F the Banks

Yes, you read that right. Here’s why I said it.

A lot of small companies got screwed in how the Payment Protection Program (PPP) loan program rolled out. In fact, most small businesses would have been left out entirely, if Congress had not extended the program.

The behavior of Wells Fargo (our soon-to-be-former bank) and other large banks has been especially despicable. They used this opportunity to make more money off of larger PPP loans, and to protect the customers they already lent money to by walking them through the loan app before the loan app was available to anyone else.

If that wasn’t bad enough, they may also have conspired to allow companies not eligible to apply.

Laughably, Wells Fargo later came out and said they were donating any proceeds from the program to charity, being the good corporate citizens that they are and all. They failed to mention, of course, that they were required to do so by law.

If you own a small business, and you had a relationship with a big bank, you were likely left high and dry as Congress pushed out money to help you survive. That relationship not only didn’t help you, it may have been toxic and possibly even terminal.

After 12 years with Wells Fargo, the bank still treats my company exactly the same as someone calling off the street. Despite great credit, solid earnings and no debt, when my company asked for a line of credit, Wells volunteered a credit card instead. Other banks were more eager to please and extended actual credit lines. And yet, we kept our main account at Wells.

So, is there any point in having a relationship with a big bank? I don’t think so.

My company is actively looking for a small bank that wants a relationship with us. Why didn’t we do this before? Probably because I have been lazy and complacent. I tended to think that attributes like more branches, longer hours and better name recognition were more important than learning about my business, providing money management tools and helping me develop a credit lifeline in tough times. I can admit when I was wrong. I married the wrong bank, and I want a divorce.

But I still believe in financial marriage, and I am hopeful that the right bank out there exists that wants my patronage and my deposits, and will be invested in my growth. While it is satisfying to say “F the bank”, it is even more important for me to ensure the long-term health of my company.

I wondered if I was the only small business owner who stayed in such a one-sided and dysfunctional nuptial, so I asked other business owners two questions:

  1. “Do you have an ‘F the bank’ story?”
  2. “Do you have a love the bank story?”

These stories would be featured in an episode of our podcast. The first half will recount how banks have hindered and abused small companies, told from the point of view of the owners and managers of said businesses, and why they stayed. The second half of the podcast will focus on situations where banks have been helpful.

So far, I have 24 takers eager to share their negative experience, and none — not a single one — that has a positive story to tell.

Too small a sample? Maybe. So, let me open it up: do you have a story, as a small business owner or executive, where a bank has helped you out? If so, would you like to share it here, or perhaps be a guest on our podcast?

And to all of the others, the ones who see no profit from being at Wells, BofA, Chase and the other large banks, I have this question: why do you (we) stay in these bad relationships? Our businesses often rely on credit for expansion, new products and just plain survival. As we are thrown into the heart of this recession, lacking financial resources will likely kill us. So why are we still here?

I look forward to your responses, and will share them on my next blog and on our podcast. In the meantime, I am going through the hassle of transferring our funds to a new bank that may actually want to get to know me.

See you on Tinder, Wells. I won’t be swiping your way.