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Thriving small businesses still struggling to get loans

Andy Shallal's bookstore cafe has earned $14 million a year, yet he can't get a loan to expand.


President Obama to meet with top bankers to push for more lendingD.C. shop owner says his business makes $14 million a year but he can't get a loanStricter government regulations have pulled banks in two directions, experts say

Washington (CNN) -- Andy Shallal's small business is a rare success in a sea of hard-luck stories.

The owner of several popular bookstore cafes, called "Busboys and Poets" in the Washington area, Shallal said his annual revenue tops $14 million.

But the success hasn't persuaded his bank to give him the loan he wants to expand two of his stores and add 40 employees. Shallal said the only way his bank would lend him money was if he used his home as collateral.

"I want to have a loan that's really a business loan that's going to use my business as collateral," Shallal told CNN. "And I was told no, in these economic times it's very difficult for banks to give money this way."

Small-business owners across the country have voiced similar frustrations, complaining that -- despite billions of taxpayer dollars in relief funds and exhortations from lawmakers to help Main Street -- banks are still holding back on loans.

President Obama will tackle the issue Monday when he meets with bank leaders to discuss upcoming financial regulatory reform. He is expected to push banks to increase small-business lending, along with a host of other reforms to the industry.

But industry analysts say the liquidity problem won't be easily solved. One small-business expert said stricter government regulations have pulled banks in two directions.

"The banks are going to say, 'Look, it's not like we don't want to lend, it's that we're constrained from lending as a result of the new focus and the new attention from the crisis," said Anne Mathias, an analyst with Concept Capital. "[They will say] 'the regulators are telling us you need to be more careful, you need to have more capital, your capital needs to be more liquid.' "

Scott Talbott, who represents some of the country's largest financial firms at Financial Services Roundtable, said banks are still lending, but they've gotten more wary of potential risk.

"You've seen an increase or a tightening of the credit standards," Talbott said. "So banks are cautious now about lending in terms of who our borrower is. We're looking to make good, solid loans that can be repaid."

He said financial institutions are also wary of the legislation moving through Congress that would impose new regulations on the industry and, Talbott said, make it costlier for banks to operate. The House passed a sweeping financial reform bill Friday, and a Senate committee is working on similar legislation.

White House officials told CNN that when the president meets with top bankers Monday, he will insist the reforms are necessary to prevent another fiscal crisis.

Meanwhile, Shallal hopes lawmakers take action soon.

"You've got to really give that money back to the source that's going to provide the most amount of jobs, the most amount of economic stimulus for the economy," he said. "That's small businesses."

Best Banks For Small-Business Loans

When it comes to getting a loan for your small business, it may not come down to who you know, but where you go. Banking Grades, a new grading tool from Philadelphia-based MultiFunding, found that some of the nation's biggest banks have the worst performances when it comes to small-business lending. Meanwhile, banks that recorded the best small-business lending performances are the ones most entrepreneurs have probably never heard of.

Banking Grades gathers data from quarterly FDIC call reports to grade banks' small-business lending performance. Banks that use 25 percent or more of their total domestic deposits to make small-business loans -- which MultiFunding defines as loans of under $1 million -- get an A, while banks that use under 3 percent of their deposits to make small-business loans get an F. Small-business owners looking for a loan can easily search banks' grades according to the banks' zip code, city/state, name or address.

The big banks (defined as those with deposits of more than $10 billion) that ranked the highest for small-business lending are:

Zions First National Bank, Salt Lake City. Grade: A (25.44 percent)

First-Citizens Bank & Trust Company, Raleigh, N.C. Grade: B (23.8 percent)

Synovus Bank, Columbus, Ga. Grade: B (19.25 percent)

Chase Bank Usa, National Association, Newark, Del. Grade: B (18.34 percent)

Bancorpsouth Bank, Tupelo, Ms. Grade: B (17.13 percent)

Wells Fargo Bank Northwest, National Association, Ogden, Utah. Grade: B (13.71 percent)

Arvest Bank, Fayetteville, Ark. Grade: B (12.82 percent)

Whitney Bank, New Orleans, La. Grade: B (12.02 percent)

Capital One Bank (Usa), Glen Allen, Va. Grade: B (11.85 percent)

Tcf National Bank, Sioux Falls, S.D. Grade: B (11.49 percent)

The big banks did not fare so well. Among the biggest banks that got an F according to Banking Grades are Bank of America, JP Morgan, Citibank, Bank of New York, HSBC, Union Bank, Morgan Stanley, Goldman Sachs and Discover Bank.

"In our opinion, big banks are not well equipped to lend to small businesses," said Ami Kassar, founder and CEO of Multifunding, which helps small businesses find the best loans available to them. "They are simply too bureaucratic and complex to handle small-business loans well."

"The report myopically ignores commitments -- just a few months back, 13 major banks announced a landmark $20 billion commitment to increase lending to small businesses in underserved communities," said Elise Brooks, director of communications for The Financial Services Roundtable, an association that represents the nation's largest banks, insurance companies, securities firms and other financial institutions. "Additionally, small-business lending is more than just providing the financing for the loans themselves. Large financial institutions are leaders in non-lending ways as well. From offering financial education about putting together an attractive loan application to providing online resources, networking opportunities, and rebates for small-business owners -- the breadth and depth of this commitment goes beyond a simple loans to deposits ratio."

As far as the ranking of the 10 best banks overall for small-business lending, many of those tend to be smaller banks. All of these top 10 banks got an A grade:

Farmers State Bank, Hosmer, S.D.

Community Bank, Nevada, Iowa

Farmers And Merchants Bank, Milligan, Neb.

First Resource Bank, Savage, Minn.

Wright Express Financial Services Corporation, Midvale, Utah

Security State Bank, Sutherland, Iowa

State Bank Of Lismore, Lismore, Minn.

Bank Of Glen Ullin, Glen Ullin, N.D.

Bank Of Lindsay, Lindsay, Neb.

State Bank Of Colon, Colon, Neb.

This isn't a coincidence, according to Kassar. "Smaller banks are generally much better at making small-business loans than big banks," he said. "This is because the loan officers and the credit officers typically work in the same building and are able to work on a loan together and find the best way to get it done. Small-business loans typically require careful thought and creativity. There is almost always a twist. The smaller banks are much better able to handle this."

While Banking Grades won't necessarily help small businesses get a loan, it can save them time in the process of looking for one. "Proper access to capital for small-business owners and entrepreneurs is one of the most critical issues facing our economy. And despite this, it's so tough to find the right bank or lender to go to," Kassar said. "As a country, we put dozens of roadblocks and landmines in front of our job creators. If this makes it a little simpler to help create jobs, we will be thrilled."

UPDATE: This story was updated to include comments from The Financial Services Roundtable.