PNC Corp. has begun offering small-business credit lines that don't require borrowers to return to a branch to sign closing documents.

"Customers told us banks didn't make it easy to do business," said Susan G. Holt, PNC senior vice president for business banking. "We're streamlining the process to make it easier."

Ms. Holt, who joined PNC last summer, brought the idea for an accelerated application process with her from California, where she directed small-business banking for H.F. Ahmanson & Co.'s Home Savings of America.

With this technique, the small-business credit line application doubles as a legal note and serves as the closing document.

The method is commonplace in California, where Wells Fargo & Co. and BankAmerica Corp. battle fiercely for small-business loans. But it is still rare in PNC's East Coast territory, Ms. Holt said.

"If you don't have something like this in the more aggressive markets where you compete with banks like Wells Fargo, then you just can't compete," she said.

PNC began using the simplified loan application, which is similar to a consumer credit card application, at the beginning of March, and will begin mailing applications to entrepreneurs this week, Ms. Holt said. "We're already seeing an impact," she said.

The Pittsburgh-based company is one of many large banks across the country that use credit scoring to crank out loans through a centralized processing center.

PNC can make decisions on credit lines of $50,000 or less within 24 hours. Approved borrowers are then mailed blank checks that can be used to draw down on their lines, said Jordan Peterson, PNC senior vice president and small-business loan center manager.

Last year PNC processed 27,000 applications through its centralized loan center. "It's not an intimidating application, and we give them a quick turnaround," Mr. Peterson said.

PNC saves money because its does not have to print an additional set of closing documents and the sales officers do not have to schedule a closing, he said.

Robert M. Kottler, senior vice president of Hibernia National Bank, which uses the same technique, said the simplified method is part of a larger trend that treats small-business loans like consumer loans.

"We can fulfill the customers' needs without ever having to see them," he said. "The less work you make customers do to get a loan, the better they feel about you."

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