Wells Fargo & Co., seeking fresh ground for its small-business lending operation, has found a way to penetrate the intensely competitive Canadian market.

In a twist, the San Francisco banking company will be getting a major assist — essentially all its new customers — from Toronto’s Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce. The two companies have agreed on an alliance in which Canadian small businesses that fail to qualify for loans of up to $100,000 under CIBC’s credit guidelines will be automatically referred to Wells.

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