Taking the small-business loan application process a small step further, a local bank has begun offering application forms online.

In an effort to make applying for a small business loan even easier for customers, Bridgeport-based People’s Bank has added a new section to its Web site that allows for the download of small-business loan application forms.

In the past, applying for a small-business loan would require taking several trips back and forth to a bank branch to make sure that all the forms are present and filled out correctly. With the new system, all of the necessary forms are available online.

The bank’s award-winning Web site, www.peoples.com, provides access to a checklist of documents, such as personal and business tax returns and accounts payable and receivable schedules, which applicants need to have at the time of application. In addition, a personal financial statement and People’s loan application are available on the site.

“We believe that our new Web offering will be a benefit to those who are pressed for time and value convenience,” said Louis Paffumi, vice president of small-business banking at People’s. “As Connecticut’s bank, we are committed to creating a superior customer experience for applicants and to exceeding their expectations for service.”

‘More Convenient’

The People’s Web site – which in March was rated in the Top Ten in the Western Hemisphere by Speer and Assoc., an independent financial services industry consultant – offers guidance in the loan application process for both existing and start-up businesses. Links also are available to the U.S. Small Business Administration site, where applicants can find a model business plan along with other useful information.

“The whole point, frankly, was just having our loan application and personal financial statement forms on the Web to make it more convenient for the customer to get started on the application process,” said Paffumi. “A lot of what we do is all about convenience and providing our products when customers want them, not when we want to provide them.”

The loan application and personal financial statement come in the form of a portable document format, or PDF, file that is available for download from the bank’s Web site. Paffumi said the applications are not yet online forms that can be submitted electronically – they must still be delivered by hand or mailed to a branch.

“It gets them started on the process, and the Web site also contains a fair amount of information on various loan products that we offer to small-business customers,” he said.

He also noted, “By definition, we’ve got probably about 2,000 small-business customers that borrow from us, and I couldn’t begin to tell you how many deposit with us. This is contrasted to our middle market and commercial real estate departments that focus on larger business borrowers, which characteristically involve much larger loans but with much less frequency.”

As a part of the Connecticut economic landscape, Paffumi sees small-business loans to be necessary to its strength.

“I think [small business] is very critical,” he said. “You read a lot of stuff about how important the small-business owner is to the Connecticut economy, and they certainly make up in numbers the largest piece of the business community.”

Paffumi added, “Our goal is to leverage our footprint of 155 branches throughout the state and our strong brand recognition that has lasted 160 years, and direct it toward reaching out to small-business customers even more than we are today.”

Currently, the average turnaround for small-business loans at People’s is approximately one week, and Paffumi said that the online forms could help quicken the process even more.

“Something that sets us apart from our competitors is that all decisions are made right here in Connecticut. Our commitment is almost entirely to the state of Connecticut,” he said.

As for the future of the small-business loan program, Paffumi said it’s possible that customers may be able to apply for small-business loans online at some point. However, he feels that the average small-business customer would rather deal face to face with a loan officer at a bank branch.

“Our sales force for small business is really our branch network,” said Paffumi. “We are just now going through some rather extensive training to remind many of our branch employees about the concepts of small business and to educate those that are new to the process.”

He added, “Our goal is to have an engaged and well-informed network of people at each of our locations to engage the small-business customer and help them with loans and other products.”