SEOUL, June 2 (Yonhap) — Banks’ lending to smaller firms grew at a faster pace than usual in May due to the economic fallout from the coronavirus pandemic, sources said Tuesday.

The five major lenders — KB Kookmin, Shinhan, Woori, Hana and Nonghyup — had 471.4 trillion won (US$384 billion) in outstanding loans to small and medium enterprises (SMEs) as of end-May, up 7.4 trillion won from a month earlier.

It marked the second-largest monthly gain since September 2015, when data tracking began. Their SME loans expanded by a record 8.4 trillion won in April this year.’

Watchers said bank SME lending surged in May as small companies and merchants took a big hit from tumbling consumer spending sparked by the coronavirus outbreak.

Also responsible were government calls for banks to expand financial support for smaller businesses, they added.

The data also showed unsecured bank loans to individuals increasing by 1.07 trillion won in May, nearly double the 497.6 billion won gain in April.

A bank official said salaried workers and self-employed people probably rushed to take out bank loans amid an economic slump caused by the coronavirus pandemic.

Meanwhile, their outstanding loans to large companies came to 88.9 trillion won at the end of May, up 385.3 billion won from the previous month and far lower than April’s increase of 5.8 trillion won.