With a devastating Forbes article estimating that 42 percent of jobs lost in the pandemic would not be returning, small businesses stand to bear the brunt of COVID-19’s grave economic impact.
To combat and sustain businesses through this distressing period, Congress passed two stimulus bills that included $350 billion and $380 billion for loans to small businesses covering payroll for two and a half months. The initial round proved to fall short of the intent of lawmakers, as many large organizations benefited from the funds due to stronger relationships with their banks that were responsible for filing for the relief package.
This is what is unique about People’s United Bank as an overarching organization and its local branch in Bayport: the combination of large-scale streamlining operations and dedication, but at its heart an almost familial devotion to its hometown clients.
“This was the collaboration of a thousand employees working ’round the clock,” said vice president and customer experience manager, Maureen Mennella, of the Herculean task of People’s as an organization in obtaining $2.52 billion in loans for over 16,000 businesses.
With her own team engaging in conference calls at 11:30 p.m. and coming in to complete the online application at 2 or 3 in the morning, as it was the least likely time for the government server to crash, the spirit of “whatever it takes” is found throughout the staff at Bayport’s People’s United.
Chris Jordan, who has been with the bank for five years and serves as vice president and Bayport branch manager, spoke like a fourth-quarter, fourth-down coach about leading his team to process all applications as quickly as possible to have funds earmarked for them. “The feeling was I want to get them in as soon as possible to get their funding because there was a strong fear that the money would run out quickly,” he said. And as the first $350 billion ran out in two weeks, the apprehension and steadfastness that grew from that anxiety proved to be true.
“These are companies that we work with on a day-to-day basis; we couldn’t let them down,” said Lenore Prezioso, banker II at the Bayport branch. With the Bayport branch of People’s United an active member of the local chamber of commerce—both Prezioso and Mennella have served as past presidents—the bank is integral to the community fabric of business.
To streamline the process for PPP filings, which had only rough, generic guidelines from the government, the branch team worked directly with CPAs of their clients to obtain the relevant payroll documents and information. Proving no one was “too small” to be helped, with clients who were sole proprietors, the team advised the business owners to meet the burden of proof using cancelled checks or banking deposits, as not everyone had the simplicity of 941 forms to confirm payroll. But the extra effort was all in a day’s work for the Bayport branch team. “We kept it in the back of our minds that ‘small business will still be around,’” said Emilio Sanchez, vice president and Bayport market manager, who was able to streamline his application, inputting time from one hour to 15 minutes.
Speaking of the overall sentiment of the Bayport branch, Jordan said, “At the end of the day, we’re working locally and the patience of the customers is built in because of the relationships we have forged. They’re not calling some 800 number; they’re call- ing me, or Lenore, or Emilio. We’re just as happy as our customers when they said thank you.”