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M&T Bank remained the region’s main lender under a small business administration program aimed at small businesses that might otherwise struggle to obtain financing.

M&T led the SBA’s Buffalo District in loans and dollar volume in the SBA’s flagship 7(a) program, approving 117 loans for a total of $23.4 million for the fiscal year ending on September 30, the federal agency said.

KeyBank was second in loans, at 37, followed by Five Star Bank at 18, according to the SBA.

By dollar volume, CNB Bank — the parent company of Bank on Buffalo — was second, at $7.5 million, out of just five loans, the SBA said. KeyBank ranked third, with $5.1 million.

The SBA’s 7(a) program is another avenue of financing for small businesses and gives banks greater confidence to lend to them. The SBA guarantees 85% of 7(a) loans up to $150,000 and 75% for loans over $150,000. The maximum loan amount is $5 million.

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Businesses use the funds for purposes such as expansion, purchasing equipment and refinancing commercial debt.

“It’s a fantastic program to encourage entrepreneurship and obviously job creation,” said Darren King, chief financial officer of M&T.

The guarantee that the SBA attaches to the program “only expands the number of people served affordably,” King said.

Banks including M&T and KeyBank have also been active in the Paycheck Protection Program, another SBA initiative designed to keep employees on the small business payroll during the height of the pandemic. The two banks are also among the national leaders of the 7(a) program.

Christopher Gorman, chairman and CEO of KeyBank, said SBA loan programs are an effective way to provide financing for small businesses. “We feel like we have a really good machine when it comes to SBA lending, and this is a significant opportunity for our middle-market customers,” he said.

Twenty-six lenders participated in the 7(a) program in the SBA’s Buffalo District during the past fiscal year, disbursing 229 loans for $63.3 million. M&T accounted for 51% of these loans and 37% of the volume. Attendees included lenders that do not have a physical presence in Western New York.

This pool of participants could still expand. The US government is considering opening access to the 7(a) program to fintechs – companies that use technology to improve financial services – and other types of alternative lenders.