The temporary closures of non-essential business doors amidst Covid-19 has set off a ripple of economic hardships. As a community lender, you may already be preparing for an influx of loan applications from small businesses needing cash to cover payroll and operating expenses. But if you’re not equipped to handle the elevated demands of the current market (or of any other volatile time), you may not be able to help out business owners when they need it. Adapting, though, may be relatively straightforward.

Here are 5 tips to adapt your small business lending process during, and after, Covid-19.  

  • Online never gets sick—a digitally-enabled lending process helps you keep the doors open for small business customers. 

If you rely on manual processes to originate, underwrite, and fund small business loans, any staffing gaps may grind loan application approvals to a halt. As your application volume increases, a digital origination channel not only helps customers remotely access your loan application, but also mitigates any gaps in your team. According to Bain & Company, only 8% of banks offered some form of digital loan origination, and fewer than 1% had a digitally-enabled process in place from end-to-end. 

  • Now more than ever, your customers need speedy answers. Give them decisions fast—whether it’s a yes or no.

Your small business customers are having to make tough staffing and operating decisions every day as their finances change. As the situation evolves, they don’t have hours to spare, let alone days—or weeks. Give your small business applicants swift decisions—even if the answer is a ‘no’, they’ll appreciate the opportunity to reassess options before it’s too late. By automating portions of the lending process, you can deliver a decision to customers’ inboxes efficiently—saving them valuable time and sparing them from further uncertainty.

  • Adopt criteria relevant to small businesses to determine their creditworthiness. 

Treating small business loan applications like large business loan applications is like pitting your local prepared foods boutique against a large supermarket. The information needed and the metrics for determining creditworthiness are different. Ensure your bank is looking at relevant parameters, like real-time cash flow prior to the pandemic. This will provide a more accurate picture than you’d get from looking at the past few years of tax statements—and it puts money in the hands of businesses that deserve it.  

  • Keep your employees safe and limit in-person contact. 

In many major areas like New York state and San Francisco, banks and lending institutions are designated essential businesses and are permitted to stay open during the crisis. Still, ask yourself: do my employees need to be physically in your branches to work? Now’s the time to pivot away from in-person operations—both for the safety of your staff and customers. Adapt to the new landscape by setting up your employees to operate remotely, and equip them with the technology (from computer monitors to software) needed to carry out their jobs. Bringing your small business loan application online also lets customers apply from home and limits employee exposure. 

  • Establish a grace period for customer repayments. 

Profitability and goodwill aren’t mutually exclusive. Consider establishing policies that remove some of the immediate strain on small businesses without detriment to yours. You may even aim to become a resource for customers by offering FAQs and tips for them to navigate this crisis—leaving your relationships that much stronger once the economy, and their business, moves forward.