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Financing

A look at the PPP loan process from the inside

One restaurateur’s frustrating experience applying for the SBA program.
Donkey Stick Chicago
Photo courtesy of Donkey Stick

The applications for the SBA’s Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) were supposed to go online Friday morning, April 3, and Matthew Sussman was ready. As the owner of two independent restaurants in Chicago—Table, Donkey and Stick, a full-service operation, and Danke, a concept located in the city’s Revival Food Hall—his business has been seriously impacted by COVID-19.

Sussman had all his tax and payroll documents in order, and early that morning visited the website of Chase, his primary bank, to fill out the required contact form to start the process.

“Nothing was posted yet, and Chase never sent out a message,” he says. “I was also working that day (Table, Donkey and Stick is open for takeout and delivery) so I didn’t submit the contact form until the morning of April 4, when I was able to check again and saw that it was posted. I was told the time of the contact form submission is the basis for the queue of applications for review.”

On Tuesday, April 7, Chase finally posted the applications online, and Sussman tried to submit his that afternoon, as soon as the platform became available. “The volume was so high that the servers kept crashing. Over 200,000 applications were coming in that day,” he says. Sussman’s eventually got through, but he later found out that Chase had individually contacted other operators to fill out and submit their applications on April 3.

Meanwhile, Sussman tried two other banks that have his business—PNC and Byline Bank. PNC told him it wouldn’t have its platform up and running until April 7, and Byline was only accepting applications from credit customers; Sussman is a depositor. The restaurateur had also researched other banks and discovered that Radius Bank, an online bank out of Boston, was accepting PPP loan applications from noncustomers. He applied there, too, and the process went relatively smoothly.

To keep his options open, Sussman also started the application process at PNC. “I logged in with my bank ID and tried to upload the documents maybe a hundred times, and kept getting an error message,” he says. “Something was obviously wrong.”

After multiple days of phone conversations with PNC and attempts to submit the application under their direction, the bank arranged for Sussman to come in and meet in person with an employee. The banker figured out that the PPP process required a new ID to get into the portal, which Sussman received. He was then able to successfully submit the application.

“Each one of these applications had to be filled out precisely as instructed or it wouldn’t be accepted, complete with an approved digital signature,” he says. If an applicant is not familiar with the technology or all the steps, it adds even greater challenge and frustration, Sussman warns.

By April 17, the only lender Sussman had heard back from was Radius. “They emailed me that my documents were in final review earlier in the week and in an April 16 email, told me that my funds were allocated,” he says. As of Friday, he had not heard any updates from Chase or PNC.

“The banks were very badly prepared to deal with this,” says Sussman. He feared that with so many restaurant operators struggling, the $349 billion allocated for the PPP would run dry before all the applications are reviewed.

And that's exactly what happened.

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