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Citi, Big Banks Eye Small Business Loans

NEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- Citigroup (C) plans to hire roughly 200 business bankers by the end of next year that would specifically cater to small businesses in the U.S.

The bank is looking to target businesses with less than $20 million in annual sales. With the additional hires, Citi's total number of small-business bankers would be approximately 500, or one for every two U.S. branches, Bloomberg says.

Citigroup apparently claims that 2,500 of the world's 3,000 largest corporations are clients, the article says, but like other large U.S. banks, it is making a push for small companies.

"It's a renewed focus for us," Raj Seshadri, Citi's head of small-business banking told Bloomberg. "We feel we can help business owners and the economic recovery, and there's money to be made for our shareholders."

Seshadri declined to disclose the total amount of outstanding credit to small businesses. As of the end of the third quarter, Citi had made roughly $4.5 billion in new small business loans - roughly equal to those originated in 2009, Bloomberg said.

Large banks including Bank of America (BAC - Get Report), JPMorgan Chase (JPM), U.S. Bancorp (USB - Get Report) and Wells Fargo (WFC - Get Report) are also looking to attract more business customers.

Banks Push Small Business Loans

However, banks with less than $10 billion in assets provide 56% of small business loans in the U.S., the Bloomberg article said citing data from the Independent Community Bankers of America.

Small business banking is typically more relationship-based, something that regional and community banks are more attuned to offering.

However, larger banks are looking to smaller companies for business between the combination of pressure from the government for banks to lend more, particularly to small businesses, as well as banks continuing to stem mortgage losses as well as offset lost fee revenue due to new financial reform measures.

Separately, Chase said Monday that it had more than doubled its Small Business Administration loan volume this year. The bank has made 3,386 loans in fiscal 2010, Chase said, up 170% from a year earlier. In dollar amounts, Chase lent $434 million in SBA loans, up 217%, it said.
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