On the Other End of the Line: Helping Small Businesses Apply for PPP Loans

May 06, 2020
Heather Felts, Citi Customer Response Team Leader in Florence, Kentucky

I have been fortunate to spend more than 20 years at Citi helping customers, first in the call center supporting credit card and mortgage clients and later as a project manager and a team leader. When the COVID-19 pandemic forced businesses of all sizes across the U.S. to shut down leading Congress to pass the CARES Act, which included an emergency lending facility for the Small Business Administration, called the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP), my team was enlisted to help.

Citi mobilized quickly, assembling a team of hundreds of colleagues from across the bank to help implement all aspects of the program. An entirely new digital portal was built in three weeks to serve customers remotely and manage the volume of applications. My team of 43, which supports the bank's compliance with federally mandated rules that aim to fight money laundering, was tasked to help. Soon, we were on the phones around the clock with our small business customers.

While the vast majority of PPP applications were submitted through the digital portal (all loans under $1 million), the process wasn't solely digital. We were part of a team walking clients through the application process, often line by line. Large businesses often have lawyers to handle loan applications, but for smaller businesses, it can be a daunting task. And for them, a loan of just a few thousand dollars can make the difference between surviving or being forced to shut down.

Some of my managers and I hadn't been on the front lines taking client calls in years, but we all jumped in and this spirit went all the way to the top. Even David Chubak, the head of U.S. Retail Banking, was calling and emailing customers around the clock.

Each customer had a heart-wrenching story. Some were afraid and felt desperate. Others just needed somebody to talk to about what was going on in their businesses and their personal lives – family or employees lost to COVID-19 - and were on the verge of losing everything they had worked their entire lives to build.

The sheer scale of the effort is something I have never experienced in two decades. It got to a point where we didn't care if we didn't sleep. We just thought to ourselves, "We have to get this done. We have to help these people."

One case stands out – Klein Immigration Law Group, a small firm that specializes in helping immigrants obtain U.S. citizenship. After working closely with Alan Klein to finalize his online application – and fund his loan this past Sunday - it was heartwarming to hear that he will now be able to maintain his staff, all of whom are immigrants themselves, some of them single mothers without a family support network in this country.

I live in a small town in southern Ohio outside of Cincinnati and my team is spread all across the country. We have embraced the rallying cry #inthistogether across the bank. Working closely with my Citi family to help our small business customers get the PPP loans they so desperately need makes me proud to say that we are all very much in this, together.

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