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Increased scrutiny on banks raises specter of tightening credit

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A person holds a clipboard with documents on it and types on a calculator. They are wearing a cream shirt and black blazer and sitting at a white table in a light-filled room. On the table is a glass of water and other important, business-looking documents.

Smaller businesses often turn to small and midsize banks to help expand their operations. But those banks may be getting more selective with loans. Drazen Zigic/Getty Images

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With increasing scrutiny of banks after recent failures, lenders are likely to tighten credit, and that could make it more difficult for individuals and small businesses to get loans.

Banks’ balance sheets are getting more scrutiny, and banks are going to want to keep more liquid assets on hand to insulate against a potential rush of withdrawals, like the one that came before Silicon Valley Bank’s collapse. That means they could pull back on lending and be a little pickier about whom they lend to. 

Rachel Rozner’s business started as a pop-up tea shop in an art museum in Herndon, Virginia. 

“I was a young entrepreneur. I didn’t have a lot of capital,” she said.

​But a home equity line of credit from a local bank helped her hire an employee and move Elden Street Tea Shop to a permanent space. 

​”That money allowed us to pay and supplement our rent and our expenses for the shop until we could really get off the ground,” Rozner said.

​That’s how bank lending works in a healthy economy, said Greg Fairchild, a professor of business administration at the University of Virginia.

“We hear a lot about venture capital and we hear a lot about private equity, but when you think about the average business owner in the United States,” they’re probably hitting up small and midsize banks to help start and grow their operations, he said. 

And those are the same banks that are under some extra scrutiny right now. 

One way banks can insulate themselves from a potential rush of withdrawals is by keeping their assets liquid, said Goldman Sachs economist David Mericle.

​”They might be somewhat more conservative, so that some borrowers who come into the bank, a greater share are likely to be turned away than before,” he said.

That could put a drag on demand in the economy, which Mericle said could help tame inflation. 

But on the other hand? “There’s a worry that there are businesses that could use these funds and are not in any way risky that won’t be able to access them,” UVA’s Fairchild said.

​Like a tea shop that turns its line of credit into a growing business. 

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