121 Financial Credit Union’s ($435M, Jacksonville, FL) business lending program, which focuses primarly on owner-occupied mortgages under $1 million, has brought a daycare to community that didn’t have one, helped an ice-cream shop owner open doors and has ensured a local lawn care company could continue to grow.
“It’s a niche in the market that's probably underserved – those smaller loans,” says David Marovich, 121 Financial’s business account officer,who took the helm of the program five years ago. “We’ve actually done quite a few that are under $250,000. It’s that part of the market that banks don’t want to do.”
In the past five years, 121 Financial’s business loans have grown from $850,000 to about $29 million as they've boosted the credit union’s overall loan portfolio during difficult economic times.
The goal this year is to secure $10 million in new loans to business owners.
Marovich attributes much of the growth to his networking efforts in the business community. He joined a small business network that’s tied to the University of North Florida,which a small business resource center for entrepreneurs, and quickly joined a couple committees to become more involved. Now, the majority of 121 Financial’s business loan referrals come that group.
The business group includes insurance agents, accountants, credit union executives, bankers, and attorneys and 121 Financial also taps their expertise in the lending process, Marovich says.
“You need someone who is dynamic,” says Cathy Hufstetler, director of lending. “Finding the right person is huge -- the right person that can do these networking events and really build the program.”
121 Financial also invests in newspaper advertising and a radio advertising campaign replete with member testimonials,which Hufstetler says has been “very effective.”
In the past two years, it’s taken on 16 SBA 504 loans – which are small business loans intended to boost business growth and job creation – and is currently processing eight of them. The SBA 504 program let 121 Financial help business owners who it wouldn’t have been able to help otherwise, Marovich says.
“We really focus our program as a small business program and not a commercial loan program,”
Marovich says. “A credit union should focus on that small business. You’re local, you can help the local small business. That’s one of our strengths – the fact we’re dealing with a lot of mom-and-pop type business and we’re not going for that homerun.”