Small-business owners are obtaining more of their loans from banks and less from friends and relatives, according to a study by the National Federation of Independent Businesses.

The percentage of small-business owners who obtained financing from a bank increased from 76% in 1987 to 83% in 1995, the just released study said. The percentage who received loans from friends or relatives declined to 6% from 11% in 1987.

"The competition for small-business loans has increased and more business owners are finding that they can access regular financial institutions," said William Dunkelberg, chief economist for the National Federation of Independent Businesses.

That means banks are gaining a greater share with small-business customers, but they are reaching deeper into market to a potentially less creditworthy class of entrepreneurs.

"People who previously got loans from relatives may be going to finance companies and the best finance company customers may be going to banks," Mr. Dunkelberg said.

The National Federation just released the results of a 1995 survey of 3,642 small-business owners nationwide that sought to determine how they finance their businesses.

More than two-thirds of the small-business owners surveyed have been in business for less than 15 years, and have fewer than 15 employees and annual sales of less than $1.5 million.

The last time the group did the survey was in 1987. The questions touched on a variety of financing issues, especially on what kind of service small businesses receive from the banking industry.

A quarter of the small-business owners surveyed said their primary financial institution had merged in the last three years and most were not happy with the changes.

Of that affected group, only 7% said the merger had a positive effect, while 34% said the change was negative. What's more, 17% switched financial institutions as a result of the merger.

"If the banks are interested in keeping that block of business after the merger, they need to train their loan officers to keep small-business owners happy," Mr. Dunkelberg said.

Most respondents said the quality of the staff at financial institutions had improved, but that they were troubled by a lack of continuity in the bank's staff and in its lending criteria.

Lynn Harton, senior vice president and small-business manager for Southern National Corp., Winston-Salem, N.C., said the bank tries to improve customer service when it acquires another bank.

"When we buy community banks we leave the management in place and generally increase their lending authority," Mr. Harton said. "Small- business owners want to deal with decision makers."

The majority of small-business owners surveyed approached only one financial institution, usually a bank, for their most recent loan request. But 19% approached two or more institutions.

"People who couldn't get a loan at a bank would go to their backup institutions that usually dealt with a higher risk profile," Mr. Dunkelberg said.

The small-business owners who shopped around for loans usually applied at a variety of financial institutions, including finance companies and credit unions.

Kathleen McClave, vice chairwoman of the bank consulting firm Furash & Co., said a new class of entrepreneurs displaced by large companies that downsized are more savvy about approaching banks and shopping for loans.

Those entrepreneurs may have more trouble convincing friends and relatives, who remember the impact of the 1991 recession, to lend money for new business ventures, Ms. McClave said.

Small-business owners surveyed said interest rates, collateral arrangements, service charges, and credit availability were their top concerns when shopping for a loan.

In their relationships with a bank, entrepreneurs said they wanted a banker to understand their business, make quick decisions, provide reliable credit, and be available. Banks with less than $1 billion of assets tended to receive higher ratings in those areas.

Larger banks received higher rating for providing a greater variety of services. But larger banks were also more likely to have increased their fees in recent years.

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