Small businesses are desperate to access loans. But there’s a problem: Most banks aren’t ready to lend.
On Friday, the Small Business Administration’s Paycheck Protection Program loan applications were expected to be open and ready for small businesses across the country to get emergency, forgivable loans—intended to help them retain employees amid the COVID-19 crisis.
But as of Friday morning, only one big bank managed to start accepting applications: Bank of America.
The Brian Moynihan-led bank launched its portal for the small-business loans on Friday, going live at about 9 a.m. ET. Yet even BofA’s rollout perplexed some customers, as the bank is prioritizing existing customers with online accounts who are active borrowers as of last month.
Fortune reached out to Bank of America for comment but did not immediately receive a response.
CEO Moynihan said on CNBC that the bank would initially focus on “borrowing clients.” “We have to focus on the borrowing clients to make sure we can take care of them,” he said. Bank of America reportedly since noted it was adjusting its policy to address all small-business customers, but some customers report still being unable to access the application. The bank has reportedly already received nearly 60,000 PPP loan applications worth $6 billion since 9 a.m. ET Friday morning.
This morning, the other of the big four banks—JPMorgan Chase, Citigroup, and Wells Fargo—hadn’t yet managed to begin accepting applications on Friday morning. JPMorgan Chase’s website initially told customers that “We aren’t accepting applications for this program at this time. Check back for updates,” but has since started accepting applications by midday Friday. Wells Fargo also told customers online to “check back often” and that “As soon as we can start accepting applications, we’ll add the link to the online application.”
But the failure-to-launch wasn’t a huge surprise. Ken Logsdon, a partner at international law firm Dorsey & Whitney, told Fortune on Thursday: “I would be absolutely shocked if it gets rolled out [Friday].”
Banks have been harried by the SBA and Treasury Department to get applications up and running, but many still had concerns over how the lending process would logistically work as late as Thursday evening (when more guidelines finally arrived in the form of a 31-page document from the SBA and Treasury at around 7 p.m. ET). The new guidelines came “literally hours before [the process] starts,” Richard Hunt, head of the Consumer Bankers Association, told CNBC Thursday. He added that banks are moving “heaven and earth to get a system in place and running to help America’s small businesses and the millions of men and women who work at them.” And those like Wells Fargo and Citigroup seem to still be moving heaven and earth to launch their programs.
That’s why Dorsey & Whitney’s Joseph Lynyak, who specializes in the banking and financial services industry, believes “this is kind of a work in progress, in that it’s almost changing on a daily basis,” he told Fortune on Thursday.
Worse, some small businesses are worried that even if banks do get the loans up and running, it might not be enough. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi echoed this sentiment on CNBC’s Squawk on the Street on Friday, saying that “it’s not enough.” Added Pelosi: “Let’s do what we just agreed to, except make it more current.”
While many small businesses await the other big four banks to launch portals (or their community banks or credit unions), they may have to wait still longer to actually get the money from the loan.
Given how banks “are being inundated with applications,” notes Lynyak, “I would personally be really surprised if money is going to be flowing before the end of May.”
More must-read finance coverage from Fortune:
—What small businesses applying for SBA PPP loans need to know
—Everything you need to know about the coronavirus stimulus checks
—Social distancing creates $8 trillion in economic benefits, study says
—Everything you need to know about furloughs—and what they mean for workers
—Millions won’t be able to pay their bills this month. What financial experts advise
—Listen to Leadership Next, a Fortune podcast examining the evolving role of CEOs
—WATCH: The U.S. tax deadline was pushed from April 15 to July 15
Subscribe to Fortune’s Bull Sheet for no-nonsense finance news and analysis daily.