BankAmerica Corp. plans to use outside salespeople to sell its small business offerings nationwide, said Jerry Bowman, executive vice president in the business banking division.
Bowman mentioned the plan during a recent teleconference with about 300 bankers that was sponsored by Robert Morris Associates, the trade group for commercial lenders.
Both Mr. Bowman and a bank spokeswoman declined to provide additional details about the plan, which they said is still in the preliminary stages.
The San Francisco-based bank currently sells small business loans through its 10-state branch network in the West, sends pre-approved loan applications by direct mail in some markets and accepts loan applications by telephone in California.
If BankAmerica's nationwide sales initiative is successful, it could have a fundamental impact on the small-business market, said Charles Wendel, president of Financial Institutions Consulting.
Using an outside sales force could help the bank reduce its sales costs without necessarily taking on additional risks in lending to new markets, Mr. Wendel said.
"It's not expensive and the risks are limited, so it's worth a shot," Mr. Wendel said.
Other bankers compared BankAmerica's plan to using outside agents to reduce the costs of selling insurance, mutual funds, or retirement programs to small businesses.
Steve Hickman, director of small business banking for Barnett Banks, said banks nationwide have been exploring the idea of using outside salespeople to expand their geographic reach.
"Everybody is thinking about how we can get past the traditional delivery system of the branch," Mr. Hickman said.
The most critical issues for banks to examine are how the outside salespeople would be compensated and how banks could maintain the feeling of a relationship with their customers, Mr. Hickman said.
BankAmerica is the eighth-largest bank lender to small businesses in the nation, with $2.7 billion outstanding.
Donald Hance, manager of Union Bank of California's small-business program, said bankers who want to compete with BankAmerica in local markets around the country should provide better customer service.
"We offer personal bankers who know and understand the customers' businesses," Mr. Hance said. "That has worked very well for us."
In the last year, BankAmerica has sold Small Business Administration guaranteed loans through offices in Denver, Washington, Maryland, Virginia, Atlanta, and Birmingham, Ala.