Amazon says it has lent more than $3 billion to small businesses peddling merchandise on its website through a program dubbed Amazon Lending. The program began in 2011 with the mandate to help these businesses grow their inventory.

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Amazon.com is a bookseller, the operator of a wildly diverse emporium of goods, and, most recently, a grocer.

It turns out it’s also a banker of sorts.

The company says it has lent more than $3 billion to small businesses peddling merchandise on its website through a program dubbed Amazon Lending.

The program began in 2011 with the mandate to help these businesses expand their inventory.

When CEO Jeff Bezos talked about the lending program in an April 2016 shareholder letter, the aggregate funding totaled about $1.5 billion.

So Amazon’s latest disclosure, accompanied by an unusual level of detail, shows that the company is ramping up its lending: Just in the past 12 months, Amazon disbursed $1 billion.

The entrepreneurs get quick access to cash, which could provide a leg up at a critical juncture in the growth of their business.

In turn, Amazon, which takes a cut from each item sold on its website by third parties, benefits from seeing more merchandise change hands under its tent.

And customers could benefit, too, because the loan from Amazon might allow a merchant not only to boost it sales inventory, but also negotiate bulk discounts with suppliers and pass those savings on, Peeyush Nahar, vice president for Amazon Marketplace, said in an interview.

One important detail: A merchant can’t hit up Amazon for a loan. Amazon offers loans to merchants it considers worthy. Invitation only.

Nahar said the company has lots of up-to-the-minute information about sellers that helps it identify how well they’re serving customers and whether they have a sales trend that’s pointing “in the right direction.”

For example, “Sellers that have an existing product line, start selling on Amazon, they’re getting traction, great reviews from customers,” he said.

Once Amazon invites a merchant to participate and the loan application is made, the loan could be authorized in a time frame “as small as a few seconds” to as long as a day, Nahar said.

The loan amounts range from $1,000 to $750,000. Nahar declined to divulge the interest rates applied, except to say they compare favorably with credit cards and other alternative-financing methods. (On Amazon’s seller forums, an anonymous poster in 2013 wrote that the merchant got a six-month loan of $19,000 at a 12.9 percent annual interest rate.)

Amazon says that more than 20,000 small businesses in the U.S., the U.K. and Japan have gotten these loans, which have terms of up to 12 months. About half of the businesses take second loans.

At the end of 2016, Amazon had $661 million in seller loans outstanding, according to a securities filing. The company said its allowance for losses on these receivables were not material at the end of last year. Only a “very, very small percentage” of Amazon’s loans default, Nahar said.