Nearly two years ago the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. set out to examine whether banks could make money by offering small loans to cash-strapped consumers, and with the pilot program scheduled to end in February, the answer seems clear: not in the short term.

But for many of the 31 banks participating in the FDIC test, making a profit on these loans is beside the point. Their goal in fronting funds to borrowers who might otherwise have turned to payday lenders is to build relationships that can be profitable down the road.

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