Research Department Working Papers
Distant Lending, Specialization, and Access to Credit
Abstract: Small business lending has historically been very local, but distances between small businesses and their lenders have steadily increased over the last forty years. This paper investigates a new lending strategy made possible by distant small business lending: industry specialization. Using data on all Small Business Administration 7(a) loans from 2001-2017, we document a substantial increase in remote, specialized small business lenders, i.e., lenders that originate many distant loans and concentrate these loans within a small number of industries. These lenders target low-risk industries and, consistent with expertise, experience better loan performance within these industries. We then examine whether this industry-specialized lending serves as a substitute or complement to traditional, geographically specialized lending. We exploit the staggered entry of a remote, specialized lender to estimate the impact of specialized lending on credit access. Entry significantly increases total lending, with no evidence of substitution away from other lenders. The results indicate that specialized lending can deepen credit markets by providing new loans to low-risk but underfinanced small businesses.