Community First Bank’s PPP partnership

Craig Scott

Craig Scott, vice president and director of IT and facilities at Community First Bank, quickly prepared the bank for the Paycheck Protection Program. Photo by Colby D. Kuschatka

With little time to spare, Community First Bank prepared itself for a wave of Paycheck Protection Program applications by quickly implementing technology through a new fintech partner. Now, it’s doubling down on innovation.

By Judith Sears

Name: Community First Bank
Location: Kennewick, Wash.
Assets: $480 million

When the pandemic began, Community First Bank climbed aboard the rollercoaster that was the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP), held on to reach new heights and emerged stronger than ever. The rapid pace of the PPP, as many community bankers know, was dizzying.

“We realized one week before PPP went live that we had to have a front-end interface for clients and back-office logistics for getting loans through,” says Craig Scott, vice president and director of IT and facilities for the $480 million-asset community bank in Kennewick, Wash. “We weren’t given much time at all.”

Scott had already been researching vendors, but those he’d talked with were either too expensive or their solutions would take too long to implement for the bank.

“Their response was, ‘We can do this and we’re planning on doing it, but it’s going to be two to three weeks before we can get up and running for you,’” he says. “That wasn’t at all acceptable. We had clients burning up our phones asking when PPP applications would be available.”

With time running out, on March 30, 2020, Scott had a call and a demo with ICBA ThinkTech Accelerator alumnus Botdoc, a technology firm in Monument, Colo., that specializes in secure digital file transfer. Scott liked what he heard. On April 1, Community First had a 30-minute onboarding call with Botdoc. By the next day, the Botdoc tool was implemented with a link on Community First Bank’s website.

The Small Business Administration (SBA) rules were finalized on April 2, and the community bank received its first PPP application at 10:12 p.m. on April 3, 12 minutes after posting it on their website.

Loan applications continued coming in at the rate of about one per minute throughout the day, with the bank expediting more than 500 loan applications cumulatively. Ultimately, Community First Bank funded $97 million in PPP loans.

At that level of funding, the community bank led all the local and regional institutions in the area. “We did far outstrip the local credit unions and regional banks in the number of loans, amount of loans and the percentage of jobs that were protected in our area,” Scott says.

“I think community banks must be willing to provide a new generation the digital tools they expect. We see it as paramount to our success.”
—Craig Scott, Community First Bank

High-tech relationship banking

How did Community First Bank perform this miracle work? Through a combination of the bank’s employees stepping up to the challenge and nearly overnight adoption of new technology.

The speedy Botdoc implementation—Scott estimates the entire implementation took no more than six hours—was possible because the fintech’s solution didn’t require integration with the community bank’s core banking platform. Botdoc is a stand-alone tool with an API, or application programming interface, that allows data to be transported with end-to-end encryption into the community bank with no residual digital footprint.

In other words, Botdoc creates a secure portal or container for an exchange of data in the cloud. After the data has been sent, the container is overwritten and deleted, leaving no trace.

The tool is so intuitive that the primary training for Community First Bank employees was a 20-minute video. Scott provided another half hour of training per user to staff members who would spend significant time using it.

The community bank reports that Botdoc’s data transport is customer-friendly, too. Community First Bank’s customers clicked on one button on the bank’s website and could immediately send documents securely without logins, PINs or other drags on the process.

The consumer-friendly criterion had been high on Scott’s list, as Community First Bank wanted any new technology to underscore its commitment to a positive customer experience.

Karl Falk

Karl Falk

“The culture of our bank is very client-friendly, and we strive to take the client’s experience to another level,” Scott says. “We want to extend that to the digital realm. We’re extending the client focus from the lobby to the digital world.”

In Botdoc, the community bank found a partner that recognizes how important human relationships are.

“We don’t replace the human relationship; we’re an extension of it,” says Karl Falk, Botdoc’s founder and CEO. “A bank representative can be on the phone and talk the customer through it, as if they are sitting right there at your desk.”

“We don’t replace the human relationship; we’re an extension of it. A bank representative can be on the phone and talk the customer through it, as if they are sitting right there at your desk.”
—Karl Falk, Botdoc

Keeping up with tech demand

The PPP success has given Community First Bank newfound pride. “We realized, as a group, how much we can accomplish in a short period of time,” Scott says. “Everybody was willing to step in when they had to. We had a facilities guy working in various programs to push all the loan applications through. Our wealth planners got involved. Everybody was working to get this through.”

The community bank had a leg up in adopting new technology, because Scott had been investigating secure document transfer capability prior to the pandemic. He says bank executives have recognized a growing acceptance—even demand—for technology, especially among younger bank customers. “There’s a generational shift toward more and more technology, so, as a business bank, we’re trying to get out in front of that,” Scott adds.

Community First Bank plans to continue upgrading its technology capabilities. It’s currently finalizing the selection of a digital banking platform, a project the bank initiated prior to the pandemic.

“I think community banks must be willing to provide a new generation the digital tools they expect,” Scott says. “We see it as paramount to our success.”

Judith Sears is a writer in Colorado.