Bank of America’s small business loan portal is up, making it the first major bank to begin relief program

Brian Moynihan, CEO, Bank of America

Scott Mlyn | CNBC

Bank of America said Friday it is now capable of accepting online applications for the government’s $350 billion small business relief program, becoming the first major bank to do so. 

Minutes earlier, none of the websites of three other big U.S. banks — JPMorgan Chase, Wells Fargo or Citigroup — was accepting applications for the program, which was supposed to go live shortly after midnight.

Bank of America’s portal went live at about 9 am ET Friday.

The U.S. government has asked banks to help it dole out at least $350 billion in loans to small businesses, part of the $2 trillion coronavirus stimulus bill signed last week. But banks and industry groups have complained that they lacked the guidance to get online systems up and running until just hours before the deadline. That guidance was finally issued by the Treasury Department around 7 p.m. Thursday, leaving banks scrambling to get their systems to accept loan applications.

“Having just received guidance outlining how to implement a $349 billion program literally hours before it starts, we would ask for everyone to be patient,” Richard Hunt, head of the Consumer Bankers Association, said late Thursday. He added that the organization’s members would “move 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.”

Even at Bank of America, there was confusion among customers about the program. The bank is prioritizing existing customers with online accounts who are active borrowers as of last month, meaning that some of the lender’s customers were initially shut out of the application process.

Bank employees toiled overnight on the program and shifted workers into loan processing roles to handle the expected deluge of applications. The latest version of the government’s borrower application form was posted on Treasury’s website at 10:30 p.m. Thursday night, according to an industry source.  

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said Thursday that the Paycheck Protection Program would be “up and running” on Friday. At 8:42 a.m., he tweeted that community banks “have already processed over 700 loans” for a total of $2.5 million. Then a minute later, he tweeted that “large banks expected to go live soon this morning,” without naming the lenders. 

Still, the website for JPMorgan, the biggest U.S. bank, told customers that “We aren’t accepting applications for this program at this time. Check back for updates.”

Customers reported that banks and credit unions including PNC and Navy Federal Credit Union have informed them that they weren’t ready to take applications.  

This story is developing. Please check back for updates.

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