The story of a 30 year codependent and toxic relationship soured by the Payroll Protection Program (PPP)
Our relationship began in high school. I was a freshman and just started my first job. Like any arranged relationship, our parents coordinated the meet-and-greet suggesting it was a good idea and that we were a good fit for each other. While you were quite a bit older - you were 27 years old at the time and I was 14 - my parents thought your adult stability would be a good example for me.
The Early Years
In our earlier years, you were fun and engaging. Every time I went into your branch, you were authentic and had a great way of carrying the conversation. As a 14 year old making his own money, I loved the attention I would receive every time I cashed a recently issued check. You even had multiple homes (branches) so we were able to stay together in college. You were there for me when I needed cash for tuition, bar hopping (I went to Chico), birthday presents and gas money. During my college years, I saw you grow and mature. You added new machines (ATM’s) to each of your homes to help me even when you weren’t available. At this point I started to get dependent on our relationship. You were always there 24/7/365 but your one condition was that I had cash to sustain us.
Post College Years
Shortly after college, you started to change. You wanted more and more of my money (account minimums, transaction fees, etc) and would penalize me for not seeing you. If we got into minor arguments, you would implement monetary penalties like monthly fees. You were my first serious relationship, so I didn’t realize what was happening. Now that I look back, it was clear that you were getting jealous of my financial situation and assumed I was cheating on you. You tried to anchor yourself into our relationship by charging me more when I neglected you. But as life happens, I soon had a new life partner who also had money and at the time, it made sense to open a joint account since you had been my finance partner for at least 10 years. You saw this new relationship as a positive as I was now worth more to you, but you still wanted more. The account fees were still there to keep me from cheating on you. As time progressed, you made it easier and easier to connect bills, have an online webpage to access my accounts from, but this made it harder and less convenient for me to leave.
Along the way, I started multiple businesses and added accounts and money to your coffers. As an entrepreneur, there were enough unknown in my life. Although we had some relationship issues, opening a new bank didn’t seem like a good idea at the time, so I parked my money and monthly cash flows with you. At some point, I needed capital to grow my business, build more machines and take the company to the next level. You even tempted us with your pre-approved offers for credit lines to fund the business. But despite profitability and a solid personal credit, you were nowhere to be found when we decided to take you up on your offer. At this point we had been together for 23 years but you still acted like I wasn’t good enough for you. It was clear you weren’t into the relationship that much. I see now you were playing games and making believe you cared, but you were more interested in retaining my accounts and “opening new accounts” whether myself or someone else was aware of it.
Scandalous Times & Predictable Service
As I was in the prime of my career, you were secretly taking advantage of me. While I will choose not to go through all the details of 14 years of abuse, I think this sums up your cheating behaviors.
To recap, sales employees at Wells Fargo’s community bank — that is, the retail arm responsible for consumer savings and checking accounts and credit and debit cards — were discovered to have opened millions of unauthorized accounts and issued millions of unauthorized cards to meet punishing sales goals, on pain of termination. The practice went on for about 14 years, beginning as early as 2002.
--While you broke up with your dubious CEO, you thought a bit of extra service might do the trick to keep me in the relationship. You doubled down on your gracious gestures and chivalry by opening the door for me at the branch, the over-the-top niceness and small talk, and walking me to the door. After 3-4 times in the branch, I could’ve written your service manuals from how predictable your canned motions and engagements were. You were like a cheating partner trying to cover your tracks. I see that all now in retrospect. It was fake, it was measured and calculated to make me feel my money and our relationship was safe. You even ran full page ads and billboards in the SF Bay Area and beyond. I’m sure these were meant to show me how sorry you were and that you wanted to hit “restart” on our relationship due to your unforgivable infidelity.
Along the way, I confided your ways to my friends and told them how you were treating me. They offered me alternative escape routes and tried to shine a light on your sneaky ways.
I tried to break up, but would ultimately succumb to the lengthy process of dividing my debit cards and direct payments from your bill pay center. Before I realized it, you had many digital leashes attached to me that would make it difficult to let me get away. I’m not sure if they were physical or psychological in nature, but they made it difficult nonetheless.
