When you talk to Dawn DeHart, senior vice president and director of community development lending, her voice instantly puts you at ease. She speaks with understanding and certainty, a skill she has developed over her 35+ years in the banking and small business lending industry.
Since her first job as a teenager at a small community bank in Rockbridge County, Dawn knew that the banking industry would be her lifetime passion. Throughout her career, she’s worn many hats: customer service representative, branch manager, loan reviewer, credit analyst, business counselor, commercial lender. She has also spent time working alongside the banking industry as a loan officer representing the Small Business Administration (SBA) 504 Loan program throughout Southwest Virginia and was part of the development of Virginia Community Capital, a non-profit Community Development Financial Institution in Christiansburg. In these roles, she identified capital funding sources for small businesses, for-profit and non-profit developers with an emphasis on distressed and underserved markets. In 2017, she brought her wealth of expertise to Carter Bank & Trust as Director of Community Development Lending.
In her current role, she works with a loan closing and portfolio management associate, Teri Faw, in collaboration with Beverly Pitzer, CRA, and fair lending officer, to provide capital access opportunities that bring financing and investment to underserved markets in Virginia and North Carolina.
When COVID-19 first hit, Dawn was in the midst of putting together a 7(a) loan program in partnership with the SBA. While the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) put that project on hold, Dawn was still able to secure the approved lender status from the SBA, enabling them to quickly set up Carter Bank & Trust to process PPP applications.
Economic First Responders
“It was a rushed program, but when we saw how quickly it was coming, Rich Spiker [Chief Lending Officer] and other executives worked to pull a team of about 25-30 people together to train quickly,” Dawn reflects.
In the days leading up to the launch of the first round, the team did everything they could to find a solution for current and non-current customers to receive the financial help they desperately needed. After partnering with a third-party for the first round of funding, the team now had time to get set up with their own technologies to process applications for the upcoming second round.
“This is what you do for your country,” says Dawn. “It’s patriotic to do what you can to support your small businesses and communities.”
The 25-30 team members were the “economic first responders” who came from a variety of backgrounds at the bank. For Dawn, the camaraderie and teamwork that rose from this emergency situation was her biggest takeaway from the experience.
“It was great to see different people rise to the occasion without being asked when they saw a hole in the process,” she says. “One person can’t run the whole show and as conditions or phases changed, we saw natural leaders rise to the occasion to solve problems. This was true teamwork at its best.”
In addition to processing applications, Dawn’s 22-year relationship with the SBA network in Richmond became a major asset throughout the process. She had a direct line of communication with experts in Richmond and across the country to troubleshoot issues together.
“Even the SBA didn’t have all the answers because things were changing so quickly, but it was nice to have that support system that I could call up and talk through issues.”
Dawn continues to do research and reporting to maintain the integrity of the application system, making sure the information provided by PPP applicants reconciles to the bank’s loan system and SBA loan system. And she gives most of the credit to the entire team for its role in the massive PPP initiative and for the ongoing support.
A Voice of Hope Among Frustrations
There’s no doubt that the Paycheck Protection Program was a bumpy ride for everyone involved. Many business owners are experts at their business but couldn’t always translate the guidelines and rules that the SBA provided. In addition, the first round of funding was gone so quickly, many customers who had applied were frustrated and disheartened.
During the second round, Dawn and her teammates were able to turn those strained relationships around through personalized consultation and constant communication. Like many of her teammates, she spent hours on the phone with upset customers, leading with empathy and patience, to help explain what was going on and how Carter Bank & Trust could help them through it.
That patience and genuine care helped Carter Bank & Trust get 554 loans approved, totaling $42.8 million in the second round alone.
Forecasting What’s Next
While the Paycheck Protection Program application process has ended for Carter Bank & Trust, there’s still a long road ahead to help businesses apply for loan forgiveness. In addition, Dawn believes there will be a need for additional funding for the recovery phase. When that recovery phase begins is unclear as the world still reels from the impact of COVID-19.
Approximately $650 billion in loans has been approved for small businesses nationwide. Some of that money won’t be used because small businesses are concerned about the uncertainties surrounding forgiveness. 50% of these loans were processed by banks with less than $5 billion in assets with an average PPP loan size of $60,000, making smaller, community banks equal players in the fight to protect the small business economy. Dawn is proud to be amongst those smaller banks who rose to the challenge.
“They’re your local lenders who don’t have a lot of resources to process these applications. That means these small banks took people out of their regular jobs who stepped up to do the heavy lifting,” she says.
The heavy load on these banks won’t be lifting any time soon. Unless the proposed Paycheck Protection Forgiveness Act, which provides automatic forgiveness for loans under $150,000, passes, bankers will continue to work long hours supporting customers as they apply for forgiveness when the coverage period ends in December. For Carter Bank & Trust, the bill would eliminate a significant number of loan forgiveness applications to process, as their average loan size is about $77,000.
“There will be a need for a continued lifeline, ” Dawn predicts. “While the program has been extended, fewer businesses are applying. My hope is that the money left over can be repurposed for the recovery phase. That’s where the money will be needed most.”
Until things become more clear, Dawn and the rest of the Carter Bank & Trust economic first responders will continue to work diligently with customers to ease their concerns and provide consultative support. As a community bank, caring is what they’ll always do best. In the face of uncertainty, it’s something customers can continue to count on.