Small business owners who used small banks say PPP money is hitting their accounts

Cogent Bank credits success to relationships, submitting applications as fast as possible

ORLANDO, Fla. – Central Florida small business owners who chose small banks say they are seeing the prized Paycheck Protection Program money hitting their bank accounts this week.

President Donald Trump signed off on a second round of relief money for small businesses on Friday. The package includes a replenishment of the PPP program, a federal loan that can be forgiven for businesses to cover their payroll, rent and utilities during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“The account was funded as of yesterday,” said Henry Sal, owner of CSI Software in Apopka. “I feel extremely lucky, this is incredible.”

Sal was approved for six figures in federal funding, which will cover the payroll for his 35 employees. He said he tried to apply with a big bank that he’d been with for more than 20 years but had no luck, eventually finding and applying through Cogent Bank in Downtown Orlando through a friend.

The owner of Common Sense Office Furniture in Orlando, Craig Caswell, also went with Cogent Bank over his big bank for his PPP funding.

Caswell said $268,000 hit his account Wednesday.

“The day before yesterday, I get the magic email of ‘Check your bank out,’ and there is the PPP money sitting there for me, two days before payroll,” Caswell said.

Caswell said being down 75% in sales, he was forced to furlough two employees, but this will now sustain his business, payroll, rent and utilities for eight weeks, he said.

“It’s such a relief. It’s a godsend,” he said. “You look at it like, ‘Maybe I am going to get through this now.’”

Cogent Bank employees allowed News 6 inside their Downtown Orlando branch, where Senior Vice President and Relationship Manager Gina Medlock explained their success, saying they have fully funded most of the businesses that applied for the PPP the first time around.

“Now three-fourths of our applications have been funded and we should be all funded by Tuesday,” Medlock said. “We were able to approve 581 applications, which equates to $124 million for the small business community.”

She said she’s only sleeping about four hours a week to get applications ready and approved for the second round.

“It is a sprint, it’s not a marathon this time. It is a sprint. The government said it was first come, first serve,” Medlock said. “All of us here have been trying to get as many of those processed and get the money into their hands as fast as possible.”

Medlock also credits the bank’s success to the personal relationship they are able to have with their customers and small business owners, especially as she said about 75% of them are filing their application for the PPP incorrectly. The relationship allows the bankers to just pick up the phone or email the business owner about how to fix it so it can be approved.

"I'd say 75%. Even after that, some still didn't get their documentation in correctly but we have a team picking up the phone or emailing to make sure we get those applications back and uploaded," Medlock said.

Cogent Bank’s Market President of Central Florida, Ben Lalikos, said all of his bankers are working long hours to get the applications submitted.

“I think everyone at this bank realizes how important all these small businesses are in our community and put forth the best effort that they can to help them,” he said.

Both business owners said they appreciated their open relationship with their banker.

“I actually got an email at 11 p.m. at night saying we are approved,” Sal said. “So they are working past their 5 p.m. hours to take care of their small businesses.”

Caswell said they reached out personally about updates.

“There were not emails. There were not texts. They were calls,” Caswell added. “I have always valued the personal relationship and there is no question when times are uncertain, that a personal relationship is the most valuable thing you need.”

Cogent Bankers recommend that small business owners who have not been able to apply for the PPP yet do so quickly, believing the money will not last as long, as just 13 days before it ran out the first time around.

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