As it did for everybody, 2020 presented challenges for me and my teammates at Merchants Bank. I am guessing you were as excited as we were to turn the page on the calendar and enter the new year with renewed hope and optimism.
Being tested as we all were last year, responding with resolve, and adapting to the many unexpected demands dictated by the pandemic and other global forces contributes to my tremendous appreciation for the dedication of our Merchants Bank team. Our people never wavered in their collective dedication to support the hopes and dreams of our customers and communities. Given the environment, our commitment in that regard probably has never been more important.
As we continue on in 2021, we will remain intensely focused on many of the same priorities that were so important throughout last year:
Health and safety
We all must remain vigilant in doing our part to prevent continued any re-surge of the virus. I am so very proud of the professional approach the members of our team have demonstrated in attempt to keep our customers, friends and neighbors safe.
Our lobbies opened on Monday, February 8, with the same precautions we’ve been practicing since March 2020. While we are thrilled to be able to see our customers again, we still highly encourage using alternative banking solutions and calling your local branch to schedule an appointment in advance. We are appreciative of your consideration for the health and safety of our employees, customers and communities.
Support for customers
We sincerely appreciate your patience and tolerance as we all have adapted to new service delivery solutions. We have worked very hard to leverage all available tools to assist in making sure we are available to serve you.
Our support for customers throughout the pandemic has also included affording relief to many customers impacted greatly by the economic fallout of the pandemic. Most notably, our participation in the Small Business Administration (SBA) Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) was a source of tremendous relief for many of our small business customers. We originated more than $200 million of PPP loans during the first round of funding. By year-end we had assisted more than 700 customers in securing the all-important loan forgiveness approval from the SBA. We are now also taking applications for the next round of the PPP program in an effort to provide critical economic stimulus to our eligible small businesses continuing to struggle.
Our commitment to residential mortgage lending is a real source of pride for us at Merchants Bank because of the hundreds of customers each year we help realize the dream of home ownership. With the historically-low interest rate environment throughout all of 2020, our team worked tirelessly to make sure customers were able to take advantage of low rates to buy a new home or save significant money by refinancing an existing mortgage loan. Last year, we closed more than 4,100 loans for a total of $950 million. Rates remain very attractive so far this year, and I would invite you to contact one of our talented mortgage lenders if you’d like to discuss opportunities you may be eligible for to take advantage.
Enhanced digital and card convenience
The utility associated with our digital banking solutions and card payment products has never been more important. We have made tremendous investments in these products over the course of the past year, and we know we must continue to do so. The stability and feature-functionality associated with our internet and mobile banking applications for both businesses and consumers is a top strategic priority.
In the past year, we also made major improvements in our credit card solutions for businesses, consumers and merchant processing customers. All of these tools are being enriched with important information security enhancements and digital application security monitoring capabilities.
In closing, I want you to know that I have nothing but an extraordinary sense of hope and optimism as 2021 progresses. I feel that way largely because of the strength and resiliency of the communities we have the privilege to serve. Thank you for your business and loyalty as a Merchants Bank customer.