We all saw the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) unveiled with great fanfare last month. In short, businesses can apply through Small Business Administration (SBA)-authorized lenders for 2.5x their average monthly payroll. If they use at least 75 percent of the funds for payroll between now and 30 June, the loan is forgiven. I run an integration business where cash is king and the future during a pandemic is far from certain. A program like this sounded like a great idea, and I made plans to apply in early April.
I began harassing my Bank of America banker the day after the CARES act passed in March and he let me know the application process would be streamlined and out of his hands. Applying was supposed to be like applying for an auto loan, with decisioning back in a matter of hours.
Friday, April 3, 2020: I couldn’t sleep and woke up at 4:00 AM. I’d spent the day before asking my CFO and controller to pull together all the documents we thought we might need. There weren’t any clear instructions from the bank because they didn’t have solid guidance from the SBA until late Thursday evening.
I sat at my desk and started refreshing the Web address my banker gave me to check. At 7:30 AM the text on the bank site changed to indicate they were now accepting applications, except there wasn’t a button available to begin the process. I frantically searched up and down the page looking for a link to apply. Nothing. A few refreshes later and the text on the page reverts to its pre-application language. My heart’s really racing now. Around 8:30 AM an email flashed across from my banker telling me the application process would go live at 9:00 AM. I felt the same way I do when trying to buy concert tickets, only this time I didn’t know where the concert was, who was playing, or how much the tickets were, but I knew I needed to be at that damn show.
9:00 AM comes and goes. I’m still frantically refreshing the bank Web site. At 9:10 the text changes to a paragraph inviting applications and a blue button allowing me to begin the process. I was ready. Already logged in to my bank account, I zipped through the process in less than two minutes. What was my name? I knew that one. How much money did I want? Check. All seemed right with the world. I submitted the application and printed a PDF of the confirmation, oddly devoid of any tracking number or other information indicating where it went or when I’d be hearing from anyone. In a way, I understood this. Banks only had a few days to put all of this together and I was glad to just have a place to submit a loan application. Many of my business owner friends banked elsewhere, and those institutions weren’t yet taking applications or had opted out of the program altogether.
Figuring there was nothing else I could do on Friday, I set the PPP application process to the side and hoped (prayed) I’d hear from the bank in short order. Nothing came across for the rest of the day, pushing things into the weekend.
Saturday, April 4, 2020: I received a mysterious, phishy-looking email from an outfit called “Intralinks” inviting me to upload my PPP documents. I did a little legwork and figured out pretty quickly Intralinks is a legitimate company, it’s just my bank hadn’t told me to expect an email from a third party.
I logged into Intralinks and poked around a little bit. It’s a file-sharing workroom for secure documents. I couldn’t figure out what to do right away, but eventually discovered a set of instructions telling me which files to upload.
I uploaded tons of PDFs prepared by my controller and CFO. Most of the documents were tax forms and payroll reports meant to substantiate the loan request. No problem. I was glad these loans were being vetted and I had what they needed (or so I thought). I finished the upload and again set things aside waiting for some follow up from the bank.
I began getting nervous. The instructions said to upload the documents all at once. I’d done it in two or three sessions, 30 seconds apart. Would that disqualify me? Paranoia set in. I deleted all my documents on Intralinks and uploaded them again. There wasn’t anything satisfactory allowing me to communicate that I’d done what I was supposed to. No “I’m done, please send loan documents” button. It left me feeling on edge and scared I hadn’t done everything properly.
Monday, April 6, 2020: I still hadn’t heard anything from the bank or Intralinks so I logged back into the portal and saw the instruction documents had changed the day before with notifying me. These additional requests were for files I hadn’t submitted and the application form was totally different. I dutifully filled out the new paperwork and uploaded the additional PDFs they asked for. Now I was really getting antsy. I’d only discovered these files because I’d gone in like a stalker every five minutes since waking up at 6:00 AM. I asked my banker about the changes but he let me know he was learning alongside me. The PPP bank had made it clear not to ask personal bankers questions about the program, but I really like my banker and figured he would want to know what was going on in the trenches. He did and thanked me for keeping him in the loop.
Tuesday, April 7, 2020: Logged into Intralinks first thing and saw the instruction forms had changed yet again with new documents to fill out and upload. I uploaded the changes quickly and couldn’t help but be frustrated that neither Intralinks nor the bank were sending notifications about these changed forms. Sheer luck informed my ability to see these changes and turn them around.
Wednesday, April 8, 2020: Checked Intralinks to find, yes, you guessed it, the forms had gone through another iteration (fourth time’s the charm!). The forms all had the suffix “4” appended to them and the new instructions said the file uploads needed to match the original filename exactly. I did so and noted the time stamps on the uploaded documents from the bank. They were clearly making constant changes and it certainly wasn’t clear to me whether I was following directions properly or screwing things up royally.
Thursday, April 9, 2020: Intralinks didn’t have anything new to offer up today. No alerts and I left my banker alone, figuring he was pretty slammed. A buddy of mine recommended setting up a separate bank account to house the PPP money, anticipating a later audit. I asked my banker about setting that up while slipping in a benign inquiry as to whether anyone had been funded. He let me know I was probably at the forefront and he could set up the separate account if needed.
Friday, April 10, 2020: Intralinks (or the bank) removed the timestamp column on the portal. I’m guessing they may have been getting a lot of inquiries from fellow paranoid business owners asking about every change when it was posted.
As I finish writing this blog, I’m not sure where our application sits. It’s been over one week since applying. I’m being told by my banker I’m at the front of the line, and Twitter seems to echo the sentiment that very few PPP loans have been funded yet. So I sit here and wait.
Have you applied for a PPP loan? I’d love to hear about your experiences for a follow-up article.
Stay frosty, and see you in the field.