The coronavirus has made an enormous impact on the global economy, affecting trade, distribution, commodity pricing, and on buying patterns that reflect required social behaviors. Changes enacted to fight the disease have been swift, but the repercussions for businesses have been challenging. Agricultural producers are familiar with challenges; for farmers, springtime means ‘social distancing’ on a tractor as their concerns about the virus shift to include getting crops in the ground.
Farming is an essential industry. Loan requests continue to come in, the phone calls continue to come in, but when it’s not raining, the farmers are out in the field. From the countryside perspective, this is business as usual. Equipment still breaks, and tractors still need to be replaced. The financing that supports the work of our farmers is essential, too.
Loan officers everywhere are using creative systems to bridge social distancing to get farmers the financing they need. What used to take a visit to the farm and several hours of conversation can now be done with a loan officer remotely, using secure technology. Loan packages are created over the phone, by email and even through texting. Virtual meetings are scheduled on FaceTime or on the computer using video software, and most documents are signed and instantly sent online with “DocuSign”.
Most financial institutions offer each customer a personal portal where a customer is able to safely access their account online, make loan payments, review stored files, and send and receive documents electronically. Having these tools in place has increased the capability and efficiency of financial services officers to transmit information, and to process loan requests and loan packages.
“Once customers try electronic platforms, they are amazed at how simple the process is when working with these tools,” says Nathan Buning, GreenStone financial services officer. “I think the customers are initially intimidated. However, after one use, people are sold on how easy it is to sign a loan application through DocuSign and make payments or transfer money online from their revolving line of credit.”
Customers living in areas with limited Wi-Fi bandwidth are served time-sensitive documents via FedEx overnight shipping for next business day delivery. Checks can be dispersed with an ACH deposit directly into a customer’s checking account.
The new business-as-usual is safe, expedient and a timely step toward the streamlined processes of the future. What is missing from the solution may be the most compelling argument for incorporating some of the “old” business-as-usual into the new: relationships.
Technology is great, and especially important under the current circumstances. All of us in agricultural financing are happy to be able to support our customers remotely, but we miss traveling out to the farms. We deeply appreciate the partnerships we’ve developed over the years and the genuine, face-to-face conversations with people we care about.
To view the original article published in the Michigan Farm News on May 29, 2020, click here. To speak with a GreenStone representative about questions or advice, click here.