March, 2020: The COVID-19 pandemic hits full swing in the USA. Economic fallout from state lockdowns and shelter-in-place orders spread. Small business owners in 50 states are in danger of losing their livelihoods.
A survey by BlueVine, the online bank for small businesses, shows that one in five have already experienced temporary closures. And over 40% will fold within a month without government support.
The challenges of the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP)
The Small Business Administration (SBA) launches the Paycheck Protection Program, offering $669 billion in loans to help small businesses stay afloat. The initial demand is so overwhelming, the SBA’s online portal crashed.
Applying for PPP is a complex process. The requirements include detailed financial records that smaller businesses don’t have access to.
What’s more, of the 30 million US small businesses, 80% are sole proprietors. Major banks focus on helping larger businesses—sole props are low priority.
Plus, COVID-19 government relief rules and regulations are constantly changing. It’s hard to keep up.
BlueVine and Bench leap into action
BlueVine provides online banking for small businesses. Bench provides bookkeeping.
The two companies are already partners. They offer different services, but share the same goal: To help small businesses thrive.
And they both realize they need to act quickly to help clients save their livelihoods. So they team up, make some innovative changes to their platforms, and begin working on getting their clients PPP loans.
The Bench response
Fast forward to the present.
Ellen Cornish is a Client Relief Research Associate, part of Bench’s Client Relief Team. The team came together, in response to the pandemic, to help small business owners navigate the PPP application process.
She saw from the frontlines what it was like for clients facing an uncertain future.
“Bench supports small business owners who have that go-getter attitude,” she says. “A lot of people were finally in a place where they really needed help, and they couldn’t help themselves. I think that’s a really scary place to be in, but especially for a small business owner.”
Since the beginning of the pandemic, Ellen has worked with the rest of the Client Relief Team to maintain and grow an in-depth understanding of disaster loan application processes. The rules can change overnight.
“The learning curve is astronomical,” she says. “Our team spends every day, nine to five, digesting this information. I have no idea how anyone expects a business owner to be able to do that on top of managing a business.”
The Bench team was constantly directing clients to BlueVine; they had launched their PPP program early on, and they had the most streamlined, simple process.
Before long, Bench and BlueVine partnered up to get small business owners same-day PPP loan approval.
BlueVine’s PPP approach
At BlueVine, the entire team switched focus from standard, day-to-day operations to delivering PPP loans with the best customer service on the market. BlueVine applied its technology to providing more than 155,000 small businesses with $4.5+ billion in PPP loans, saving 470,000 jobs.
BlueVine uses technology that detects and analyzes meaningful patterns in vast collections of data to keep their customers and their businesses safe and secure. This, plus their automated data-processing and scorecard layer, let BlueVine handle thousands of applications a day, providing a response as quickly as in a few minutes.
In addition to administering PPP loans, BlueVine launched a better banking solution for small businesses. Their new BlueVine Business Checking account comes with zero monthly fees and a 1.0% interest checking account on balances over $1,000.
Bench and BlueVine working together
First, managers at Bench got in touch with managers at BlueVine. They decided on a course of action. And the shared Bench / BlueVine Slack channel was born.
“It was a great place, where we were constantly communicating with each other,” says Ellen.
She describes a “seamless handoff.” Ellen, or another member of her team, would help a client prepare their information to apply for PPP. Then they’d follow up with BlueVine to track the client’s progress.
In a typical scenario, small business owners applying through a large bank might wait a full day to get a response from customer support, or four days to find out whether their loan application was being processed.
Bench and BlueVine managed the process in a matter of hours.
To date, by working together, BlueVine and Bench have secured loans for over 2,000 small businesses. That amounts to more than $31 million in PPP loans approved, and 3,500 jobs saved.
Most of those businesses are sole proprietors.
Naturally, Ellen is happy for Bench’s clients. But she’s gained something valuable from the process as well.
“After speaking to a client on the phone, helping them apply… And to then be able to hear back from them, they were always so thankful and appreciative when they successfully received their PPP loan she says. “It was one of the most rewarding things I’ve ever experienced professionally.”
What small business owners have to say
Dave Iskander, Iskander Holdings
On getting help after being left waiting by other banks:
When I mentioned it to Bench, Bench pulled some strings, and before I knew it, I was on the phone with the CFO. That blew me away. I felt so small, but was being taken so seriously. After two months of not getting anything, I was approved within two hours. Bench arrived on the scene faster than most emergency services.
Brittany Barnhart, Just Curious LLC
On working with the Client Relief Team:
Having Ellen’s support meant so much, because even though I don’t know her personally, it felt like she was rooting for me and making sure that I was going to have a sense of financial relief. She was calm and answered all of my questions, and she’s the reason why I ended up receiving funding.
Bench really goes out of their way to make you feel like you, as a person, are doing okay, not just your business. Being able to honestly express frustration and be met with understanding, validation, calmness, and the next steps are what kept me sane through that process.
Are you working to get a relief loan for your business? We know what it’s like. Get in touch, and we’ll ease you through the process.