The State of Small Business Lending: Innovation and Technology and the Implications for Regulation

by Karen Gordon Mills and Brayden McCarthy

Executive Summary — New online fintech competitors have entered the small business lending space, filling a gap in small-dollar loans. More than 70 percent of small businesses seek loans in amounts under $250,000 and more than 60 percent want loans under $100,000. Gaps in regulation of the alternative small business lending market create issues of oversight and concerns about predatory lending. The paper first describes the current market for small business lending, including the new disruptors, and presents strategic alternatives for existing banks to partner with fintech entrants and compete in the new environment. The authors then describe the current regulatory environment with its large number of agencies, each with overlapping authority and mandates, and provide a set of recommendations for regulatory activity that will protect borrowers and investors in this space. These recommendations address concerns about systemic risk while trying to avoid dampening innovation that is filling the gap in small business access to credit.

Author Abstract

Small businesses were among the hardest hit in the Great Recession, accounting for more than 60% of the total jobs lost. The economic crisis was one focused on the banking sector, which is one reason for the disproportionately high impact on America’s small businesses, which tend to be heavily credit dependent. While some aspects of the economy have recovered in the years since, small businesses have struggled, primarily due to a lingering credit gap that is the result of banks being less likely to make the smaller dollar loans—those less than $250,000—that small firms (more than 70%) seek. A rapidly growing financial technology (fintech) sector has quickly stepped in to fill this gap, and incumbent banks are exploring a variety of partnership strategies with the new entrants. Yet, while the much needed increase in sources for financing has been welcomed by small businesses, these innovative fintech lenders have sparked concerns around transparency and the high costs charged to borrowers. These concerns are exacerbated by a “spaghetti soup” of regulators, where no one federal entity has oversight, and protections around small business borrowing slip through the cracks. This paper takes a detailed look at the current state of small business lending, the causes for the persistent low-dollar loan gap, the solutions being driven by innovative fintech lenders, and the key concerns around oversight and regulation. The objective is to provide regulatory recommendations that will protect small business borrowers and not dampen the innovation that has proven so promising for filling the gap in small business access to credit.

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