The Ion Bank Foundation recently gave the School of Business $10,000 in order to start a microlending program for local businesses, according to a press release on March 6. Students from the School of Business will also assist in determining who is approved for a loan.
Microlending is the practice of offering small loans, usually for small businesses, according to Charles Boulier III, the CEO of Ion Bank and the Ion Bank Foundation. Instead of taking a loan for $25,000, a business would take out a loan for $1,000.
Boulier said that the idea first came up when he was approached by School of Business dean Matthew O’Connor and Richard Galiette, senior director of development, business and engineering, as they sought to recreate a microlending program like the one set up in Nicaragua, in order to give back to the community.
O’Connor says that the Nicaraguan program was started as a way to work with the Albert Schweitzer Institute to help develop business in the area, while giving business students experience in a different culture. That program has been running for eight years and has a high repayment rate, according to the press release.
Senior marketing major Matthew Mattson thinks that the microlending program will help students understand the experiences of small business owners.
“Anyone who is in finance will know that the whole task of getting a loan is a challenging one for small businesses,” Mattson said. “That opportunity for Quinnipiac students to learn about it in a hands-on experience is a good thing.”
For Boulier, learning about the Nicaragua program was enlightening.
“We could copy something that is being used by the university in another country, and get a lot of benefit here in the United States for many of the constituents that we have,” he said. “It was an awakening experience for me.”
The program will be a partnership between Quinnipiac, Ion Bank and the Community Investment Corporation, a local lender that will serve as a way to connect with small businesses. To support the program, the Ion Bank Foundation will continue giving money over the next four years, for a total of $50,000.
Student participation will be available to juniors, seniors and graduate students and will count for three credits, according to O’Connor. The program a “hands-on” experience that focuses on meeting clients, determining their need and deciding if giving them a loan is worth it.
Boulier, who is on the School of Business advisory board, doesn’t see the new program as a competitor, but as an opportunity, or as he says, a “triple win,” students will be able to gain experience, entrepreneurs will have an opportunity to get small loans. and Ion Bank can potentially hire experienced students later on.
“We have a situation where a lot of our lenders are Baby Boomers, and they’re going to be leaving the industry, and this would give the Bank the opportunity to help (Quinnipiac) train future bankers,” he said.
Boulier feels that the program would offer a useful opportunity for all School of Business students, no matter what major, due to the wide range of skills covered in the program.
Sophomore behavioral neuroscience major Margy Shah is a fan of any program that can give students real world experience.
“I definitely feel like this and more programs should be implemented because it’s really a great opportunity for students to put their majors and their passions to use,” she said.
Of the skills covered, Boulier highly values people skills.
“The most critical item in lending is trying to understand a person’s character. We call that ‘street smarts,’” he said. “At the end of the day, you have to make a decision: Is this person going to pay me back?”
However, many of the program’s details are being worked out. Boulier would like to see the program started for the fall 2017 semester. Despite there being plenty of work ahead, he feels optimistic about what the program’s impact will be.
“You’re hoping every business is going to be a success, and down the road. It’s going to need a (larger) loan, but it will happen,” Boulier said.