The economic downfall from COVID-19 has hit small businesses especially hard. Dallas-based Vista Bank has seen this firsthand. For months now, it has worked to connect small business owners in the region with government programs that have helped many keep their doors open.
“We knew it would take small businesses to put our communities and our country back to work,” said John Steinmetz, president and CEO of Vista Bank. “So, we wanted to do what we could to make that happen.”
Steinmetz took over as CEO in 2014, becoming the first in the company who was not a member of its founding family. He moved to Dallas four years ago. Last year, Vista Bank left its previous headquarters in the Lubbock area and moved to Dallas, too. With about 160 employees and a customer base of more than 17,400, Vista Bank grew by 450 percent between 2010 to 2020.
When Congress passed the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES) in March, the bank shifted its focus to the Paycheck Protection Program, working with small businesses to keep employees on their payrolls. Additionally, for companies that were in good financial standing before the pandemic, Vista Bank has also participated in the Federal Reserve’s Main Street Lending Program—one of only a handful of Texas banks chosen to underwrite loans for the program.
As of last month, the bank had funded 2,063 loans totaling $167 million through the program, with new clients accounting for 75 percent of the loans given.
Setting aside the numbers, Steinmetz said that Vista Bank’s primary goal is to give small business owners a fighting chance as they deal with uncertainty. “At the end of the day, what people are looking for is optimism and confidence,” he said.
“Vista Bank is 108 years old,” he said. “We’ve seen people who have risked their life savings and capital go through the Dust Bowl, World War I, World War II, September 11, the Great Recession, and everything in between. So, we really believe that together we can get through this. ”
D CEO recently caught up with Steinmetz to learn more.
WHAT KIND OF SUPPORT DO SMALL BUSINESSES NEED RIGHT NOW?
STEINMETZ: “Regardless of size, businesses are looking for ways to continue to serve. They’re looking for working capital, but more importantly, they’re looking for an opportunity to keep the doors open. I want us to do our part to keep our friends and neighbors employed for as long as we can.
“We need to think about not only individuals but also about the long-term economic impact of small businesses on our city. It would be great if our city leaders met with the community banks because we serve many different industries.”
WHAT ROLE HAS VISTA BANK PLAYED?
STEINMETZ: “We decided in early March that we would prepare for COVID-19 to the best of our ability. During this time, we became really active with the Paycheck Protection Program as we sorted out COVID-19 as a country. Today, we are working diligently on Main Street Lending in North Texas. This is a long-term challenge for our industry and the business owners that we have the privilege of serving. These programs have provided the resources to keep people out of the unemployment line, and hopeful that they will still have a job at the end of this.
People are looking for hope; we want to provide it. I think community banks around the state have done just that, and I’m honored that we can play a small part.”
YOU RECENTLY DISCUSSED THESE ISSUES IN WASHINGTON, D.C. HOW DID THAT GO?
STEINMETZ: “Treasury Secretary Mnuchin and Sen. Ted Cruz hosted a roundtable of about 10 community bank CEOs from around the country; I was asked by Senator Cruz to represent Texas. I expressed concern with him that the Secretary was meeting with only Wall Street CEOs. But as we all know, as Main Street goes, Wall Street goes.
“Community banks are the most helpful in disseminating information about the funds available to small businesses, and we did not have a seat at the table. You can have the airline CEOs, hospitality CEOs, and grocery CEOs, but community bank CEOs can talk about all of these industries at a micro rather than macro level. We talked about our experiences regarding the challenges associated with Main Street Lending. It was a unique opportunity to talk about the impacts COVID-19 is having on community banks.
“Our industry is highly regulated, and I’ve been very impressed by the way that the federal and state regulators have worked together proactively to ensure that we can reopen successfully. Since that time, our bank has worked with the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston, the Main Street program coordinator, to get other banks involved because we all need to pull together during this time.”
HOW CAN SMALL BUSINESSES HELP THE ECONOMY REBOUND?
STEINMETZ: “Wall Street follows the country’s Main Streets, so I don’t think you can underestimate the value that small businesses add to our national economy. They employ the greatest number of people around the country.
Through economic challenges, it’s typically small businesses that pull the country out of economic recession. So, it’s great to see proactive programs geared toward small businesses, like PPP and Main Street Lending, instead of bank bailouts and other things that we’ve done in the past.”
HOW DOES DALLAS RATE AS AN ENVIRONMENT FOR SMALL BUSINESSES?
STEINMETZ: “Because of our entrepreneurs and our community leaders, we are a diverse community with a great regulatory and tax climate. Leaders in Dallas have excellent vision, and the community works together for long term benefits on a number of issues. I’ve been so impressed with how people have dug in to keep their people employed.
“What Dallas has going for it is multi-generational community leadership and people who are ready and willing and to help when their names are called. It’s been nothing short of amazing to watch the way community banks throughout Dallas have worked together to ensure that we are in a position to come out of this situation strong. I believe the best days are ahead for our great city.”
HOW DO YOU SEE THE CITY MOVING FORWARD?
STEINMETZ: “It’s probably too early to say how a post-pandemic Dallas will look. What we do know is that programs like PPP and Main Street Lending are giving our economy a lifeline, and that COVID-19 has opened our eyes to a lot of inefficiencies. As hard as it is right now, what I’m most excited about is the innovation taking place and the leaders who have risen up during these trying times.
“Change is good. It’s not easy, but I know there are opportunities for people. What makes our country great is that we innovate, and we evolve. Think about getting a bad haircut; no matter how bad it is, we’re confident that our hair will grow back. Although we’re cautiously optimistic, we’re going to be tenacious.”
Q&A responses have been edited for length and clarity.