BankAmerica Corp. climbed to first place from 10th in the Small Business Administration's annual rankings of the largest lenders in Los Angeles, the SBA's largest district.

"We've been pounding away for several years trying to penetrate that market," said Tory Nixon, regional sales manager for BankAmerica's community development bank. "Because the market is so competitive, it takes a while to get in."

BankAmerica made 171 loans for $15.3 million in Los Angeles through the SBA's 7(a) program for the fiscal year ended Sept. 30. That's more than triple the 47 loans the bank made in Los Angeles in 1996.

Mr. Nixon said the company made more loans through the SBA's Fastrak program. The program allows lenders to make loans under $100,000 without prior SBA approval. However, the agency guarantees only 50% of a Fastrak loan.

BankAmerica captured the top position in the city from Wilshire State Bank, Los Angeles.

Wilshire made 163 loans for $32.8 million, a 21% increase from the number of loans it made last year.

"Bigger banks have the capital and human resources to do a larger volume of loans," said Han Park, Wilshire's SBA manager and senior vice president. "But they lack the personal service that community banks have."

San Diego-based Bank of Commerce dropped from second to third place by number of loans but was the leader in dollar volume, at $76.2 million.

Los Angeles is the largest market in a state known for aggressive small- business lending. Competitors include Money Store's small-business division, powerhouse Wells Fargo & Co., and community banks that often rank among the top SBA lenders in the country.

The SBA's Los Angeles district office approved 2,007 loans through the SBA's 7(a) loan program for $667 million.

That's more than 6% of the $9.5 billion lent nationwide through the SBA's conventional loan program during the agency's fiscal year.

The SBA is expected to release national rankings by yearend.

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