Portland lawyer Joe Lewis said he didn’t expect or necessarily want a lot of hand-holding when he applied for an emergency federal loan through his financial institution, TD Bank.
But Lewis said he wasn’t prepared for near-total silence from the bank in his efforts to take part in the forgivable-loan program for small businesses, which he needs so he can keep his five employees on the payroll while businesses are closed because of the coronavirus pandemic.
Lewis said he got one email from TD Bank saying his application had been received, and another saying it had been “accepted” by the U.S. Small Business Administration, which is overseeing the Paycheck Protection Program, part of the federal CARES Act passed in late March. In between, he abandoned a phone call to the bank to check on the status of his application after 90 minutes on hold.
He assumes the “acceptance” means he will get funding through the federal program, though he isn’t certain. The $349 billion program ran out of money Thursday, and ongoing negotiations between Congress and the Trump administration to provide additional funding for the program have yet to bear fruit.
So Lewis has mixed feelings about the program – gratitude for the help, but frustration over the lack of communication from his bank.
“I’m not particularly sanguine about it,” Lewis said. “It’s better than a stick in the eye.”
TD Bank isn’t the only large financial institution to receive criticism over its handling of customers’ loan applications for the emergency loans. Social media has been abuzz with outrage directed at major banks including Wells Fargo, Bank of America and others.
San Francisco-based Wells Fargo in particular has found itself in a public relations nightmare as its initial decision to process only $10 billion worth of applications was met with outrage by customers. The bank later reversed course, but the delay left many customers out of luck in the initial round of funding, which ran out quickly.
Bank of America also was criticized for initially requiring customers to have an existing line of credit with the bank to process their emergency loan applications. It, too, eventually reversed that policy after customers expressed outrage online.
Once the financing is all settled, Lewis said, he plans to shift most of his business to a smaller bank, hoping that establishing a relationship with a smaller group of bankers will lead to smoother communication.
He noted that TD Bank, which has its roots in Maine and major operations in the state but is headquartered in New Jersey, received dozens of complaints from customers in recent weeks. Many of those complaints were posted on the bank’s Facebook page and focused on the wait times to get through to customer service staff on issues ranging from the Paycheck Protection Program to overdraft fees and difficulties with online banking operations.
The bank issued a statement saying it has “experienced unusually high call volume” with questions about banking hours, online banking, federal stimulus payments, the emergency federal loan program and other relief programs for those affected by the coronavirus. It also has set up a special web page to answer common coronavirus-related banking questions.
Most branch offices are closed to the public, with service limited to drive-thru windows. The bank said it encourages customers to use online services and ATMs to do most of their banking.
TD Bank, which has 9 million customers, said it has 2,000 customer service workers on the job, and that 80 percent of them have transitioned to working from home to limit contact and prevent the spread of the disease through the workplace. TD Bank also said it is recruiting more customer service workers.
In its statement, the bank said it tries to respond to any complaints left on its Facebook page and also has a social media team devoted to tackling escalating complaints and delivering quick responses and resolutions to problems.
TD Bank said it has helped tens of thousands of business customers in a variety of industries obtain funding through the Paycheck Protection Program.