June 6, 2020 / VOLUME NO. 108
Bankers' Hours

I once saw a clock that had the phrase “BANKERS HOURS” instead of numbers. HOURS was in red, serving as the numerals 10, 11, 12, 1 and 2; BANKERS was underneath in black.

It builds on the joke about the 3-6-3 rule in banking: Pay 3% on deposits, lend at 6% and be on the golf course by 3 p.m.

Those were the days.

Greg Poehlmann, senior vice president of $13 billion, Boston-based Berkshire Hills Bancorp’s 44 Business Capital division, jokes that bankers should call the unfolding crisis the “Covid-19-5:” work for 19 hours, sleep for five hours, repeat.

The pandemic forced the team at 44 Business Capital, which focuses on larger Small Business Administration loans, to change course several times. Early on, they focused on loan modifications and deferments. Then, they pivoted to the onslaught of unsolicited loan applications under the SBA’s Paycheck Protection Program.

As the demand for PPP applications subsides, the team is once again shifting — this time to loan forgiveness. They’re digesting the guidance, discussing automated options with vendors, trying to keep up with last-minute congressional changes and communicating with their borrowers.

“I really feel that the chaos that was the application phase will not be as chaotic in the forgiveness phase,” he says. “However, it is a little bit more complex, and there will probably be more hand-holding or explaining in this phase.”

Poehlmann says he has felt frenetic, anxious and finally, optimistic over the past three months. The time his team has spent helping customers weather the crisis presented an invaluable opportunity to cross-train employees on different functions and systems that the bank uses. Now, he can’t wait to leverage this experience once normalcy returns.

“All 38 of the people on my team got cross-trained across a lot of different systems and tools that we use to do our business. We’ve become a much more efficient operation,” he says.

“Nobody wants a crisis, but frankly it forced us to implement those changes and get the attention of the executives that needed to sign off on those things,” he continues. “From that perspective, I’m looking forward to business as normal with a whole renewed approach to how we do business.”

•  Kiah Lau Haslett  / managing editor for Bank Director
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