Ramon Looby, president & CEO of the MBA.

Fulton resident Ramon Looby recently took the reins as the new president and CEO of the Maryland Bankers Association (MBA). Looby comes on board at the MBA after serving as senior vice president and public policy lead at Bank of America (BofA), which gave him access to legislators and associations in a number of states, including Maryland. 

He was hired after an extensive national search and, as it happened, comes on board when COVID-19 vaccine was being distributed and an end to the pandemic can finally be seen on the horizon.

What were your duties at your previous position?

As BofA’s senior vice president and public policy lead for a number of states such as Delaware, Pennsylvania, Georgia, Indiana and Ohio, I was based in D.C. but often travelled and worked with state banking associations. That makes my new position particularly interesting because I’ve seen first-hand how various state banking associations operate, which has given me a solid perspective for introducing new ideas and innovations.

What are your thoughts on the performance of bancorps?

Maryland banks are continuing to serve their customers, especially in the era of COVID-19. Banks have also played a critical role in providing support to our communities during this period.

When you think about what happened in March 2020 with the pandemic, the economic crisis and 20 million people losing their jobs, then what the banks have accomplished, I’m proud. They stepped up to help those people, notably by helping to distribute Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loans.

Maryland banks deployed close to 90 percent of the PPP money in Maryland, which supported about 950,000 – or three in four – small business jobs. The owners of those businesses comprehend that banks are particularly tied to how well the surrounding communities are doing.

We’ve obviously seen a dip in the state’s economic output. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the nation’s unemployment rate in January was 6.3 percent but Maryland’s has been significantly lower. How soon the economy recovers is predicated by the vaccine rollout, decline in new case counts, hospitalizations and other safety issues but I’m quite optimistic about the economy moving forward.

How much PPP money did state banks loan last year?

According to the SBA, 86,000 PPP loans were processed by state banks for a total of $10 billion. So, banks are staying connected with their small business customers even though certain events, like the recent COVID-19 spike, have hampered progress.

So far in round two of the program, Maryland banks have helped to deploy more than 16,000 PPP loans totaling more than $1.5 billion. The program is in effect through the end of March, so I’d anticipate that total to grow.

Did it take too long to get the money?

There were definitely some hiccups in the rollout, often concerning who qualified and who didn’t, as well as technical glitches with the agencies. Most applicants got their money – 30 years’ worth of SBA loans, all told – processed and disbursed in less than 30 days. Compared to other government rollouts, I can’t think of one that has had a stronger impact.

What stands out to you about the Howard and Anne Arundel markets?

It’s notable that when the state was at 6.3 unemployment in December 2020, it was less than half of that number in those two counties. That speaks to the opportunity for growth as we move forward out of the pandemic. Also, there are many people who are moving out of New York City, for example, and are considering Maryland’s Corridor counties as possible relocation destinations.

How much banking is done today online and/or mobile?

If it’s not 40-50 percent, it’s trending that way. Our members are taking cues from their customers and adapting to how they want to do business, so we’ve seen that great migration as a part of normal interaction. We look to stay out front regarding how we use technology to serve our customers; this was one way banks stayed available and connected to our customers during the height of the COVID-19 crisis.

What are your thoughts about online banks? 

We want to make sure that our members compete on a level playing field and we want to ensure that the online banks work within the rules that promote safety and soundness in the marketplace.

Additionally, there are questions related to how they would operate within the framework of the Community Reinvestment Act. Those questions need to be addressed before online institutions move forward.

Is technology reducing employees who work in branches?

No, actually the opposite is happening. Technology is allowing our members to do more in other areas of banking, adding value to the relationship. What it really does is allow us to offer more robust services to our clients and often leads to additional opportunities for professionals in the industry.

Banks are still closing branches. What will happen in that part of the industry?

Banks are just responding to their customers. They take a thoughtful and sophisticated approach to interpreting data regarding branch usage and that extends to the reach within communities that may not have sufficient demand to support a physical location. It’s not a zero-sum scenario; it’s more about meeting our clients’ evolving needs.

What frustrates you the most about the banking industry?

One challenge we’ve had is ensuring that we have open lines of communication when issues arise, such as when regulators have concerns about how to reconcile the forbearance, we have provided in the face of COVID-19 against rules and regulations. It’s our priority to bring such issues to the forefront.

And what are you happiest about?

I’m thrilled to come into my new role because banks have really stepped up and shown how much they can deliver for their communities.

What’s your forecast for the next six months?

As the public health crisis recedes and the weather turns warmer, we’ll see employers call employees back to the office and likely see a turn towards increased economic activity. That would be a welcome set of circumstances for our members but most importantly it will be an even better outcome for our state. I’ve no doubt that better days are ahead.

By Mark R. Smith | Senior Writer | The Business Monthly | April 2021 Issue