application for loan forgiveness did not lessen the need for communication. In fact, the government’s multiple revisions to PPP rules and forgiveness guidance only exacerbated the confusion and increased the need for clear communication.
Customers Bank remained firm in its commitment to transparent, timely communication. As early as May, even before the initial borrowers had reached their 8-week covered period, we created a webpage with FAQs and resources to help plan for the forgiveness application. Beginning in July, we initiated weekly PPP Loan Forgiveness Updates. In these email messages, we shared what we knew and fully admitted to what we did not know. As Congress debated the possibility of statutory forgiveness for smaller borrowers, we shared our insights and confessed our confusion from conflicting reports.
When Congressional action fell short in August, we launched our own forgiveness nCino-powered portal to help borrowers record and document their eligible payments. We expanded the guidance documents on our website resource page. Our Relationship Managers continued to email and telephone clients regularly. And, we held another webinar. Over 700 people participated last week in a Webex Events webinar in which members of our PPP leadership team provided a thorough overview of the Loan Forgiveness process, offered a walk-through of the Customers Bank online portal and then spent nearly a full hour answering questions.
We invite your comments and your ideas: what could we have done differently or better? What approach did you take? How can we all work together to communicate more effectively and better serve America’s small business community at its time of need?
At Customers Bank, we know, “We’re all in this together.”