Southern Bancorp, Inc. is one of America’s largest rural development banks with approximately $1.1 billion in assets, serving over 80,000 customers at 39 branches in both Arkansas and Mississippi. Southern was founded in 1986 by then Governor Bill Clinton, Wal-Mart Chair Rob Walton, the Winthrop Rockefeller Foundation and others who were concerned about the economic decline of rural Arkansas. Southern invests in people and businesses in rural communities, empowers them to improve their lives and helps them transform their communities.
Congress created the Paycheck Protection Program in March 2020 as an emergency stopgap for what lawmakers expected to be a few months of sharp economic disruption. But as the pandemic raged on, the program — which made its first loans one year ago this past week — has turned into the largest small-business support program in American history, sending $734 billion in forgivable loans to struggling companies. The program helped nearly seven million businesses retain workers. But it has also been plagued by complex, changing rules at every stage of its existence. And one year in, it has become clear that the program's hasty rollout and design hurt some of the most vulnerable businesses. A New York Times analysis of data from several sources — including the Small Business Administration, which is managing the loan program — and interviews with dozens of small businesses and bankers show that Black- and other minority-owned businesses were disproportionately underserved by the relief effort, often because they lacked the connections to get access to the aid or were rejected because of the program's rules. Southern Bancorp and Beneficial State Bank are mentioned.
The data analysis firm 60 Decibels released last month the results of a survey conducted with the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) borrowers of six Community Development Financial Institutions (CDFIs), including CDBA members Southern Bancorp and Optus Bank. 60 Decibels interviewed 1,073 PPP borrowers for this survey, one third of whom originally sought assistance from a non-CDFI lender. Of the borrowers who initially sought assistance from another lender, 84% indicated that their experience with a CDFI bank was better than their experience with the other lender.
Banks have been permanently shuttering branches for years, but the number of closures hit a record in 2020 as the pandemic accelerated the move by many customers to online banking. Banks closed 3,324 branches last year, according to a tally by S&P Global Market Intelligence. "In the last 60 days, I've had two mayors reach out to me saying, 'Would you bring a bank branch here?' " says Darrin Williams, CEO of Southern Bancorp, which specializes in underserved communities. "In a lot of the rural communities we serve, the bank branch is part of the social fabric," Williams said. "If you go to Truman, Ark., on a payday Friday, there are going to be 10 people deep in the line. People want to come to that bank branch because it's social."