When the Small Business Administration rolled out its paycheck protection program, it set off a sort of fire drill among banking tech executives, who had to quickly figure out how to accept borrower requests and load them into the SBA system before the money runs out.

Like other banks, the Sunrise Banks, with $ 1.4 billion in assets, in St. Paul, Minnesota, had two weeks to decide whether to buy or create a solution, configure, test and commission it.

“In working with technology, my general principle is to keep so many options open until you find a path that makes sense,” says Brett Cooksey, CIO at Sunrise Bank.

“It was quite a journey,” said Brett Cooksey, who joined the bank in January as chief information officer. “We called it the Race to E-Tran.” (E-Tran is the name of the SBA system that accepts and authorizes PPP loan requests.)

As of June 5, Sunrise had made $ 216 million in paycheck protection loans. The following is an overview of how and why the bank made the technological choices it made and how it plans to use this technology for other purposes at the end of the program.

Evaluate sellers

The Cooksey team evaluated PPP offerings from major banking software vendors and several startups. In total, he looked at around 20 solutions.

“In working with technology, my general principle is to keep so many options open until you find a path that makes sense,” Cooksey said.

Knowing that PPP moved quickly and changed often, Cooksey thought it would be difficult for the larger vendors to keep pace. His team tested several fintech products, including secure file portals.

Cooksey then researched the SBA’s E-Tran infrastructure and found it to be outdated, using old web services technology. Knowing that the agency was planning to pay out big bucks to 30 million small businesses, he predicted the high volume would be a challenge.

“When we looked at our business process and what these other solutions were providing, we felt they were not optimal,” Cooksey said. “We know this is taxpayer money, questions will be asked and we are very sensitive to due diligence. It comes from our CEO all the way – it’s a commitment to quality rather than volume.

But while Cooksey felt that neither vendor had the right technology, he also knew his team couldn’t create the technology from scratch fast enough. Some other banks had the SBA technology they used over time and were able to go faster, he acknowledged.

Thus, for the first cycle of PPP, the bank processed the loan requests manually. “This is where we learned,” Cooksey said.

Adoption of “low code” software

But he has also started working with a startup called Anvil which offers “low code” workflow software.

“Low code” means that workflows can be created in software using predefined components and a drag-and-drop editor, and users do not need to understand software development to create them. , according to Mang-Git Ng, CEO and founder. of Anvil.

The founders of Anvil call their software a “paperwork automation platform.” They raised $ 5 million in a Series A funding round last week led by Gradient Ventures (Google’s investment fund focused on artificial intelligence), with participation from Citi Ventures, Menlo Ventures, Financial Venture Studio and 122 West.

Anvil’s software “eliminates tedious and mundane administrative tasks, replacing them with simplified digital forms and automated workflows,” said Ng.

The software is used to collect information about customers and share it with relevant parties in order to provide a service, he said. In financial institutions, where information is collected using paper and PDF forms and then submitted to various departments for processing, Anvil creates electronic forms, requests electronic signatures, and shares information electronically with departments and agencies. computer programs. TD Ameritrade, E-Trade and LPL Financial are among its financial clients.

The Cooksey team used Anvil software to help turn the SBA app from a complicated PDF into a question and answer process.

“It was very intuitive and descriptive, and it helped us increase the quality of the data we were getting by several percentage points,” he said.

Subject matter experts made sure that Anvil’s outputs matched everything the PDF required.

Sunrise’s tech situation was complicated by its conversion to Microsoft Teams in March to help workers stay connected during the pandemic. Bank employees began using Microsoft Office 365 exclusively (the core Office apps provided online), Microsoft Teams collaboration software, and Microsoft’s Power business analysis software.

“It was a shock to the system,” Cooksey said. “Fortunately, we were able to grow our business quickly. It gave our users an immersive experience. We called it the Power Up. People communicate on their various channels and can directly access all the documentation they need to consult.

His team integrated Anvil software with Microsoft tools. They built application programming interfaces that access Anvil, extract raw loan data and loan files, and store them in Microsoft SharePoint.

“With Anvil, we had an immediate digital experience and all the information these borrowers entered was made available to us digitally,” Cooksey said. “We were able to put it in a database, put these documents together and put them in a datastore tied to the little app that we built in two weeks. “

Anvil co-founders Ng and Ben Ogle worked directly with Cooksey for several late nights to get the system up and running.

When the system went live, Sunrise Banks lenders pre-checked incoming digital loan applications, reviewing payroll files, federal tax returns, and other documents. A compliance team validated the work and the technical team released the applications to E-Tran as XML files.

Many large banks have used robotic process automation to enter loan applications into the E-Tran system instead of uploading XML files.

“These big institutions were slamming the E-Tran website and bringing it to its knees,” Cooksey said. A few days later, the SBA unplugged the RPA and Cooksey was happy that they made the decision to use the XML file upload process instead.

“It wasn’t perfect,” he says. “The SBA disabled some of their validation checks and that allowed some data quality issues to occur that we had to clean up. ”

But overall, the process has been effective, Cooksey said. While in the first round of PPP the highest number of loans processed by the bank in one day was 85, it processed 485 in one day using the new system. Some loans were authorized by E-Tran in 30 seconds; others took several minutes.

One of the benefits of using low-code software, Cooksey found, was that it was easy to make changes along the way. For example, the SBA form contained a confusing complex question about whether a business was a franchise and whether it was on the agency’s franchise list, which tripped up potential borrowers. The Cooksey team was able to rephrase it in two questions: is your business a franchise, yes or no? And is it on the SBA list, yes or no? – with simple check boxes.

“This is an example of how we were able to adjust the user experience and the language to answer these questions, to get the data quality to an acceptable level,” Cooksey said.

He plans to use the new system for other loan programs.

“We would absolutely love to modernize what we have in place for PPP or create a new workflow very easily,” he said. “And we’re using it for loan cancellation right now.”

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