Accion’s mission is to revitalize communities from within through entrepreneurship. During my time with the organization, I’ve learned that the value we provide small business owners involves more than simply disbursing a loan. We provide one-on-one coaching to every applicant, whether they receive a loan or not. We work with each small business owner to increase their financial literacy, credit experience, and confidence as an entrepreneur.
Our process to apply for a loan is simple. Each client begins with a personal conversation with an Accion loan officer about household and business cash flow, credit, collateral, and business goals. This provides the loan officer with a general idea of the client’s qualifications and strategies for success while helping the business owner understand and improve their financial “resume” in the eyes of a lender. For many clients, this is the first time they’ve had an intimate discussion with someone in the finance industry about how personal credit works and what financial conditions are required to start or grow a business using borrowed capital.
Unlike popular TV shows like “Shark Tank,” lenders are not inclined to bet on a revolutionary idea that may or may not change an entire industry. Instead we look for a relatively stable household budget with steady income that can afford personal expenses in addition to a new loan payment. A loan officer will help determine what size loan best leverages business growth while maintaining an affordable monthly payment for the client. This commitment to long-term financial stability is at the heart of our mission.
Our in-depth analysis also reveals opportunities for business owners to expand their skillsets. For specialized technical assistance, we refer clients to our community partners—such as the Women’s Business Development Center, SCORE, and Bethel New Life Small Business Development Center—to provide extended credit counseling, business plan advice, and training on tools entrepreneurs need to successfully manage growth.
In addition to gaining access to our network of professional mentors, the relationship forged between client and loan officer is what sets Accion apart from other lenders. Even more rewarding than handing an entrepreneur their first business loan check is watching them grow a business year over year fueled by our loans and coaching.
The client/loan officer relationship does not end with the disbursement of a loan. Accion clients remain in contact with their loan officer over the period of repayment and beyond, touching base every few months to assess progress made toward goals and preparing for the next stage of business.
We also work to promote the work of our clients, celebrate their successes, and highlight their impact through blog posts such as this, social media, annual reports, and events throughout our service area.
In short, Accion is more than a lender. We’re a partner in our clients’ economic success. We provide a holistic array of financial services. Small business loans are an instrumental part of that infrastructure, paired with technical assistance to coach our borrowers on practices that maximize their potential.
Kyle Johnson is Director of Micro Lending at Accion Chicago.