"Nothing like a pandemic to clarify the value of community banks!"
When Congress approved the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) in April, business owners were rushing to find the information, download the forms and turn to their CPA and their banker for help as the coronavirus pandemic swept across the nation. But they quickly learned in those early days, that not just any bank was ready to help them, particularly not some of the nations largest megabanks.
"The bigger banks made it difficult, if not impossible to apply for the federal dollars," said Lake Charles CPA, Lester Langley, "and businesses without a community bank relationship were scrambling to find help."
With a crush of applications facing them, community banks naturally answered their current customers requests first, leaving the big bank's customers wringing their hands and contemplating what became painfully clear: there is an advantage to working with a locally owned community bank.
According to Merchants & Farmers CEO & President, Ken Hughes, "Our team rolled up their sleeves and got to work. In just a few weeks we turned around $15 million dollars in lending facilitated by the Small Business Administration (SBA)."
PPP funding was available in an amount not to exceed 25% of the business' payroll and was to be used only for items such as payroll, insurance benefits, mortgage or lease payments and utility payments applied to May and June 2020. Since then, the period of use has been extended.
"As a designated or ‘preferred' SBA lender," said City President Shawn Camara, "we were ready to help even in the midst of lots of uncertainty about the details of the program. We were ready with a plan. We knew this was going to be significant as far as need and impact to our local economy."
"Our customers did a wonderful job preparing the documentation — often with the help of their CPAs," added Camara.
"I'm telling you," said local entrepreneur and Pat's of Henderson owner, Nick Perioux," I didn't have to stress about it. A good CPA and a good banker — that's the perfect combination. And with a local bank, they understand the local market because they're here."
Perioux anticipated the need the pandemic would create and called Camara in advance. "Nobody was panicking yet," says Perioux, "but I had a hunch. The next day the Governor shut down certain industries and restaurants were among the first."
"This was a crazy amount of volume we were asking local banks to handle," explained, Langley who worked with Merchants & Farmers for several of his clients, "and they went above and beyond to help. Everyone who was using a national bank and ended up at a community bank for this funding is moving their accounts."
"You know it really started to hit home when we realized the guy we were talking to at Merchants & Farmers could actually make the decisions or he was in touch with the decision-makers and could move our process forward. That kind of turnaround is phenomenal," Langley concluded.
In operations since 1928, Merchants & Farmers Bank is an independent community bank headquartered in Leesville with eight full-service locations in seven cities. Among the first of Louisiana banks to establish online banking, Merchants & Farmers Bank offers a variety of products and services.
Member FDIC and Equal Housing Lender.