Small-business powerhouse Wells Fargo & Co. invaded Canada last week in search of new loans.

Wells Fargo plans to make unsecured loans totaling about $36 million to 100,000 small businesses it prequalified by credit scoring. Wells Fargo blitzed small-business owners in English-speaking areas of Canada with a mail campaign and publicized a toll-free number.

The San Francisco-based bank plans to expand its small-business lending program to French-speaking entrepreneurs in the province of Quebec early next year.

"As far as we know, this is the largest credit offering through the mail to small-business owners ever extended in Canada," said Marc Bernstein, senior vice president of Wells Fargo's business direct credit division.

The second-largest bank lender to small-business in the United States, Wells Fargo shook up the industry when it began mailing pre-approved loan applications nationwide in 1994.

That as well as the acquisition of First Interstate Bancorp pushed Well Fargo's small-business lending to $3.9 billion at mid-1996, from $1.4 billion at mid-1994.

In Canada, the loans will be revolving with no fixed term and a variable interest rate based on the Canadian prime rate. The loans will range from $10,900 to $54,500.

The bank's one-page application form does not require tax returns or financial statements. Typically a loan decision is made within 48 hours.

Roughly 40% of the business borrowers in Canada, or 285,000, have loans under $18,200, according to the Canadian Bankers Association. Another 15% have loans of $18,200 to $36,325.

So far only Bank of Montreal and Royal Bank of Canada use credit scoring.Bank of Montreal also makes loans using the telephone and Internet.

Wells Fargo officials said the company will not open branches or offices in Canada.

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