In a concerted effort to ease lending problems for small businesses, 13 of the nation's biggest banks pledged to the Small Business Administration last September that they would increase loans to small businesses by a combined $20 billion over three years. But nearing the first anniversary of that commitment, the banks and the SBA have not set a standard for how they plan to define small business loans and meet that goal, according to Ami Kassar, founder and CEO of Philadelphia-based MultiFunding.
In fact, Kassar told The Huffington Post, he was surprised to find that "not every bank seemed to have its own specific goal, so it was hard to know how they planned to meet the aggregate commitment."
Kassar wrote in The New York Times Thursday, "I anticipated that when the banks and the government agreed upon this commitment, they must have specified the terms. But based on my conversations with the banks, that does not seem to have been the case."
Kassar went directly to the banks and the SBA and got varying answers to the question about why their standards for the loan commitment vary.
Jim Seitz, Wells Fargo spokesman: "The focus should remain on our industry’s collective efforts, not on any individual institution."
Don Vecchiarello, Bank of America spokesman: "In 2011, the bank surpassed its pledge to increase new small-business lending by $1 billion over 2010 levels ... and is currently on pace to exceed its 2012 pledge by more than $1 billion."
Mary Jane Rogers, JP Morgan Chase spokeswoman: Chase "increased its small-business lending by 35 percent in the first half of 2012 versus 2011." Chase's SBA commitment is for new loan originations made to companies with $20 million or less in revenue.
As far as the SBA, a spokeswoman told Kassar that each bank is using its own definition of small business and tracking its own progress toward the commitment.
SBA spokesman Mike Stamler previously told The Huffington Post that the SBA allows banks to "use their own internal size standards" for non-SBA loans.
While most banks define small business loans as those to businesses with revenues up to $20 million, that benchmark "allows big banks to artificially inflate their small business lending records in their advertising and public relations efforts," Kassar told The Huffington Post. "These efforts send small business owners into their branches where they find slow and bureaucratic processes."
Kassar believes a more accurate definition of small business loans -- one that would ensure those loans actually go to small businesses -- would be loans of $1 million or less. The Financial Services Roundtable, an association that represents the nation's largest banks, insurance companies, securities firms and other financial institutions, has debated Kassar's definition.
Still, Kassar doesn't believe coming up with a standard by which small business lending can be measured is an impossible dream. "It would be easy to define if everyone would agree to define a small business as one that has revenue of $5 million or less," he said. "This data is easily available from all the lenders. It's not that complicated. Then the data would reflect true small business lending."
The SBA plans to publish a progress report around Sept. 20, the first anniversary of the banks' small business loans commitment.