When I read “Dis-Credited,” Woodstock Institute’s recent study on racial and income disparities in business lending, I saw in black and white what I have also experienced in flesh and blood.
As a lending team manager for micro-lender Accion Chicago, I’ve met the people behind the statistics in the study: hard-working, entrepreneurial people who have the potential to generate jobs for their neighborhood, but struggle to find access to credit in a marketplace that favors bigger borrowers with fancier addresses.
Accion is a nonprofit that exists to fill that gap in the marketplace, whether it’s by making small business loans in amounts that other major financial institutions don’t provide, or by coaching entrepreneurs on how to become creditworthy.
More than a third of our clients are African American, and one fifth are Latino. Three fourths of all Accion borrowers are low- to moderate-income entrepreneurs, and half are women. All of them face barriers in the marketplace like those identified in “Dis-Credited.”
Too often, these folks think they have no other option but the online lenders who try to lure them into taking out loans at astronomically high interest rates. Fortunately, people who come to Accion learn that there is a better way. We not only lend to qualified applicants, but we also provide coaching that helps potential borrowers who may have problems with their credit or other business needs so they can qualify for a loan in the future.
The Woodstock study demonstrates that there are large underserved populations of entrepreneurs in the Chicago region. Accion is doing its part to invest in them and in the communities where they live. The jobs these small business owners create, the store fronts they fill, and the neighborhoods they rebuild will make Chicago a better place for all of us.