Banks are primarily in business to provide credit for customers — as in "borrow at 1%, lend at 3% and be on the first tee by 5 p.m."
But you wouldn’t know it by examining bank lending records these days, especially loans to small businesses. One bank is bucking the trend, though, and it might just establish a trend of its own by opening up its coffers to small businesses — to the tune of $4 billion.
It’s about time. According to a recent report from the U.S. Treasury, big U.S. banks slashed their small business lending by $1 billion in October 2009 alone. A separate study — this one from the Washington-based U.S. Office of Advocacy — shows that the number of mid-sized loans (loans from $100,000 to $1 million — typically the most common range for small business loans) fell by 23% in 2008. Of the 22 major "TARP banks, small business lending has decreased by 11.6% since April 2009," the U.S. Treasury reports.
Sure, some larger banks say they plan to hike small business lending, but so far, at least, that’s amounted to a whole lot of talk and little else. Bank of America (Stock Quote: BAC) and Wells Fargo (Stock Quote: WFC) both claim that they’ll hike small business credit in 2010. Bank of America says it will increase lending by $5 billion while Wells Fargo says it will up its small business loan program by 25% in 2010. But if past is prologue, you really have to question these claims. Wells Fargo, for example, has seen its small business lending slide by 4% since April 2009.
But one bank is putting its money where its mouth is. Huntington National Bank (Stock Quote: HBAN) is releasing $4 billion in credit specifically for small businesses. The Columbus, Ohio bank only has assets of $52 billion, so a $4 billion stake is a significant commitment
“This is a fairly intensive effort. This is not a cup of coffee, one conversation, and a look at the financials,” says Huntington CEO Stephen Steinour, in a February interview with Business Week. “We really want to take our time to understand these businesses, to make an informed businesses judgment.”
Huntington is doubling its staff of business bankers to 300 to better accommodate small businesses looking for financing. The bank says its $4 billion commitment should result in loans to approximately 27,000 small business customers. The average loan, the banks says in a statement, should be around $150,000.
According to a company statement, the bank also plans to...
Target geographically. Huntington will lend $4 billion to small businesses during the next three years in Ohio, Michigan, West Virginia, Pennsylvania, Indiana and Kentucky.
Focus on “turnaround” loans. Many businesses suffered losses during the first part of the recession, which inhibited their ability to qualify for lending. If a business is experiencing a turnaround with several quarters of profitability and can provide reasonable projections, Huntington says it will include those results when evaluating loan applications.
Send the CEO out to customers. Huntington is launching small business CEO roundtables in Midwest cities so that CEO Steinour can hear directly from small business owners about the challenges they face and what they need to be more successful.
Push government loans. Huntington will tap into 15 different government-lending programs including Small Business Administration lending, state and local lending and agriculture and rural development loan programs.
Right now, at least, Huntington is out there by itself. The Federal Reserve Board’s January survey of 54 banks reports that not one had eased credit standards on small businesses.
At least that number will change by one this month.
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