Joe Schneider: Separated but closer than ever

Big group of people posing for the photo in front of a lake in a valley

State association executives and ICBA staff visited West Point academy in West Point, N.Y., in October 2019.

ICBA is working with state associations to counter Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) confusion and inaccurate information.

By Joe Schneider, ICBA

During a crisis, accurate and timely information is often at a premium, and the COVID-19 pandemic is no exception.

When Congress passed the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) as part of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act, community banks struggled to get accurate, timely information about the program they needed to serve customers. With a short lead time and the unprecedented task of issuing more than a decade’s worth of loans in a matter of weeks before the Small Business Administration (SBA), a lack of accurate and timely information was common. Local and regional offices did their best to answer questions with limited information.

Fortunately, community banks didn’t have to go it alone. ICBA and our 43 affiliated state associations are mutually committed to working together for the benefit of community banks. We have worked hand in hand to counter confusion, ease anxiety and deliver information directly from the Treasury Department and national SBA staff.

ICBA has a strong relationship with our state affiliates on a normal basis, but it has grown even stronger during the pandemic. Despite a lack of in-person visits due to canceled state conventions, ICBA staff and state executives are coordinating and collaborating more closely than ever before.

Trusted partners

ICBA’s first goal in working with state associations has been to provide accurate information, especially during the early stages of the PPP rollout, when frustration was running high. We quickly formed a PPP working group to weed through available information. We also reached out to our contacts in the Trump administration, Congress, government agencies and regulatory bodies to get the facts and fact check conflicting information.

Like the community bankers we serve, ICBA and the state associations have worked at a frenetic pace, hustling to gather information as quickly as possible, but prioritizing accuracy over speed. The collective goal has been to be a source of calm for community bankers. We wanted to provide them with relief through our combined advocacy efforts, not add to the turmoil.

Many community banks were new to SBA lending and weren’t familiar with existing programs, let alone the PPP, with its rushed rollout. In some cases, local SBA offices were eager to help but provided inconsistent information, and FAQs were constantly changing.

State executives have been a critical conduit in these conversations with leaders in Washington. They’ve helped us shape these discussions by sharing community bankers’ questions, concerns, expectations and challenges, so that ICBA staff fully understands what community banks are experiencing, what they need to know and how we can best serve and advocate for them. That’s in addition to the hundreds of community bankers reaching out directly to ICBA.

The Independent Bankers Association of Texas (IBAT) invited ICBA staff to its “war room” calls to gather ideas and strategize. The Community Bankers Association of Ohio, the Independent Community Bankers of South Dakota, the Community Bankers Association of Georgia and others included ICBA staff in their online panel presentations.

Information sharing

Communication has been a two-way street. In addition to helping inform ICBA’s information-gathering efforts, state executives have served as essential distributors of information, incorporating ICBA resources into their own member communications about the PPP and the CARES Act. Groups like IBAT, the Independent Bankers Association of New York State, the Independent Bankers Association of Minnesota (ICBM), the Independent Community Bankers Association of New Mexico and others regularly ran ICBA’s PPP alert in their newsletters to help keep their members informed and active. The results of this were immediate, as community bank priorities were reflected in ensuing guidance from the Treasury and SBA.

State executives have been tireless community bank advocates, connecting members through video calls and other nontraditional communications, like online happy hours. ICBA has been grateful to be included in these meetings, providing 15- to 30-minute updates directly to state association members via video conference. The Community Bankers Association of Illinois, ICBM, the North Carolina Bankers Association, the Community Bankers Association of Ohio, the Tennessee Bankers Association, IBAT and the Wisconsin Bankers Association are among the many state associations that have included ICBA in their meetings or messaging to their members.

In some cases, the community bankers whom ICBA sees on these calls include individuals who don’t normally travel to Washington, D.C., and might not be involved in national advocacy. These virtual meetings have been a silver lining for ICBA staff sheltering in place at home, who are making new contacts and expanding their experience of community with the people who understand the concept better than anyone.

Going forward, these new and strengthened relationships will help ICBA in its unwavering efforts to create and promote an environment where community banks flourish. From ensuring community banks are able to serve their customers through the PPP and any forthcoming programs, to serving as a joint resource for all community bankers struggling with the new normal, ICBA and its state association affiliates won’t rest.

At a time where we are forced to be apart, we’ve found a way to work more closely together than ever before.

Joe Schneider ( is ICBA’s senior vice president of state associations