Banks got a late Christmas present the evening of Dec. 27 from President Donald Trump when he signed a stimulus bill to extend the Payroll Protection Program into 2021.

As early as Dec. 22, when it seemed like the bill would finally be passed and signed, Idaho banks were getting ready.

“As talks of a new stimulus package continue, Bank of Idaho has announced the opening of a waitlist for Idaho businesses interested in securing funds as part of the second round of the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP),” noted the Bank of Idaho in an email message. “As soon as this program goes live, Bank of Idaho will start assisting clients on its waitlist.”

Like the first round of PPP funding, the program not only loans businesses money to help pay their employees and other expenses, but the loans can be forgiven.

Even before the stimulus bill had been passed and signed, banks reported that their customers were feeling hopeful about 2021.

“People are very optimistic about 2021, likely because 2020 was so hard but also because of the vaccine that’s just been made available,” said Jeff Huhn, southern Idaho market president of First Interstate Bank. “There’s some optimism about that, and optimism about treatments that have been discovered during the pandemic. First Interstate Bank shares in that optimism.”

“I’m excited and optimistic about 2021,” concurred Lorrie Asker, regional president for Idaho and eastern Washington. “I think the economy is going to continue to grow, and interest rates will stay low. We anticipate continued growth in key markets like tech and manufacturing here in southern Idaho.”

In addition, the bank is working on some tools and resources that are expected to live in 2021, such as an automated loan app and other digital offers, Asker said.

The bank has also added staff to help it be better positioned for the recovery, Huhn said, such as loan officers in Parma with expertise in agriculture and one in downtown Boise to focus on business lending.

In terms of the stock market, Wells Fargo’s Scott Johnson, managing director-investments and branch manager in Boise, said he expects to see a broadening of participation. “All those companies that haven’t been able to participate in 2020, investors are starting to pick up some of those names,” in sectors such as oil, energy and banking, he said.

Johnson is also seeing more interest in investing in gold, but that could mean it’s approaching its peak, he warned. “Once it gets frothy, that’s when smaller investors want to buy, and that generally signifies a top and it starts to underperform,” he said. “It’s approaching that frothy area.”

But not all the news is hopeful. Another possibility in the upcoming year is the continuation of a trend that’s been going on for the past several years.

“We anticipate a continuation of a trend that we identified of Idaho banks and credit unions presenting attractive merger or acquisition targets,” said Patti Perkins, director of the Idaho Department of Finance, in an email message. “We had several mergers/acquisitions this year in the credit union group with out of state or federal charters,” which she didn’t name, but included Icon Credit Union being purchased by Horizon Credit Union, based in Washington. “We would love to see the trend reverse with the Idaho bank or credit union being the acquiring party. We continue to believe that a state charter with state oversight provides the best option for a financial institution because we are accessible and focused on helping their businesses.”

In addition, the new federal administration may result in some changes. “We are likely to see a continuation of federal pressure to pre-empt state oversight in the new administration in Washington as well, and will work to better communicate and develop those critical relationships with our constituents,” Perkins said.

“Political changes next year will have an effect,” Johnson said. “It’s still wait and see.”