On Wall Street, Goldman has a reputation for spotting businesses that are being transformed and finding a way to seize the opportunity.
To the degree that Goldman can "assess the risk and price things electronically, it may be a low cost way of getting into the business," Mr. Harte said.
The bank's push into lending is being led by Harit Talwar, a former top executive at the credit card giant Discover, who joined Goldman last month.
In a sign of how seriously Goldman is treating the new venture, the company approached several top consumer finance executives about the job, which comes with the title of partner, a highly coveted position at Goldman, the people briefed on the matter said. The operation could have a staff of as many as 100 by the end of the year, they said.
Goldman declined to comment on the plan. But in a memo to employees announcing the hiring of Mr. Talwar last month, Goldman's chief executive, Lloyd C. Blankfein, and its president, Gary D. Cohn, noted that "the traditional means by which financial services are delivered to consumers and small businesses is being fundamentally reshaped" by technology and the use of data and analytics.
Some of Goldman's traditional business lines are under pressure. Sluggish markets and new regulations have diminished historically profitable areas like trading, forcing Goldman and other Wall Street companies to hunt for new sources of revenue.
Before the financial crisis, Wall Street firms were generally not permitted to do traditional consumer lending because they were not set up as federally insured banks. But as part of the government bailout in the 2008 crisis, Goldman and its archrival, Morgan Stanley, were required to become bank holding companies.
Since 2011, the two banks have talked about increasing their lending and have tripled the amount of outstanding loans — to $42 billion in the case of Goldman. Until now, though, they have focused on providing mortgages and credit lines to existing, generally very wealthy, clients.
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With its new business, Goldman will take a very different approach, offering the types of loans that are traditionally pitched through mailing blasts to American homes.
The firm is probably going to focus on lending to customers who most likely would not come close to the $10 million minimum balance required to become one of Goldman's private wealth clients. The loans would not be backed by collateral like a home or automobile, allowing Goldman to charge higher rates.
"When you are looking around at the universe of asset classes, there is still nothing better than unsecured American consumer debt," said Nick Clements, a former banking executive at Barclays and Citigroup, who co-founded MagnifyMoney, a website that helps borrowers compare credit card and loan offers.
Goldman may eventually lend to small businesses, which have typically struggled to obtain bank loans.
The initial financing for the loans would come from certificates of deposit, which Goldman has been amassing in recent years. As the business grows, the bank may securitize the loans — bundle them and sell them to investors — to reduce some of the risk that it holds on its own books.