WASHINGTON — On the heels of a White House plan to spur small-business lending, federal bank and thrift regulators will issue guidance as early as today encouraging financial institutions to make prudent loans to small firms.
Details on the guidance were still being finalized Wednesday, but it is expected to warn banks against becoming overly cautious about small-business lending in the wake of the financial crisis. The guidance will make clear that banks should judge the creditworthiness of individual borrowers and not decide whether to make a loan based on the borrower's industry or geographic location.
Regulators will also emphasize that banks will not be subject to criticism from examiners if they make loans to creditworthy small-business borrowers.
Speaking to Senate Democrats on Wednesday, President Obama said financial regulators may have clamped down too hard on bank lending in the aftermath of the market meltdown.
"Obviously they feel caught off guard because of the lax regulation, in some cases, of the banking industry before the financial crisis," he said. "You get a sense that the pendulum has swung too far in the other direction. The challenge that we've got, is we've got to be careful because these are independent regulators and we don't want to politicize them."
In recent days, interagency discussions have centered on how much focus should be given to the role of examiners. The Federal Reserve Board, which is leading the effort to write the guidance, sought language that would more clearly detail how examiners should assess lending to small businesses. But officials from other agencies were concerned that such language would overemphasize the degree to which examiners were contributing to hesitancy among banks in lending to small firms.
The president unveiled a plan last month that would direct $30 billion from the Troubled Asset Relief Program to community banks that would then lend the money to small businesses.