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With their bank collapsed, a tech startup struggles to make — and receive — payments

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

Just how wild a ride have the last few days been for customers of Silicon Valley Bank? That is the bank that collapsed on Friday and is now under the control of federal regulators. It's the biggest bank failure since the global financial crisis in 2008. Ripple effects are hitting markets worldwide. Now, President Biden says customers of Silicon Valley Bank are safe, that they will have full access to their deposits with the government backstopping billions in uninsured money. We're going to talk now with one of those customers. Kamal Kapadia is co-founder of terra.do. That is a climate education startup in California. Welcome to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED.

KAMAL KAPADIA: Thank you for having me, Mary Louise.

KELLY: So you had all your money - is that correct? - all your company's money at SVB?

KAPADIA: That is correct.

KELLY: Why did you choose this bank?

KAPADIA: So SVB is the go-to bank for startups. It's been a long-standing partner of the tech industry. And in our past experience as founders, it's been a very helpful and understanding banker for scenarios where nothing is stable from a financial perspective, which is our daily reality as startups.

KELLY: Yeah. Well, and last week was certainly the polar opposite of stable.

KAPADIA: (Laughter).

KELLY: What happens Friday, which is the day the bank actually collapsed?

KAPADIA: Yeah. So we find out this shocking news, and all our founders and our chief business officer were on a Zoom call. We're trying to get into the bank account. And we can see the account, but you can't do anything. Like, everything is frozen, and then...

KELLY: Like, literally frozen on your computer? You're trying to move the mouse, and nothing's happening?

KAPADIA: Yeah. You can't do anything. Then, basically, the whole site goes down. We - first of all, we don't even know if we can access our money, but we need another bank account. That was our first thought. So I literally, like, got in my car and drove to downtown Berkeley, and I was like, which are the mainstream banks? Like, maybe the big, mainstream banks are the most reliable place to open a new account. So I ran into Chase. They didn't have a manager available at the time, so I literally, like, stood on the corner, like, in downtown Berkeley, and I saw a Citibank. I ran there. They were not open.

KELLY: (Inaudible).

KAPADIA: So then I ran to Bank of America, and they were able to open an account for me. But then the next thing was, could we actually get access to our money? So, you know, we are a small startup. We have 30 employees. We have to make payroll. Now, we knew that $250,000 was insured by the FDIC.

KELLY: This is the maximum limit that the government had insured for. Go on.

KAPADIA: Correct. But we had more money than that in our account. And on the other side, we couldn't even take our customers' money. This is a big time for payments to come in, and we couldn't take payments...

KELLY: Yeah.

KAPADIA: ...Into our bank account. Essentially all the money was frozen coming in or going out.

KELLY: You mentioned you've got 30 employees.

KAPADIA: Yes.

KELLY: Talk to me about payroll. Can you pay them? How's that working?

KAPADIA: So we got lucky that we just processed the last payroll, like, literally, you know, maybe 12 hours before this all went down. So as far as we know, that's going to go through. The payroll company did send a slightly worrying message as well about having to, like, check on things. But at least at our end, that money had left the account. So we assume we can do this payroll. The question is after this, we don't know yet.

KELLY: So many unknowns. It sounds like the last few days have been so chaotic you may not have had any time to process what's going on beyond your immediate situation and trying to staunch the hemorrhaging. But broadly speaking, how nervous are you feeling? I mean, this is not the only big bank collapsed and then seized by regulators just in the last several days.

KAPADIA: I'm not trying to focus on the long term at the moment. I'm really trying to stay present and focus on this week because it's kind of all we know, you know, today and tomorrow and see how it plays out. But if I pause to really think about it, I am nervous. I'm scared. I'm sure everybody is feeling that way. Like, you know, even this account at Bank of America, is it safe? One of the discussions we've been having is do we need multiple bank accounts? How do we know where we should be setting up these bank accounts because the memories of the last financial crisis are fairly fresh still? So, yeah, it's a scary time.

KELLY: Kamal Kapadia, co-founder of terra.do and a customer of Silicon Valley Bank, which collapsed on Friday.

KAPADIA: Thank you so much, Mary Louise. I really appreciate this conversation. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Lauren Hodges is an associate producer for All Things Considered. She joined the show in 2018 after seven years in the NPR newsroom as a producer and editor. She doesn't mind that you used her pens, she just likes them a certain way and asks that you put them back the way you found them, thanks. Despite years working on interviews with notable politicians, public figures, and celebrities for NPR, Hodges completely lost her cool when she heard RuPaul's voice and was told to sit quietly in a corner during the rest of the interview. She promises to do better next time.
Christopher Intagliata is an editor at All Things Considered, where he writes news and edits interviews with politicians, musicians, restaurant owners, scientists and many of the other voices heard on the air.
Mary Louise Kelly is a co-host of All Things Considered, NPR's award-winning afternoon newsmagazine.