WINCHESTER — As small businesses nationwide are applying for financial assistance during the coronavirus pandemic, local banks are working to stay abreast of guidelines and process applications quickly.

Loan applications through the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act — dubbed the CARES Act — along with the Paycheck Protection Program was declared Friday, and business owners have flocked to their lending agents to find relief.

Many banks have shifted their staffs to help handle the volume of applications.

“It’s an all-hands-on-deck situation,” Brandon Lorey, president and CEO of the Berryville-based Bank of Clarke County, said. “I’ve got retail folks, commercial teams, cash management. I’m even reviewing loans. It’s everyone who can enter stuff onto the SBA [U.S. Small Business Administration] or creating docs or talking to customers. It’s a team effort.”

Bank customers, for the most part, are staying up-to-date on information about the CARES Act, making the process a little smoother.

“We’ve had a bunch of inquiries, as you would expect. It’s interesting, a lot of our customers are as far up the curve as we are as far as keeping up with it,” Scott Harvard, president and CEO of Strasburg-based First Bank, said. “There’s a lot of need out there right now.”

Harvard said the situation has been “a work in progress” with the Small Business Administration, which serves as a “gatekeeper” for participating banks during this loan process.

"Most of us bankers have been anxiously preparing for a moving target, really, in terms of what the final requirements were going to be,” Harvard added.

Lorey said his banks were planning to not start processing applications until Monday of this week because guidelines were still shaky toward the end of last week. But, he said after instructions were sent out Thursday evening, he got his team ready and processed the first loan application under the CARES Act at 8 a.m. Friday morning.

“I’m really proud of the team,” Lorey said. “It’s been going as well as can be considering this kind of volume and how quickly the government put the package together.”

Harvard estimated the SBA might handle around $25 billion worth of loans in a given month but are now being asked to dish out $349 billion.

“This is highly unusual, and I think it’s unprecedented in terms of the demand for loans and the volume of loans coming through,” Harvard said. “Their systems are overwhelmed.”

The Bank of Clarke County, Lorey said, has worked on “a couple hundred” applications with the average loan amount coming in around $280,000.

Harvard said First Bank has about 200 customers in the queue “at various stages” — approvals, applications or just gathering information. Customers at First Bank, according to Harvard, have been applying for around $200,000 loans on average.

— Contact Matt Welch at mwelch@winchesterstar.com