The United States Congress passed a stimulus program a few weeks back, including the Paycheck Protection Program (“PPP”).
The PPP authorized up to $349 billion in loans to small businesses to pay their employees during the COVID-19 crisis. PPP loans are forgivable up to certain limits and are targeted to help businesses with less than 500 employees.
As expected, the program was incredibly popular, and the first round of funding was quickly exhausted. Nevertheless, the PPP is a good case study on the volume of so-called “back office” work that banks, insurance companies and government agencies are contending with at the moment.
Let’s look at just one example.
Chase, America’s largest bank, had about 81 years of work to do after the very first day accepting applications under the PPP. How did I come up with that estimate? Let’s make a couple of assumptions:
- 375,000 applications were received by Chase for the PPP loan on the first day after receiving guidance from the Small Business Administration (SBA), as reported in Forbes
- 20 minutes of effort for someone at Chase to process the loan, reviewing the application and supporting docs
- 90% productivity, meaning that a loan processor has 6 minutes of lost time per hour (for chit chat, bathroom breaks, etc.)
- 37.5 hours per week is the active working time for processors, to account for breaks, training, meetings and such
- 6 weeks per year of vacation, absence and holidays
Using the above, Chase received 7.5 million minutes of work on day one.
Each loan processor can process 4,658 applications per year. 375,000 applications at 4,658 applications/person/year is just about 81 years of work. Put differently, Chase would have needed 81 processors to handle these applications in a year or 972 to get through the applications within the month. Perhaps this partially explains why many businesses did not have their application processed in time to take advantage of the first round of funding.
Yet, this program was literally built overnight, so it is unlikely that Chase (or any bank) was prepared to handle the work with the efficiency mentioned above. This is just one kind of COVID-19 related back office challenge at the moment. The same struggle is arising for other banking activities such as loan refinancing, loan restructuring and housing foreclosures.
However, this challenge has a broader reach than banking, since unemployment offices and insurance companies are also inundated with claims to process at the moment.
So, what are some best practices for those organizations contending with a mountain of paperwork? Here are a few to consider:
Existing staff likely needs to be pulled from other work. And, likely, temporary staff needs to be rapidly hired.
Establish metrics for the team that we could measure and manage so team members get real time feedback if they are falling behind relative to the standards.
Build a quality program that has just the right balance of following the rules and driving throughput to limit the level of rework.
Build a training and communication program to help these staff learn how to process these applications.
Automate as much of the process as possible using tools like robotics process automation (RPA).
Build listening posts, such as surveys, to capture customer feedback. Publish clear communication on frequent questions or areas of frustration.
Evaluate whether online and mobile applications are easy to use. If such tools are too cumbersome or too open ended, this will create additional work for processing staff.