Special Feature
Part of a ZDNet Special Feature: Coronavirus: Business and technology in a pandemic

In a crisis, speed and relevance are important business currencies

Speed and relevance are the most important currencies during a crisis. Successful companies will leverage technology to deliver solutions with sensitivity and speed at scale. Here is an example of how technology in the banking industry was used to better serve stakeholders during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Coronavirus: No, the internet isn't collapsing because of all your extra traffic

As the global economy struggles with the evolving effects of COVID-19, we continue to hear of alarming employment statistics across the US. Since the President declared a national emergency over a month ago, more than 26 million Americans have filed for unemployment, wiping out all of the employment gains that were made since the Great Recession.

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To help businesses survive the stay-at-home orders and other effects of local quarantines, the US government passed the CARES Act, which in part includes the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) and the Main Street Lending Program (MSLP). To access the government-backed loans these programs provide, businesses must apply through an approved lending institution. Banks and other additional approved lenders do the work of accepting applications, evaluating needs, setting terms, and transferring funds, while the SBA and Treasury Department approve lenders and establish the rules. While a huge relief for small businesses -- these loans came with a pragmatic hurdle: they are first-come, first-served, requiring lenders to provide fast, efficient, and completely digital ways to serve their customers and fulfill the government's requirements.

Enter nCino: Grace (and Speed) under Pressure

Wilmington North Carolina-based nCino provides end-to-end cloud-based solutions to enable financial institutions to increase transparency, efficiency, and profitability while ensuring regulatory compliance. nCino is a Salesforce partner trailblazer with a long history of building industry-leading cloud banking innovative solutions. As CARES was implemented, they needed to mobilize -- and fast. According to Sean Desmond, chief customer success officer at nCino, the need was clear: "When the CARES Act was implemented, many of our current customers turned to us for a solution. We responded with our online SBA Lending Solution, which allows financial institutions to efficiently and digitally provide financing to small and mid-sized businesses."

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Sean Desmond, Chief Customer Success Officer, nCino

The technology allows the digitizing of documentation collection -- which eliminates manual processes, simplifies data entry, and provides real-time transparency. Net-net: applications can be submitted faster, processed more efficiently, and businesses can continue to operate. However, nCino knew that this situation would not remain static. Desmond:

"We continue to enhance our Solution for future rounds of funding, by including needed downstream features around Forgiveness Workflow and Payroll Aggregation. As the program continues to evolve, our product will adapt, fulfilling the needs of our customers' so they can best serve theirs."

WaFd Bank and nCino: Staying Nimble (and Staying Up Late) for the Community

One of the first nCino customers to roll out the SBA Solution was WaFd Bank, a bank and portfolio lender headquartered in Seattle, Washington. Brent Beardall, President and CEO of WaFd Bank, shared how his institution was able to quickly implement nCino's SBA Lending Solution in response to COVID-19, despite some last-minute changes in the PPP legislation:

"The PPP, which provided $349 billion to small businesses affected by pandemic, was scheduled to go live on Friday, April 3. The night before, the SBA changed some of the fundamentals of the program, sending financial institutions scrambling to update their systems and processes, with varying degrees of success. Thanks to nCino's flexible and configurable system, WaFd Bank was able to quickly accommodate the new changes and begin helping small business the next morning, on time and on schedule. As additional rounds of funding are potentially made available in the coming weeks, the ability to change and adapt quickly will continue to be key."

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Brent Beardall, President and CEO of WaFd Bank

Stuart Isett

Racing for a Spot at the Table

Part of the reason financial institutions had to implement a lending solution so quickly was because the PPP's funds were limited. In fact, the program ran out of money just two weeks after it was signed into law and had to stop accepting new applications. According to the SBA, more than 1,637,000 loan applications valued at over $339 billion had been approved in that time. While this is a huge boost to the economy, many small business owners whose applications weren't processed quickly enough by their lenders were left out. This reality weighed heavily on Beardall, who understood what his customers were going through.

"When you combine fear, which we're all feeling, with a limited supply, people's emotions are raw. To be able to tell our customers, 'We'll get you in, there's a spot for you at the table,' we needed a technology platform that was nimble enough to get us up and going in literally a matter of days."

Beardall and his team did not take on the additional stress, late nights and last-minute changes because they were interested in profits, but because the felt that it was the right thing to do. "The government is utilizing bankers to get money to small businesses so they can keep people employed," he explained.

"That's really what this is -- a way to get money into the hands of people who need it quickly. We are in unprecedented times. This is a national emergency. This is about doing your small part to help our communities." 

Takeaways: Four Ways to Prepare Your Organization for Unprecedented Change  

As the COVID-19 crisis continues to evolve and impact all industries, there will be new and unexpected opportunities to help your customers and your community as we weather this crisis together. If, like WaFd Bank, you prepare your organization now, you will be better positioned to take advantage of those opportunities. Below are four steps your business can take right now to speed up your processes, stay nimble and serve your customers:   

1. Promote and/or Expand Your Digital Offerings: Now is a great time to encourage your customers to leverage your online offerings or to create new ones, whether those are virtual shopping carts, on-demand classes, mobile banking or online applications. In addition, an accessible online presence also allows your employees to connect with customers and continue conducting business as usual while working remotely.

2. Better Anticipate Your Customers' Changing Needs: Banks and credit unions, especially those using a platform like nCino, have the flexibility to defer auto or home payments, and suspend fees for overdrafts and/or excessive transactions. Other industries can offer donation-based professional development classes, opportunities to network through social media and free delivery for goods and services. Think about how your customers' lives are changing in this moment and find new ways to reach and serve them, quickly and safely.

3. Keep the Lines of Communication Open: Customers who will be heavily impacted by this crisis are looking for sound, actionable advice about how to get through the coming weeks and months. Now is the time to segment your customer lists and send individual, personalized emails that are relevant to their specific concerns. Don't wait for your customers to email you with questions; be proactive and reach out with helpful information you know they need -- but don't sell to them, make suggestions and then listen.

4. Don't Forget Your Employees: Your team is also living through this crisis and dealing with their own worries and concerns. Make their lives easier by improving flexibility and easing the burdens that have been placed on them. While technology tools that make life easier, such as virtual conferencing, instant messaging and online learning is appreciated, good old-fashioned flexibility goes a long way, too -- especially for those employees who are working from home while taking care of small children, elderly family members and others in need.

You Don't have to be a First Responder to Make a Difference

As we continue to monitor the impacts of COVID-19 and how it's affecting our customers and communities, bear in mind something else Beardall said about the role financial institutions play in this current crisis:

"Banking, if done correctly, is a noble profession," he said. "We play a very vital part in getting the economy through this. Collaboration and transparency have been core tenets for us and have never been more important than are during the time we're in right now."

As you think about your role in this current situation, ask yourself: How am I helping my customers? What can I do to make a positive impact today? And how can I prepare my organization to make an even bigger impact tomorrow? 

This article was co-authored by Sean Desmond, chief customer success officer at nCino, and Thomas Cozzolino, senior director of market strategy at Salesforce