“IT WAS THE MOST stressful time of my career, but also the most rewarding.” I heard that comment, as well as variations on it, from many bankers over the past few months as they talked about PPP, or Paycheck Protection Program, the federal loan program launched to help ease the financial distress caused by the pandemic.
PPP has been criticized because not all the money has ended up with companies it was intended to help. Still, it saved millions of small businesses from going under.
One young lender told me that, while dealing with PPP loan applications, she worked past midnight for weeks, had to juggle childcare and struggled to understand the program because of a lack of clear guidance, all while trying to reassure desperate small business owners that she’d secure the funding they needed to save their livelihood. And yet, despite the pressure, she wouldn’t have missed the experience for anything, because she knew she made a huge difference to her community.
Bankers are like many professionals. They can grow disillusioned. We enter a profession with noble goals to provide affordable housing or bring new jobs to our community, but our idealistic thinking gets muddied by the paperwork, the sales goals and the office politics, and eventually we burn out. The FIRE—financial independence, retire early—movement, which encourages saving voraciously so we can retire as early as possible, at least partly reflects this disillusionment.
But from what I’ve observed, the COVID-19 pandemic and PPP rollout has cut through the banking world’s frequent frustrations to remind even veterans like me of how important we are to our community. To be sure, not everybody has found the past year professionally rewarding. I know a doctor who actively discourages aspiring medical students from joining the profession, because he hates the red tape and the constant haggling with insurance companies.
Struggling to see the silver lining in the difficulties of the past year? Here are five suggestions to leverage 2020 into something good:
Joe Kesler is the author of Smart Money with Purpose and the founder of a website with the same name, which is where a version of this article first appeared. He spent 40 years in community banking, assisting small businesses and consumers. Joe served as chief executive of banks in Illinois and Montana. He currently lives with his wife in Missoula, Montana, spending his time writing on personal finance, serving on two bank boards and hiking in the Rocky Mountains. Joe’s previous articles include About Tomorrow, Prepare for Pain and Doing Good.