Washington Update – Coronavirus Strikes. America’s Banks Step Up.

By Rob Nichols, ABA President and CEO

The world is grateful for all who have served on the front lines battling the COVID-19 crisis—the doctors and nurses who have put their lives at risk to care for the sick and dying as well as those who have kept our grocery stores and pharmacies stocked. These essential service providers are the pandemic’s heroes, putting the needs of others ahead of their own.

There is another category of worker that also fits this bill. It’s the women and men who work for America’s banks. You, too, are first responders—not to the health crisis but to the economic crisis spawned by it. And if I could drive by your offices (home or otherwise) honking and holding up signs in appreciation, I would.

Whether working from your main office or the kitchen table, in the first several weeks of the pandemic you extended critical lifelines to countless households and small businesses suffering from the loss of income resulting from stay-at-home orders. From the loan officer who learned that the trick to getting into E-Tran (the Small Business Administration’s portal for submitting Paycheck Protection Program applications) was to try at 2:00 a.m., to the staff who put in extra time to help customers needing forbearance or other accommodations and the employee disinfecting the ATM each day, you proved that serving your communities is not just your job, it’s your calling.

Your personal efforts, combined with banks’ institutional responses—waiving fees, offering low-rate personal loan programs, deferring payments and even effectively fronting customers their economic impact payments—demonstrate that banking is first and foremost about helping others.

America’s banks weren’t just deemed essential businesses by governors in state after state; they became essential partners in delivering massive amounts of federal government relief. Despite its faults, the SBA’s unprecedented PPP program—which in its first phase processed 14 years’ worth of SBA loans in less than 14 days—simply could not have been executed without banks acting as the middlemen. And thanks to the sophisticated payment system the industry has built over the years, banks have been key conduits for distributing—safely and quickly—tens of millions of economic stimulus payments to individuals.

ABA has been proud to support you in your efforts and to tout publicly all you have done, as we did through aba.com/CoronavirusResponse and the press statements, media interviews and digital ads that pointed people to that page.

As always, our efforts are carefully coordinated with the ABA-State Association Alliance, which has never been more important or more valuable to the industry as a whole. For the first several weeks of the crisis, state association and ABA leaders held daily conference calls to discuss what banks were reporting from the front lines, identify solutions and relay needed policy fixes or guidance to policymakers. The flow of information was equally important in reverse.

Sometimes the clarity we all needed from Washington was slow to arrive, but policymakers understood and appreciated that our appeals were solutions-focused and made in good faith. In fact, our most effective advocacy often involved direct phone calls, emails and texts to lawmakers, regulators and top Treasury and SBA officials, with public finger-pointing taking a back seat.

ABA’s efforts throughout the crisis, like your state association’s, have been focused on ensuring you have what you need to continue supporting your institutions, customers and communities through this these extraordinary times.

We deeply appreciate all of your efforts and are committed to supporting you as we work to rebuild the economy. Because every hero needs a sidekick, and we are proud to be yours.