Bank of America announced Tuesday that it plans to hire more than 200 small business bankers this year, increasing the small business team by 20%.

“We’ll continue to hire into 2015 and 2016 [for the small business arm],” says Bank of America Small Business Executive Robb Hilson. The interview process is about to begin, he says, and he expects that some of the new hires will start as soon as the end of March.

“Most of the 200 are actually going to be physically based in a banking center within those four walls at all time,” says Hilson. He says California is the most significant small business market for the bank, and the majority of the new hires will be concentrated on the West Coast.

The Charlotte, N.C.-based bank loaned $10.9 billion to new small business customers in 2013, marking a 26% year-over-year increase, according to Hilson. He says 2013 is the third consecutive year the bank has increased small business lending by more than 20%, and currently the bank has more than 3 million small business customers. Bank of America (BAC) is the second-largest U.S. bank by assets

The new hiring initiative is the first of its type for the bank since late 2010, when Bank of America pledged to hire 1,000 dedicated small business bankers.

Hilson says the bank’s small business strategy is focused on in-store interactions, running counter to technology-driven trends in banking.

“I sat in a conference last week, and the consultants were talking about how digital can undermine the personal relationships we enjoy. As an industry, we need to be sensitive to this,” says Hilson.

He says small business owners are looking for advice from the small business bankers, and having bankers stationed within the bank is a draw.

“To the extent that they are local, it’s a big advantage,” says Hilson.

Hilson says the bank has benefited from focusing on small businesses in the past three years.  

“The performance on our existing portfolio has improved dramatically since the depths of the recession, and the asset quality of our new loans since 2010 have been very high quality,” says Hilson. Deposits are up, and he says the bank has seen significant growth in the number of small business cardholders.

Hilson says Bank of America is finding particular success with its Practice Solutions team, which is focused on lending to dentists, veterinarians, doctor groups and small law and accounting firms.

And while 2014 has been off to a rocky start for Wall Street, Hilson says the small business economy is still chugging along.

“The quality of the financial statements we’re looking at and the cash-flow statements typical of small businesses are a lot healthier today,” says Hilson.

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