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SBA agenda: Communicate, counsel, loan faster

Published on NewsOK Modified: June 11, 2014 at 11:57 am •  Published: June 11, 2014
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NEW YORK (AP) — Loans are the primary reason small businesses seek help from the Small Business Administration, but the new head of the agency says that more capital may not be what owners always need.

Maria Contreras-Sweet has been a small business owner herself, most recently as co-founder of Promerica Bank, a Los Angeles-based lender focused on small companies. That experience not only helped her win the SBA post, it gives her insight into what could aid small companies the most.

"I think the counseling is almost more important than the lending. The lending is vital; we need access to capital for sure. But sometimes as I sat at the bank, business owners would ask me for a loan, and I'd say, you're just not managing your cash well. Let's talk about your cash flow, let's talk about the business plan. Can I help you enough so you don't need that extra line of credit?" she said in an interview this week with The Associated Press.

"And so many times, we'd give them a line of credit, and then it wasn't deployed accurately or effectively or efficiently. I think our counseling programs can be key to our success."

Two months into her tenure, Contreras-Sweet is still getting a handle on what's working at the SBA and what needs to be changed. One area of focus is the way the agency communicates with small businesses. She's recently launched a Twitter account to better connect with the public and says she's also changing the way she's taking in information.

And even though she thinks more counseling could be the key to helping owners be more successful, faster loan processing is also a priority. On Tuesday, she announced the SBA is giving banks what's called a predictive business credit scoring model, a tool to help them forecast whether a borrower is likely to repay a loan. It's designed to speed loan approvals.

Contreras-Sweet wants to know, are these programs working? She talked about her concerns, and her agenda, with the AP. Here are excerpts from the interview, edited for brevity and clarity:

Q. What have you found so far at the SBA that needs to be changed to help small businesses?

A. More Americans should be made aware about the opportunities SBA helps to create. And, how impressive it is that, at every key intersection of a business person's cycle, the SBA has a response to their needs. I'm not certain that has been made abundantly clear to entrepreneurs. So I think first and foremost that's something we want to focus on, how we communicate about the products, the services, the programs, that already exist.

Q. How do you do that?

A. We need to learn how to use all the media that's available to us — the traditional, social media and informal ways of communicating. For example, instead of watching the evening news shows, I find younger people are watching shows like Jon Stewart's "The Daily Show." We need to understand where people are, how they're getting information, and make sure we're adapting to the new ways people are receiving information.

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