The SBA is getting into the online loan business.

In remarks at the Kauffman Center in Washington, D.C., on Wednesday, Small Business Administration chief Maria Contreras-Sweet announced that the agency is launching a new online marketplace that will match potential SBA loan candidates with bank lenders in all 50 states starting immediately. The service will be called Leveraging Information and Networks to Access Capital, or LINC.

With LINC, the SBA joins a burgeoning industry of alternative lenders such as Kabbabe, On Deck Capital, and Biz2Credit, which provide financing to small-business owners through digital marketplaces that match lenders and borrowers.

"Small-business lending is the newest frontier for matchmaking service technology," Contreras-Sweet said. "We are implementing these services today, and will bring SBA lenders and entrepreneurs together."

Contreras-Sweet says the SBA has worked for the past year to create LINC, and has whittled down the lengthy, paper-intensive application process for its loans to a list of 20 questions. Once answered and submitted online, prospective lenders can reach out to potential loan applicants they think might be a match for their SBA portfolios and continue the process. However, there is no guarantee of a loan, the administrator said.

By contrast, alternative loan marketplaces such as Biz2Credit and On Deck can offer loan applicants decisions within minutes, and can have cash in small business owners' accounts within minutes. A key difference, however, is the annual percentage rate charged for the loans. Whereas SBA 504 and 7(a), the SBA's two flagship loans, tend to have rates under 10 percent, the rates for alternative lending marketplaces are often between 30 and 60 percent.

For its part, Biz2Credit chief executive and founder Rohit Arora says the SBA's service does not pose a threat, particularly because big banks still have paper-intensive back offices that take time to process loans.

"Actually, the SBA's service is good for us in the sense that it helps create more awareness within banks to start thinking about digital lending solutions," Arora said.

The SBA provides billions of dollars worth of loans each year to entrepreneurs through its 7(a) and 504 programs, and it guaranteed $19.2 billion worth of loans in 2014.

Published on: Feb 11, 2015