Chris Furlow

Chris Furlow
TBA President & CEO

Government programs by oxymoron

Bank employees have sacrificed family time, weekends and holidays to get the job done.

I was exchanging messages with Patrick Johnson of Frontier Bank of Texas about Treasury and SBA Paycheck Protection Program guidance when he highlighted the phrase “Interim Final Rule.” Interim and final? Only the government could come up with something so bureaucratic and official yet “oxymoronic.” It would be seriously funny if it weren’t, in fact, so serious. But it does say a lot about the program thus far.

PPP has been bittersweet. Through the sheer force of will of our banks, the program has been able to help small businesses survive and literally save hundreds of thousands of Texas jobs. The numbers are incredible! Nearly $50 billion in PPP approved loans helping more than 300,000 Texas small businesses as of the first week of May. This is real help to millions of Texans. And banks got it done in a matter of weeks. It would be a cold day in hell before government could do this on their own.

But PPP has been painful for community banks in many ways. Bank employees have sacrificed family time, weekends and holidays to get the job done. Meanwhile, SBA’s technology issues have been pretty ugly. They would have you believe they have been working with deliberate speed. “Pacing” is what they called it.

And what can we say about the lack of guidance? As of press time, we still await information on one of the most fundamental components of the PPP loan program: the forgiveness process. Through the entire PPP experience, there has never been an exact estimate on when critical information would be released. Transparency has been lacking. Could Treasury and SBA at least share a few open secrets about their policymaking procedures so banks could effectively plan and prepare for regulatory review? In my unbiased opinion (let’s just go with it, I admit I am biased), banks will be hard pressed to trust the government moving forward.

Our Texas banks have truly been there for their communities and country. Community banks have leveraged their liquidity and resources to front money to the federal government, yet the government has not paid banks one penny of their fees on the timeline promised in the CARES Act.

Of course, all of this sounds like true fiction. Because in such consequential matters it is hard to believe that this is how anyone would treat those on whom they so depend.

For our community bankers, however, it’s not about fees, profits or statistics. It is about helping neighbors to whom they are committed all of the time — not just in crisis. Fellow Texans needed help and Texas banks have responded with compassion, devotion and hard work.

After all of this, I think bankers will want to get to the beach to be alone together with their families and enjoy some jumbo shrimp. Let’s hope it doesn’t have to be a working vacation.