Payroll Protection Program
It was during the Payroll Protection Program when your true colors started to shine, brightly. Not only did you have your typical overladen slow process, you were ill equipped to get ahead of the application process. Not only were you slow, but you were further limited by your government issued ankle bracelet for past bad behavior. This significantly limited the amount of Payroll Protection Program (PPP) Funds you could loan to your customers. Once you got your act together, you dabbled with an “interest form” to keep us engaged with the allure that you’d take care of us. This was 4 days after it was reported that Bank of America had already processed $36 Billions in loan applications in just 3 days. You repeatedly said you were working on the application process bringing in hundreds of people to help, in addition to other measures. As of April 19th, you’re still sending daily form letters, stating the money ran out, but you’re still mobilizing the troops in the hopes that there will be more money. While you’re still trying to figure out your systems and processes, companies like JP Morgan Chase are getting their companies like Ruth Chris Steakhouses $20M, Potbelly Subs another $10M in PPP Proceeds. As you’re likely aware, PPP funds are greatly needed by small businesses to keep this economy afloat. You’re so big it appears you let organizational bureaucracy, processes and internal account opening quotas get in the way of servicing the money that's right in front of you.
I’ve been with you through your Hedge Fund, New Accounts Scandals and now your PPP inadequacies, but you put me in the back of the line (just not sure how far back) when my company needed your the most. Enough is enough - I want out. As they say, hindsight is 20/20 and it’s no more true than in this situation.
Where to Go From Here?
In the effort to learn from my past mistakes, I’m interested in examining other banking partners I have worked with who have shown me empathy and compassion during this time. Here are a couple banks I feel have stepped up at this time of crisis. While this isn’t an exhaustive list, it’s two that I’ve had firsthand experience with.
First Republic Bank (FRB)
We use First Republic Bank as our banking partner for PocketCFO. Even though we could have used the $$ to help fund our efforts, we chose not to take advantage of PPP given there are other companies that need the funds more than us. However, the FRB team is consistently available to service the needs of our growing business. While they didn’t have all the answers at first, they regularly communicated where they were in the process, how to prepare and when to be ready to apply. Their communication was genuine and timely and appreciated. But even before this whole debacle happened, their in-branch service was authentic, they were responsive to wire needs and available for discovery questions on setting up new accounts and Payroll Protection Program. In short, they’re in tune with my needs. Their “Policies” don't get in the way of delivering a great service experience.
Beneficial State Bank
Similar to the FRB partnership, Beneficial State Bank who services The Town Kitchen, PBC and TTK Provisions, has kept an ongoing dialogue with us on the PPP Program, their role in it and how to set us up for success (even before they had the final details of the program). Whether it’s our banker Lauren Dube or any other member on the team, they’re available to address our needs. When car parking around their inner city branch is nonexistent and I have a deposit, or need a question(s) answered, they’re there to answer the call or come curbside to get my money. That's called authentic service, not contrived from page 32 section 4 subsection b of the service manual, but real people delivering authentic service.
Several Other Key Takeaways I Found to Be Important When Selecting a Banking Partner:
How will they help your startup or business grow beyond holding your money?
How happy are they to charge you fees, what's their fee schedule?
Where are they deploying/ investing your money when you aren't using it? Big Oil? Coal Companies? Companies with History of Child Labor?
What other services do they have offers for? AWS, Founder’s Toolkit, connections to investors?
What is their digital presence and how can it best support an on-the-go business owner?
Bottom line when selecting a business banking partner is just because you’ve been with said bank for a long time, doesn’t mean it’s their right for your business. There are quite a few new digital and challenger banks that are evolving to better serve up-and-coming entrepreneurs and business owners. Some more progressive banks like Aspiration Bank are even making sure your money is being utilized for good when you're not using it. "Doing Well by Doing Good" sounds like a company I could get behind.
Stay Strong My Friends & We’ll get this Through this.
President & CEO The Town Kitchen
Co-Founder & CEO PocketCFO