Approval stamped on a loan application Source: Shutterstock.

When the Small Business Administration launched its Paycheck Protection Program last month, the leaders of iTHINK Financial knew they needed to be ready to move swiftly.

“We thought it was best to hit the ground running,” said Vice President of Business Lending Christopher Russell, adding that the Florida and Georgia-based, $1.58 billion credit union was concerned — rightly — that huge financial institutions might snap up the money by issuing bigger loans to bigger companies.

Created by the CARES Act, the program ran through its initial $349 billion funding in less than two weeks.

According to a Small Business Administration report, 44% of the first round of PPP money went to just 4% of applicants. And a mere 8% of small business applications received money in the first phase.

At iTHINK, by contrast, 84% of the small businesses that applied for assistance were approved.

“Our senior management team came together and discussed and laid out a plan,” Russell said. Tapping its 27-branch network for assistance, iTHINK “formed an assembly line,” he said, with some employees tasked with opening new memberships while others checked the math on the loan applications.

Formed in 1969 by a group of IBM employees, iTHINK was known as the IBM Southeast Employees’ Credit Union until March of 2020.

Last year, it acquired Oculina Bank — a longstanding Small Business Administration lender — which bolstered iTHINK’s ability to move fast on the PPP loans.

Russell said all loan applications have been processed in the order that they were received, without regard for size. “We adopted the attitude ‘first in, first out,’” he said.

To date, iTHINK has approved 1,110 loans totaling $55 million, with more in the pipeline. The average loan size is $50,000, Russell said. But he added that the credit union is also proud to have processed a number of loans for $1,000 — the minimum size under the program.

“It’s pretty heartwarming to see the response,” he said. “We are hearing from people that, ‘This is saving my company.’”

Indeed, iTHINK shared testimonials from customers such as James M. Keenan, the COO of Charles Brooks Holding Company, who wrote  that his company turned to iTHINK because it  “did not receive timely service by our current bank to assist with the information and submission” of its PPP application.

Keenan praised iTHINK employees who “went above and beyond to assist us. This level of service is something you don’t see often in the financial world today.”