Small business loan approval percentages at big banks ($10 billion+ in assets) climbed slightly from 13.5% in May to 13.6% and small banks’ approvals rose from 18.7% in May to 18.9%, in June 2021, according to the latest Biz2Credit Small Business Lending Index.
The pandemic opened up opportunities for many banks. Many smaller banks that had not fully automated their small business loan application procedure are now heading in that direction. Banks that participated in the government’s Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) lending to help small businesses survive the pandemic often gained these small businesses as customers, and now that the PPP is over, they may again be able to help them by providing traditional term loans and SBA loans.
Numerous lenders earned millions in processing fees for processing PPP loans in the past year. Smaller banks, especially community and regional institutions are partnering with FinTechs to make their small business loan application process digital. The pandemic actually opened up opportunities for banks.
In the first round of the PPP program, big banks focused on their own customers and larger borrowers, and smaller companies – often women-owned and minority-owned firms – were unable to access funding from large institutions. During the second round, however, community banks and non-bank lenders, such as FinTech firms and credit unions, were able to help.
Now these non-bank lenders have seen a slow but steady increase in their loan approvals. For instance, credit unions edged up from a 20.4% approval rate in May, to 20.5% in June 2021. Institutional lenders approved 23.8% of funding requests in June, up two-tenths of a percent from 23.6% in May. Meanwhile alternative lenders approved 24.5% of funding applications in June 2021, up from 24.3% the month prior.
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Small business owners need capital both to rebound and to grow. They have expanded their thinking beyond the big-name banks and realize they are able to secure funding from many different sources. Although capital is not as free flowing as it was before the COVID-19 pandemic, approval percentages are still higher than they were during the darkest days of the credit crunch that followed the Great Recession.
The arrival of summer and the slowdown in the spread of COVID-19 are good signs for the economy overall. We are already seeing pent-up travel demand return. People are increasingly willing to return to their favorite restaurants and dine inside.
There are other signs that the recovery is well on its way. According to a report by The Wall Street Journal, new businesses are sprouting at the fastest pace on record. The rate at which workers are quitting their jobs—a sign of confidence in the labor market—is the highest since 2000. Meanwhile, the unemployment rate has fallen from a high of 14.8% in April 2020 to 5.8% by June 2021. The Dow Jones Industrial Average is well above its pre-pandemic peak (February 2020). On Monday, July 12, The Dow rose 126.02 points (0.4%) to just slightly under 35,000 (34,996.18, to be exact), to reach a new record high.
While small business owners still face challenges, including rising costs of fuel and wages, along with a tight labor market, the signs are positive for a full recovery. Access to capital is key to the rebound, and entrepreneurs seem ready to invest in their companies and start operating profitably again.