Citizens Bank of Florida celebrates 74 years in business this year, a milestone the bank has reached by continuing to serve the community in a way its citrus and celery farmer founders would be proud to see.
And never was that caring approach more evident than during the economic crisis of the COVID-19 pandemic.
In what Gloria Dunmire, vice president, describes as “relationship banking at its best,” the team at Citizens Bank of Florida stepped up to assist area small businesses ease the economic turmoil caused by the coronavirus lockdown.
“We worked night and day getting customers PPP [Paycheck Protection Program] loans for their small businesses,” says Gloria. “We saved more than 7,000 jobs and helped approximately 370 businesses and nonprofits secure their loans. It was physically exhausting but extremely rewarding in many ways knowing this was the lifeline our area businesses needed for financial relief."
As the pandemic began to take its toll on the economy, employees at Citizens Bank of Florida knew they had to act fast. Steve Fulmer – the bank’s vice president, SBA and commercial loan officer – quickly formed a team to handle the anticipated volume of PPP applications. Steve created policies and procedures and fashioned an assembly line of sorts for approvals, underwriting, closings, disbursements, and the creation of new accounts for non-customers.
So novel was the situation, it was on-the-job training for the bank’s SBA team as they worked tirelessly to assure as many applicants as possible were able to receive funding. There were many sleepless nights – some from the worry about those who may not get their money – and some from pulling all-nighters.
“We worked seven days a week and 12-14 hour days,” says Steve, “plus working all night during a three-day period. We were on a mission to help everyone we could. We wanted to make sure our customers received their allocations.”
The PPP loans, which were forgivable if businesses used the money to make payroll, came out in two phases. The program’s first allotment was gone in 14 days. About two weeks later, phase-two funds were launched.
“I can remember that feeling in my gut when the screen noted the SBA was not taking any more applications,” Steve recalls when the first phase went dry. “People were disappointed.
They wondered what they did wrong. They did nothing wrong.”
He notes that the SBA usually processes $38 billion in loans per year. This year, the system was asked to handle $600 billion in a month and a half.
“The servers crashed a lot,” Steve explains. “It was like the SBA was trying to build an aircraft while flying at 30,000 feet in the air.”
Gloria adds that Citizens Bank of Florida employees not only helped put people at ease by facilitating their PPP loans, but they also helped others find out if they had been approved by their own banks. Some residents who were not tech savvy would come through the drive-thru with questions. Many others called.
“When people called here, they were so excited to talk to a person,” Gloria says. “People found out how valuable it is to know your banker and how important it is to have a relationship with a bank.”
One of the few local community banks still in operation, Citizens Bank of Florida began as Citizens Bank of Oviedo in 1946, becoming the first bank to open in the city after the town’s first bank closed in 1929. The bank changed its name to Citizens Bank of Florida in 2005. Today, the bank boasts six branches across Central Florida – two in Oviedo and one each in Longwood, Winter Park, DeLand, and Sanford.
“We are still doing what the founders started on day one,” says Gloria. “How we do relationship banking really shined this spring. We really helped our small businesses.”