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At the end of March, the US federal government passed the Coronavirus Aid Relief and Economic Security Aid Provision (CARES). The program included $349 billion towards small businesses being able to cope with the impact of social distancing rules imposed to fight the spread of the virus. In particularly the money was earmarked to help small businesses pay their employees, the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP). On April 27th, an additional $310 billion was added to the program.
Government applications for anything are notoriously complex and lengthy. Some banks, like the Bank of America, were able to get applications to the government quickly. The BOA filed 60,000 applications the first day that the program began.
How were these banks able to respond so quickly? Robotic Process Automation (RPA) played a big role in the process. RPA let banks automate the application process, many steps of which are tedious and required the copy and paste of information. With RPA, the new workflow was quickly created and deployed. For example, data needed was set up to be auto-extracted from standard federal forms, like 941, 940, 944, 1099 Misc, etc.
But the submission process became too streamlined! Since money is intended to be distributed on a first-come, first-serve basis, smaller banks not employing tools like RPA were shut out, and the US Small Business Administration (SBA) E-Tran processing system crashed because it was overwhelmed by RPA submissions. The SBA banned application submission using RPA.
The SBA said in a release that “without RPAs, the loan processing system will be more reliable, accessible, and equitable for all small businesses.”