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Banks Secure PPP Money For Businesses


April 23, 2020

Bancfirst President, Casey Bell

Bankers' hours are not what they used to be. We've all heard the jokes about working bankers hours, but with the recent stimulus, those working hours are not near as desirable.

BancFirst President Casey Bell said between April 3 and April 17, he had a team of ten to twelve people working 14 to 18 hours a day handling customer issues, calls, and processing work.

To get the whole picture, Bell said, "You have to peel back a couple of weeks. We started getting a good indication that there was going to be some stimulus money right around the end of March."

He said BancFirst started "proactively contacting the customer base, not knowing exactly what was going to be entailed in the stimulus. We were being somewhat flexible and fluid and really kind of reading the tea leaves, so to speak, at what the stimulus package would look like. We had a fairly aggressive communication strategy that we put in place to get in front of the surge that saw coming and also prepare our customers for that."

A press release from First United Bank said, "At the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, First United Bank made the decision to lean on their company's values during not only the good, but the tough times as well. With values of faith, family, integrity, high-performance teams, life-long learning, relationships and communities, they know their employees, customers, and communities need strength and support now more than ever."

"We were in the height of dealing with COVID," said Bell. "We're trying to keep our employees healthy. We're trying to keep everyone safe. We're trying to give our customers access to their money. We were trying to keep some sense of normal for all of our customers. It was difficult to do. Then we had to deal with the stimulus on the backside."

Late Thursday night (April 2), the banks received guidance for the Paycheck Protection Program from the Small Business Administration (SBA). Bell said, "When they released guidance, we were in a position to start accepting applications the following day, Friday. The problem was, we didn't have all the ins and outs of the guidance. We didn't know exactly what the process was looking like. So, on Friday, customers were calling, asking questions, and we were in the background, trying to learn the program ourselves and figure out how we were going to execute it. We found ourselves in the position of how do we administer and process and answer questions for customers related to this program."

Bell said his team spent 14 to 18 hours a day from April 3 through April 17 at the bank. "It was a flurry of activity over that week.

"We have really grown as a team through this," he said. "There have been some very trying times, working under that amount of stress and working under those processing deadlines.

"We were fearful that we were not going to get our share. BancFirst is the state's largest SBA lender. We've got a fairly large market share. This was impacting everyone. A full dump of our portfolio and it felt like, to me, we talked to about every customer we have."

Bell said the bank did everything it could to keep the staff going. "We needed them to keep going, so we were bringing in lunch and dinner. It was all hands on deck. It's been all hands on deck since April 3." Although, he did say they took Easter off to spend with family.

Bell said tens of millions of funds were processed through the Federal and Harrison location for Pottawatomie County.

First United said it partnered with the Paycheck Protection Program with the main goal to help as many businesses as they could. Through the online application, First United's East Central Oklahoma Region received over $50 million in loan requests, serving over 680 local businesses.

Jill Spencer, First United Bank's Community Bank President in Tecumseh, said, "Our purpose and values have served as a foundation for our employees to serve as a committed and high-performance team, working through the time-sensitive PPP process with mindfulness, compassion and 'around the clock' service. During this PPP process, so much love and support was communicated between our employees, customers, and our communities. Knowing what's right, living what's right, and sharing what's right, that just what we do."

Bell said, "I've been very, very excited, and impressed at how our team has pulled together and worked together for the common good of our community. That's impressive and that's something that we're pretty proud of here at BancFirst."

Customers from both banks were happy with the results of all the long hours bank employees spent helping to secure funds for each business.

Katie Landes with Action Physical Therapy said, "There are no words to adequately express my gratitude to BancFirst and their staff for the tireless work and countless hours they put in to secure my PPP loan. They worked around the clock on nights and weekends to ensure their customers would be able to sustain the small businesses during this crisis."

"I can't thank First United Bank and the staff at my hometown Tecumseh branch enough for going above and beyond to help us get a PPP loan," said Kacy Kinsey, vice president of AECO Sales and Service. "Jill and her staff worked tirelessly to help us get the money as soon as it was possibly available. The hours she spent working for her customers made us each feel like we were her only customer. This just made me appreciate even more First United Bank and all they do for the business community and Tecumseh. Thank you again for all the hard work."

Suzanne Gilbert, with Gilbert Insurance, said, "As a small business owner in Tecumseh, Gilbert Insurance Agency has remained open during this COVID-19 pandemic to meet our customers' needs. The help I received from Jill Spencer at First United Bank was tremendous in the help she provided getting my PPP paperwork submitted and finalized. I appreciate all the assistance she provided and the personal attention she gave to me as a customer. I look forward to continuing this working partnership and also the help this PPP program is providing to help keep small businesses up and going."

"The first two people who notified me regarding the SBA loan and PPP were Casey Bell with BancFirst and Aaron Capps with BancFirst Insurance Services," said Roy and Emily Reece with Reece Tile. "As a small hometown business owner, relationships like these are crucial and so appreciated. BancFirst rolled information out daily with step by step instructions. We are incredibly grateful for the long tireless hours and grueling work they have endured during the submission process. With the PPP money already exhausted, it is astonishing that some hometown Shawnee businesses were able to obtain a small piece of it. This is a testament to the incredible work by BancFirst. Proud and lucky to have them as a partner in business."

Bell said the work is not finished. There is no firm guidance yet, but "we do believe the SBA is going to look back at the community banks, and we are going to be having discussions with all those individuals, all those entities that have taken PPP loans. We will be the ones that are working through the forgiveness with them. That's a pretty breathtaking task.

Jill Spencer, First United's Community Bank President, Tecumseh

"It is incumbent upon folks that received PPP loans to make sure that they are documenting," said Bell. "Our battle cry has been that the PPP program was set up to re-establish paychecks for the employees. I tell the folks that I've been talking to, do everything you can to put all this money back into payroll. Because I don't want those funds diverted into something else that falls out of that 75% threshold and it jeopardizes your forgiveness."

He said, "I'm proud that we were able to be a part of history and help execute this for our communities. Every banker would say that he or she was proud of that fact. I'm really proud that we were able to pull it off. I'm proud that community banks were able to serve the purpose that they are here for, and that is for making sure that the monetary system, the cash flow within our communities is vibrant."


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