“Get the right people in the room and no matter the problem you can solve it”
To date, Valley has funded more than 11,000 SBA Paycheck Protection loans for over $2.2 billion. These loans have helped save more than 170,000 jobs. Our Chief Digital Product Officer, Stuart Cook, was part of the team that helped create and manage the PPP application process. He recently spoke about how Valley was able to answer the call from business owners at virtual a Fireside Chat during a recent Plug and Play webinar.
Here’s what Stuart had to say about the obstacles Valley had to overcome to help as many business owners as we could.
How did Valley manage the sudden surge of PPP applications?
Having spent 15 years working for fintech start-ups, I was very proud to see a 93 year old bank react to this challenge with the agility of a start up. It was immediately clear we had to approach this situation with a different mentality than a normal bank project. For starters, the PPP regulations weren’t clear, but we could not wait to move. There was no doubt about the demand for PPP loans, and we wanted our customers to know we were here for them. We recognized our best approach was rapid development through an iterative cycle. So, we assembled a multi-disciplinary team of people from all departments of the bank and applied the basic iteration priniciples of Plan, Do, Check, Adjust. It truly was a team effort with a lot of people collaborating together.
What was key in your approach to managing the PPP process?
We were all clear that this process was about helping all our customers get the a PPP loan—that was the end goal. With that in mind, it was a lot of test and learn. Starting from inception to going live and adapting to the feedback loop through the process. First, we put out an online interest form because we knew people wanted this and wanted to know what to do. Rather than telling people to come back when we had a full application process ready, we asked people to reach out to us so we could communicate with them faster and more efficiently to get them through the process once it was ready. We did a great job of visualizing the workflow in the bank, so our associates were able to know where their customers were in the process. What was also very important was that the process we created was consistent with the lending standards we’ve set as a bank. That meant the process had to ensure we continued to do our due diligence with every application that was submitted.
What role did technology and innovation play in the process?
Actually, one of the most important things we did is we didn’t just approach this as solely a technology solution. I believe the very best digital propositions are human centered and Valley has a tremendous reputation of building relationships with customers. This is a time of high anxiety for our customers and we want them connected with a human. So every PPP applicant was assigned to a person at the bank ensuring they all had someone they could turn to for answers and guidance. When it came to technology, we had to be scrappy using what we had or could develop quickly while still maintaining the level of security we needed. We used automation, and products like DocuSign, to help simplify the process. But to be honest, the people we assigned to every applicant made a tremendous difference in our ability to help so many businesses.
What was one of the biggest challenges you faced?
The hardest part for our teams, and for all banks really, was using the actual SBA platform. It was a challenge to fully automate that process. Their system wasn’t built to handle that level of automation, and in the end they actively blocked it. It suddenly became a full team effort and we had associates from all parts of the bank helping us input applications. It was truly a “roll up your sleeves” effort. One thing we realized during the process was that it was easier to get applications through the SBA platform if they were submitted during the night. So, we literally had people submit applications overnight – submitting applications even at 3 a.m. – presumably when other banks weren’t working. To make it more fun and incentivizing for our teams, we gamified the process, creating leaderboards and offering rewards for certain amounts of applications submitted and things like that.
What has this experience and process taught you?
It just reaffirmed something I truly believe about problem solving, and that’s if you put the right people together in a room, you can solve any problem. We knew immediately business owners in our communities needed help. We knew our customers needed help. And that’s what’s driven us ever since.