Executive Letter: An Unlikely Year in Review

By Rose Oswald Poels

If there was a year-in-review report that could perfectly capture the sudden move from chaos to preparation bankers experienced throughout 2020, it would contain enough content for a novel. Looking back on a year that for many represented struggle and uncertainty, bankers were able to offer assistance and hope. It was and always will be our mission to provide resources, education, and advocacy to you so you could provide the same for your customers. Below are just a few examples of the successes we feel so fortunate to share as a community.

Once the world was initially struck by the coronavirus, having accessible resources became a critical part of WBA’s work. To assure everyone stayed up to date on Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loans that seemed to distribute as soon as the program was created, we were in constant communication with Treasury and the Small Business Association (SBA) to assure regular and accurate information was able to reach you in a timely manner.

At the same time, our legal department was working around the clock to answer pressing questions about the everchanging loan regulations. The result of this became our PPP FAQ to help break down and summarize the program’s eligibility, application, forgiveness, and more, as well as a COVID-19 resource page which has been updated to cover the most recent changes in the new stimulus package. It was bankers’ desire for knowledge that further led to our E-signature Toolkit, a guide to the frequently asked questions about the growing topic’s legality in the state of Wisconsin.

This year was further met with racial injustice and the tragic deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Eric Garner, and so many more. The need to discuss and highlight equality became a priority that WBA quickly brought to action. Our event “A Conversation on Racial Equity” with author, professor, and activist Dr. Ibram X. Kendi brought a new light to what it means to be an anti-racist. Managing to get such an influential person such as Dr. Kendi to speak at the event was no easy feat, but bridging the gap between our members and these rare opportunities is part of what we believe drives this incomparable industry.

Events like this have allowed several opportunities to continue these necessary conversations, including banker panels and other virtual discussions to address ongoing steps to be taken and how other banks are establishing and continuing their DEI objectives.

In October, WBA also hosted Larry Kudlow, director of the National Economic Council, as he discussed prospects of a post-COVID economic recovery. Kudlow then opened the panel for participating WBA members to have a direct conversation with him, where he answered questions on a potential stimulus package, PPP forgiveness, and more.

Our advocacy efforts once again proved the importance of our commitment to the needs of our members. The 2020 Virtual Capitol Day saw 151 bankers meet with 28 key legislators on the issues critical for the upcoming legislative session. We joined a strong list of companies and organizations in writing, reviewing, and signing letters to lawmakers, one of which aimed to secure bipartisan legislation to assist Wisconsin communities struggling as a result of the pandemic.

It would be ideal to add every page of this long year to this list of challenges and accomplishments we’ve faced together. From FIPCO’s first full year of ShareFI to the introduction of our Associated Health Plans which expanded our members’ options to health care, the past twelve months have been an opportunity to reconsider what we view as normal and continue sharing the stories of how bankers have helped their customers not only survive, but thrive.

The year has been a long and unprecedented part of WBA’s history, but it has been one of continued leadership and advocacy. As 2020 reaches a close, I’d like to keep in mind that none of this would have been possible without you, the members, and a willingness to come out stronger on the other side. New challenges in 2021 will be approached with innovation, and new achievements will be celebrated along the way. Entering this new year, I expect there will be more of the unexpected we’ve come to know all too well, but 2020 has shown us that we are more than capable of preparing for whatever might come our way.