Banker Laura Castilla Teams Up With Mark Cuban To Help Small Business Owners

By Dale Denwalt The Oklahoman, Oklahoma City

WWR Article Summary (tl;dr) Meet the banker who has teamed up with "a shark" to help small business owners wade through the choppy waters of the Paycheck Protection Program.

Oklahoma City

Local banker Jill Castilla has teamed up with Mark Cuban on a project to help small business owners navigate a complicated loan forgiveness application.

Under the Paycheck Protection Program launched in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, the federal government authorized loans while also allowing small businesses to have those loans forgiven.

The forgiveness application is 11 pages long and cumbersome, said Castilla, president and CEO of Citizens Bank of Edmond. With Cuban's help, a website was launched to help business owners fill out the form and submit it to their own bank.

"We were starting to get some concern on social media across the nation," she said. "We've been so involved with the Paycheck Protection Program that we get to hear from those borrowers, even though they may not have come through Citizens Bank of Edmond."

The free website, PPP.bank, is a collaboration between Castilla, Cuban and Teslar Software, which manages online banking applications.

"Mark Cuban reached out to me late last week and he thought we really needed to launch some type of national application for the Paycheck Protection Program's forgiveness, that the 11-page application was not user-friendly," Castilla said.

Cuban already knew Castilla since the two linked up on Twitter in March to find ways to help people waiting on their federal stimulus payments."

"It's been really amazing to see like-minds coming together. We didn't have any interactions with Mark Cuban prior to this, and it just happened through the power of social media," Castilla said.

Cuban is a well-known tech entrepreneur and a host on the TV show "Shark Tank." He also owns the Dallas Mavericks basketball team.

Loan recipients can begin requesting forgiveness Friday through the Small Business Administration. The new website lets people fill out the form and either print it out or email it to their bank.

The team was able to secure a .bank URL, a process that usually takes months, in just a few days. The website won't be branded and is available for anyone to use, no matter who they bank with, Castilla said. She also said it's secure and won't collect private information that people enter while filling out the SBA's form.

"We wanted to make sure we weren't retaining any information, that we were not scrubbing any data or even capturing analytics off the website. The business can be assured that it's just for their use only and once they print it off or clear their data, it's no longer being stored," she said.

Cuban donated server space through Amazon Web Services, and the website can handle a massive load of traffic. While the SBA provided the form in advance, the agency was not involved in creating Castilla and Cuban's website.

Castilla said she's received hundreds of private messages and questions on Twitter about the Paycheck Protection Program application, many from business owners who might not have a close relationship with an accountant, attorney or even a bookkeeper.

It might be easier to only focus on her own clients during the pandemic and subsequent economic crisis, but Castilla said she felt compelled to do more.

Along with offering loan deferment options to her customers, she and her team stepped up to be an advocate for small businesses.

"Once we saw the needs far exceeded what we were able to offer, then we knew we needed to step up and provide more of a perspective at the national stage of what was happening on Main Street," she said. "There was a great desire in Washington D.C. to help Main Street, but not a great understanding of how to get assistance to them." ___ Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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