2021 has been a year of challenge and change for community bankers, especially when it comes to lending.
Banks modernized and digitized significant portion of loan activity during the pandemic; as a byproduct, customers have begun to realize the inefficiencies in traditional lending processes. Community financial institutions that hope to stay ahead in 2022 should prioritize the incorporation of digital and automated loan processes.
Although the need to digitize commercial lending has long been a point of discussion, the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) sparked a fire that turned talk into action for many institutions. Bankers quickly jumped in to help small businesses receive the funding they needed, whether that meant long hours, adopting new technologies or creating new processes. The amount of PPP loans processed in that small window of time would not have been possible without many bankers leveraging trusted technology partners.
One result of this approach was enhancing transparency and boosting efficiencies while helping small businesses at the same time. Many in the banking industry saw firsthand that, despite the commonly held belief, it is possible to digitize lending while maintaining personal, meaningful relationships. Bankers do not have to make a choice between convenience and personal connection, and we expect to see more institutions blend the two going forward.
Bankers also have a newfound familiarity with Small Business Administration programs following the wind down of the PPP. The program marked many institutions’ first time participating in SBA lending. Many now have a greater understanding of government guaranteed lending and are more comfortable with the programs, opening the door for continued involvement.
Embracing digitization in lending enhances efficiencies and creates a more seamless experience not only for the borrower, but for employees institution-wide. This will be especially important as the “Great Retirement” continues and bank executives across the country end their careers with no one in place to succeed them. To make the issue even worse, recruiting and maintaining technology talent has become increasingly difficult — even more so in rural markets. Such issues are leading some banks to sell, disrupting the businesses and communities that rely on them.
Partnering with technology providers can give institutions the bandwidth to effectively serve more small businesses and provide them with the customer experiences they have come to expect without increasing staff. Adopting more digital and automatic aspects in small business lending allows banks to reduce tedious manual processes and optimize efficiencies, freeing up employee time and resources so they can focus on strategy and growth efforts. Not to mention, such a work environment is more likely to attract and retain top talent.
Using technology partners to centralize lending also has benefits from a regulatory compliance standpoint, especially as potential changes loom on the horizon. Incorporating greater digitization across the loan process provides increased transparency into relevant data, which can streamline and strengthen a bank’s documentation and reporting. The most successful institutions deeply integrate lending systems into their cores to enable a holistic, real-time view of borrower relationships and their portfolio.
Community institutions have been a lifeline for their communities and customers over the last two years. If they want to build off that momentum and further grow their customer base, they must continue to lean into technology and innovation for lending practices. Developing a comprehensive small business strategy and digitizing many aspects of commercial, small business and SBA lending will position community banks to optimize their margins, better retain their talent and help their communities thrive.