Phew — what a year these last few months have been.
Just three months ago, many of us were on flights returning from the ICBA convention held in Orlando, Florida.
Little did we know that in the following 12 weeks, MIB’s member banks would experience one of the most intense, novel and demanding time periods in U.S. history.
When I stepped off the plane in Helena, I certainly did not expect that in a few days Governor Steve Bullock would issue a “stay at home” order, effectively shutting down Montana private businesses in its wake and then extending that order through the end of April.
What is more, I certainly did not expect that by the end of the first week of May 2020 that MIB’s member banks would be participating in one of the largest government assistance programs in U.S. history and would be on the forefront of helping to rescue small businesses all across the Treasure State. No way. No how.
I also did not expect to report that as of May 1, 2020, some 7,227 of the new PPP loans had been approved in Montana for a total of more than $277 million. The average loan size in Montana for this time period was roughly $79,000. Nationally, for round-two of the PPP program, at the end of the first week of funding, some 2,211,791 loans had been approved for 5,432 lenders with the total dollar amount exceeding $175 billion.
Did any of us expect, as of March 1, 2020, the stock market would tank and that Montana’s state budget would flatline? I cannot even imagine the tremendous fiscal challenge that will face our Montana legislature when it goes back into session in January 2021.
Could any of us have conceived at the beginning of March that all of MIB’s live education events would be canceled through the end of August? Who would have thought our Annual Convention slated for the third week of July would be canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic? At the start of 2020, did we ever envision a scenario where our member banks would be closing their bank lobbies as they did for the entirety of April and into May? Again, no way. No how.
Would we have, in our wildest imaginations, ever thought the press would be reporting COVID-19 related deaths statewide like box scores or that the number of positive tests for COVID-19 exposure would be in excess of 850 by the end of June? Again, no way. No how.
As I write this article at the beginning of July, our state officials continue to make every effort to slow the spread of the novel coronavirus. There are cheers and jeers for their attempts and methods. But all of us realize this reality. Due to the shutdown of so-called nonessential businesses, many Montana small businesses were casualties of public health decisions.
Being on the frontline of the PPP and disaster loan programs, our member banks experienced firsthand the economic devastation many employers and their employees experienced, with unemployment reaching 9% in Montana. What is more, Montana’s community banks have seen economic devastation reaching Great Depression levels this year — a situation none of us could have contemplated coming into March. Who would have thunk?
Coming through this novel period in American history, we are once again reminded of the most key ingredient of America’s economic success. That is, government loans, programs and grants cannot ever serve as a substitute for a healthy and free private sector economy.
We are also reminded of how fortunate we are to call Montana home. Unlike many other states, Montana has not experienced the volume of COVID-19 cases that were originally predicted to happen. But that does not mean that “we” still won’t feel the long-lasting impact of the pandemic in terms of delayed and slow economic growth and recovery, particularly for those businesses that were deemed nonessential.
However, Montana’s economic circumstance is in a much better place than it would have been thanks to the efforts of community banks all across this State. Due to your herculean efforts as frontline workers, “you” were able to secure the funds your business customers needed to stay afloat, and your efforts will still be felt by your customers long after this pandemic has receded into the past. Montana’s community banking industry was able to quickly adapt to and effectively respond to these unprecedented times, providing your customers with the high level of care and concern that they have come to expect from Montana’s community banking industry.
So, too, with the association itself. The association had to turn on a dime and transform its operations almost overnight. During this time, the association has been able to carry out the mission of the MIB without interruption. Even so, previously scheduled educational programs and live meetings had to be converted into virtual events. The association also created a link on its webpage dedicated to providing information to our membership on the Covid-19 epidemic.
What is more, during this time, the association communicated regularly with our elected officials, both on the state and federal level, to bring our membership the most up-to-date information on the virus and responses thereto, including expressing the need for our members to have clear guidance on implementing and carrying out the PPP program. What is more, the association worked hard during the last several months to help our bankers get answers to questions related to human resources, lobby closures and revised regulatory requirements. Further, as the crisis unfolded, the association communicated with the public to assure them that leaving their money in the bank was the safest course of action. In sum, the association has shown, similar to what our member banks show on a daily basis, the importance of and the value of the personal banking relationship during this turbulent period.
As you know from the operation of your own business, there have been many changes in 2020 in the way we are all operating. And, certainly, there will be more. However, your MIB team remains constant in our dedication to serving you in the same manner you are fully committed to serving your customers and communities. Thank you for being helpers during this time of need and let’s hope the second half of 2020 turns out to be better than the first half of 2020.
James E. Brown, Executive Director