May 19, 2024

You’re the Boss: Survey Says Small-Business Lending Is Surging

The Agenda

Some small-business owners will surely disagree, but signs continue to show that more small businesses are seeking — and getting — loans. The latest evidence comes from Greenwich Associates, which does market research for major banks. A survey of small businesses released in April found that 59 percent had applied for a loan within the preceding 12 months, and demand grew with each quarter.

In the third quarter of 2010, five percent of the small companies surveyed applied for a loan, a share that tripled in the last three months of the year. In the first three months of 2011, the figure leaped to 29 percent. Loan demand is typically highest at the end of the year, according to Marc Bernstein, the head of small-business banking for Wells Fargo. That would make the jump in applicants in the first months of 2011 especially notable.

Among small businesses that did apply for a loan, 57 percent reported winning approval from the bank. In a summary of the survey distributed to its banking clients, Greenwich described the small-business lending market as rapidly returning to normal.

Greenwich Associates also reported one striking finding: more small businesses turned away by big banks. In the past, said Greenwich consultant Duncan Banfield, the small-business market has been concentrated at a handful national banks. But the latest survey reports that about half of small and midsized businesses found credit from lenders outside the top 20 institutions in the United States.

This was the banks’ doing, said Mr. Banfield. Bad loans and sinking collateral values forced those institutions to retrench, and lending to the riskier small-business market was often the first casualty. “The balance sheet issues and capital requirements, and the uncertainty of the economy, caused banks to restrict credit, or even wean some of these businesses off,” said Mr. Banfield. “They had to choose to stop doing business with some of these companies.”

Nonetheless, Mr. Banfield said that major banks were in a position to recapture at least some of the market share they had surrendered, in part by simply getting the word out that they are once again making loans. But, he added, “clients value trust, and they value a bank that understands their business, so if a bank can demonstrate that, that’s an important way to win the business back of these small businesses.”

The 271 small businesses polled were chosen randomly from nationwide lists, and interviewed by phone in March.

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