We are all experiencing significant changes in all aspects of our world in just the past few weeks, from a personal and professional perspective. “Business as usual” has been redefined across America, with millions of citizens sheltering at home to combat the COVID-19 health crisis.
As the head of Small Business for the US and through speaking to customers and partners, I have seen how small businesses have been hit particularly hard by the pandemic. Through our partnership with the Chamber of Commerce, we decided to survey small businesses to gather data that would help us understand the impact of COVID-19 on small businesses from the small business perspective ( available here: U.S. Chamber of Commerce and MetLife Small Business Study). Perhaps not surprisingly, the news is relatively grim. Many small business owners believe they may not survive the economic downturn.
While previous surveys showed increasing optimism within this small business community, we now see a sharp drop in optimism, with about 24% of small business owners indicating they are two months or less away from having to close permanently. More than one in 10 (11%) of respondents are less than one month from going out of business altogether. Among the small businesses that have not yet closed in response to COVID-19, 40% report that they are likely to do so in the next two weeks.
When asked what proposals might offer the most relief, small businesses that were surveyed indicated the following::
- 56% of small business say direct cash payments to Americans would be the most helpful form of aid from the government,
- followed by loans and financial aid (30%), and
- suspending payroll taxes (21%).
The recently enacted Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) addresses all of these. (It pays to note this poll was undertaken prior to the PPP being enacted.) The U.S. Chamber of Commerce offers a helpful guide and checklist to help small businesses navigate the PPP, and the loan process.
I am so pleased and proud to share how MetLife is making several resources available to support our small business customers.
One critical element of overall well-being is financial health. For 90 days, we are enabling small businesses, with fewer than 100 employees, access to guidance on COVID-19 related financial issues, including cash flow issues, IRS taxpayer relief, government legislation, market volatility and asset allocation through MetLife’s PlanSmart1 Financial Wellness planners. Small business owners and their employees will have phone access through our alliance with Ernst & Young LLP, the U.S. firm (EY) – at no cost to them - to credentialed EY financial planners
We know overall individual health and well-being is top priority during a crisis. To address these needs, MetLife is offering our customers with fewer than 500 employees a dedicated COVID-19 hotline provided by LifeWorks2. Through the hotline, small business owners and their employees will have access to services including immediate COVID-19 related emotional support, research and referrals along with guidance and resources to cope with COVID-19. The hotline is available now through September 30.
For those that might need legal assistance, MetLife Legal Plans is providing free document review and consultation through the end of July to all employers that offer MetLife Legal Plans, regardless of whether they are signed up for the service. Employees can access network attorneys for questions related to legal issues and have attorneys review planning documents or insurance forms.
For everyone – regardless of the size of their company – we have created a financial wellness hub. This dynamic new financial wellness microsite is designed to guide employees at all companies and in all circumstances as they actively manage stress, navigate life choices, and manage their finances in this volatile environment. This site will be updated over time.
Finally, MetLife Group Business will not increase rates on any Group Benefits products for customers who have fewer than 500 employees for June 1, 2020 through September 1, 2020 renewals.
This is a tough time for all of us, especially small businesses. As we think through the best ways to support our small business customers, we hope that these resources and actions are useful to help small businesses navigate this challenging time.