At M&T, Day 1 of PPP brings same sense of urgency — but for different reason

Regional President Comiskey says everyone understands process better, but that doesn’t lessen need for assistance

Rutgers University Tom Comiskey of M&T Bank and other judges at the competition.

Everyone remembers the first day of the Paycheck Protection Program last spring: There was panic and a sense of urgency unlike anything banks — or their customers — had ever experienced.

Simply put, business owners were scared they wouldn’t get the money they desperately needed to stay open. And a lack of understanding of how the process worked had everyone on edge.

That fear of missing out wasn’t as great Tuesday — when the second draw of the program began taking applications for the first time. A tightening of eligibility, a cap on the amount received and a general sense that the government is determined to get funds to all those eligible permeated the day.

The urgency to complete the process, however, was still there. So said Tom Comiskey, the regional president who oversees New Jersey for M&T Bank.

“I think last spring there was so much uncertainty about how much money was available and how quickly it would go,” he said. “This time, there is a higher comfort level on getting the money, but the need to get that money quickly is still high. Small businesses are hurting.”

M&T processed the second-highest amount of loans in the state during the first round — approximately $300 million, which it said helped save approximately 25,000 New Jersey jobs. Comiskey said the bank will use that experience for this round.

“We know what to expect,” he said. “We’ve been through it. And we’re ready to do it again.”

The bank also is ready to handle business owners who are not existing M&T customers, something few banks were able to do in the spring.

“The priority for us in everything we do is to take care of our clients,” he said. “We’re the No. 2 SBA lender in New Jersey. So, there is a huge need just coming from within our existing client base for the program.

“But, we know there are companies who may not have gotten the execution that they needed in the first go-round. Those companies can go to a M&T branch, open a business checking account and apply for PPP funding through M&T that way. We didn’t allow for that during the first go-round, but this time around, we are.”

The biggest difference between now and last spring is the eligibility requirements.

The maximum number of employees you can have is 300 (down from 500), the highest award is $2 million (down from $5 million) — and companies have to show a 25% reduction in revenue this time around.

This comes, with a catch, however. These new rules are only for those taking a second draw of PPP. Those applying for the first time are eligible for the higher amounts.

“It’s important that both the clients as well as the employees here understand all of these rules,” Comiskey said. “Admittedly, these things can be complicated for people. And I think having a trusted adviser to help you navigate and step through the application process and understand the rules for forgiveness is a little bit of an underrated value that companies need when you’re going through a program or trying to understand a program like this.”

All this being said, Comiskey is confident this round will be far less hectic than the first.

“Having been through it all once, it should go more smoothly,” he said.

Here’s a look at more of the conversation, edited for space and clarity:

ROI-NJ: Give us your big-picture thoughts on going through the PPP process again?

Tom Comiskey: I’ll start by saying it’s disappointing that we’re still in the same situation where you have small businesses that are struggling. Small businesses are vital to our communities and there are so many of them out there that still need help. And, obviously, we’re glad that the government has stepped up and is supporting them. And, as a bank, we’re standing by and ready to help them again. We opened our portal today. We’re here and we’re ready to support everybody the way we did the first time around.

ROI: How many first-time applicants do you expect?

TC: Our expectation — and based on the very early data that we have — is that most of our applications are for companies coming through a second draw of PPP.

ROI: Picking up new customers always is the goal — but you may not be someone’s closest bank. Why was M&T so successful in this program the first time around?

TC: I think it speaks to our culture. We have knowledge, we have a process and we have the people who can help business owners think through and navigate the process. Our proven execution during phase one makes me very confident in our team and our ability to execute for companies that need it.

Look at it this way: We are the 17th-largest bank in the country, but we are the No. 5 SBA lender in the country and No. 2 in SBA lender in New Jersey.

If you think about small businesses, that kind of speaks to our commitment to small business banking and helping those kinds of companies be successful. I think that shows the ability of the bank to do this.