Banking

Candice Caruso, WSFS Bank | Next 2021

Director of government guaranteed lending

It fell to Candice Caruso, as director of government guaranteed lending, to spearhead implementation of the Paycheck Protection Program for the $14.3 billion-asset WSFS Financial in Wilmington, Del.

Caruso said she leveraged skills she’d honed launching a startup business six years earlier to navigate the whirlwind as the COVID-19 crisis struck and the massive emergency federal program to help small businesses launched. “Being agile, being fast, studying and responding quickly were all skills I had brought with me,” she said.

Caruso trained 200 people over a weekend to process PPP loans and set to work building a portal to accept the flood of applications that materialized almost immediately. WSFS would ultimately make more than 5,400 PPP loans totaling nearly $1 billion last year. The lending supported about 100,000 jobs threatened by pandemic lockdowns.

Caruso recalled just trying to stay “in the moment,” rather than looking ahead, given how the Small Business Administration program was evolving on the fly. “We really just had to build and respond as we got more information,” she said.

Now, with PPP’s sunset in sight, Caruso has set to work writing the next chapter in small-business lending for WSFS. Besides the PPP lending, WSFS originated Small Business Administration loans totaling about $63 million in 2020.

Caruso’s goal in 2021: building on momentum generated over the past year to have her team perform at fintech speed while looking to serve businesses smaller than those WSFS had been targeting before the pandemic.

“I was already in a state of mind that in banking, we need to move fast, we need to learn from fintechs,” Caruso said. “PPP gave us a call to action. We tested things that would probably have taken a lot more time to get through the vendor management and due diligence processes, things that were already part of our delivery transformation initiative, but maybe a little further out.”

Caruso wants to extend that spirit of experimentation to the use of SBA Express, a program that lets select lenders expedite loan approval. The lenders use in-house systems and underwriting standards and receive a 50% loan guarantee from the SBA, which is lower than the 75% the agency typically provides on its regular loans.

WSFS has traditionally targeted small businesses with two years of operating results. Caruso wants to explore using Express to serve smaller, early-stage firms.

Expanding the national franchise-lending business at WSFS is another possibility she is exploring. “We’ve been out there cautiously looking at what opportunities make sense,” she said.

Nominating Executive: Richard Wright, chief retail banking officer

What he said: Wright lauded Caruso for doing an “exceptional” job in the two-plus-years she has been at WSFS.

“Her leadership and organizational skills, and her ability to communicate to motivate and inspire her team are second to none,” he said.

He also described Caruso as a leader “who understands financial technology development, franchise financing, business startup and small-business funding.”
“It gives me great confidence knowing that she is in this role,” he added.



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