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Giant U.S. Lenders Outpaced by Rivals in Small-Business Rescue

  • Wells Fargo set up about $120 million of loans in SBA program
  • Much smaller banks arranged billions before the funds ran out
A person wearing a protective mask is reflected in the window of a temporarily closed Wells Fargo & Co. Bank branch in New York, on April 10. 
Photographer: Mark Kauzlarich/Bloomberg

Small businesses that rushed in vain to tap $349 billion in emergency U.S. loans to survive the coronavirus crisis are facing a harsh reality: Some of the nation’s top banks lagged behind relatively tiny rivals in handling applications.

As banking giants tried to automate the process, hundreds of employees at Texas lender Cullen/Frost Bankers Inc. volunteered to fill out forms manually, working late into the night in homes to set up $3 billion in loans. That contrasts with Wells Fargo & Co., which arranged only about $120 million by the time the program was depleted this week, according to people briefed on its progress.