KeyCorp is making a stand on turf traditionally ruled by nonbanks - equipment leasing for small businesses.
KeyLease Plus Inc., which KeyCorp Leasing Ltd. launched this month, uses credit scoring to streamline the leasing process and keep costs down for customers.
The goal is to work as efficiently as nonbank competitors, said Patricia Pegg, senior vice president of KeyCorp Leasing.
"We had a capability to extend leases for small businesses, but we wanted to expand the operation so we could make it very fast and very easy," she said.
A lot of nonbank competitors in the small-business segment "can turn credit decisions around quickly," Ms. Pegg said. "It took us longer."
KeyCorp Leasing has more than $2.2 billion in managed assets.
KeyLease Plus is a sign of a growing interest among banks in leasing to small businesses. The territory is now dominated by the likes of AT&T Capital and GE Capital, said consultant Scott Winslow.
"This hasn't been something that banks have focused on in the past, but everybody's looking for new sources of revenues, " said Mr. Winslow, managing director for the Business Banking Board, a unit of the Washington- based consulting firm Advisory Board. "I know of some banks that are looking at offering this service."
He declined to identify the banks.
The leasing and small-business divisions of KeyCorp spent 18 months hammering together the program, Ms. Pegg said. Developing a scorecard and designing a technological platform that could handle a high volume of small transactions - $20,000 is the projected average size - were major tasks. Also, the company streamlined its paperwork.
As a result of those efforts, KeyLease Plus can offer faster credit decisions - down to one day from as many as four - to small businesses that want to lease equipment.
To apply, an entrepreneur calls an "800" number. Transactions of less than $30,000 require a half-page credit application and are credit scored, Ms. Pegg said. In the past, applications for a similar-size lease ran four to five pages.
The minimum lease amount is $5,000 - about a fifth of the previous minimum, Ms. Pegg said.
"We felt we didn't address a small enough dollar size before," forcing some small businesses to seek leases from other sources, Ms. Pegg said. "We can do it now because we have an efficient delivery system and we're able to turn these around more efficiently."
There is no ceiling on the leases, because the needs of small businesses vary widely, Ms. Pegg said.
Additionally, KeyCorp is offering a lease line of credit for customers who want to shop around for an item, Ms. Pegg said. The entrepreneur must adhere to parameters the bank sets, and the line is effective for six months, after which it can be renewed.
"The benefit to the small business is that if they know absolutely that they have their financing in place, they can negotiate and be in a better position than they would be otherwise," Ms. Pegg said. "There's also a convenience factor."
KeyLease Plus leases can include expenses such as installation costs, excluded under other KeyCorp Leasing programs, Ms. Pegg said. But KeyLease Plus leases will generally not be available for equipment that would add liabilities, such as machinery for handling hazardous materials.