Behind the Credit Curtains in Houston

A trip to Texas to talk about credit invisibles and how Lending Circles can help

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Until recently, my time spent in Texas was limited to a single quick stop over after a study abroad program in Santiago, Chile. I barely had any time to take in the beautiful landscapes seemingly painted on the DFW windows before I was back up in the air again. That’s why I was thrilled to be asked to take some time to head to Houston with our CEO, Jose, to headline an event about Lending Circles for a large group of community-based organizations. I didn’t know what to expect.

IMG_2967My eyes were wide with anticipation as Jose told me about what I would be doing.

I was eager with anticipation to speak to a larger, new audience about the credit building benefits that Lending Circles.

Sure, I talk on the phone to partner organizations throughout the nation every week, and I often lead webinars for partners, but to present in a non-virtual way felt foreign (although refreshing). Everyday is a new adventure at MAF, but there’s always a comfortable structure to that adventure. I typically know which of my coworkers I will need to talk to and what questions to ask them. I was grateful for the opportunity to meet with so many valuable organizations face-to-face.

With a few butterflies in my stomach and an open mind as I left my hotel, I hopped in an Uber and made my way to the United Way of Greater Houston’s office. JP Morgan Chase, Experian and The United Way were coming together to help us host an event so we could talk to nonprofits in Houston about joining our nationwide network of Lending Circles providers.

My Uber driver, James, told me about the amazing diversity of the Houston community as he drove me through the city. He talked about all the new cultures that were growing together and the new little enclaves and neighborhoods that were popping up – it sounded wonderful. He said that this renaissance had accelerated recently due to an impressive population growth in recent years. I loved the thought of being in a city that was growing together at such an amazing pace.

But I knew the stakes, too. The Houston Metro Area has a very high number of unbanked and underbanked families (39%). That’s more than 1/3 of families in the Houston area that are underbanked and credit invisible.

IMG_2010On top of that, 43.9% of Houston families are considered to be “liquid asset impoverished” (that means they don’t have access to adequate credit are one emergency expense away from long term financial disaster). It only made my purpose of speaking about the power that Lending Circles can provide even more critical. By the time all attendees were seated with coffee and breakfast, over 70 representatives from Texas nonprofits were in the room! We were energized by the tremendous turn-out.

The presentation started with the United Way of Greater Houston welcoming all of the attendees, followed by short introductions from Carol Urton of Experian and Yvette Ruiz of JP Morgan Chase. Jose then dove, fearlessly, into speaking about who MAF as an organization and how it formalized the concept of individuals coming together to financially support one another.

Following Jose’s lead, I walked up to the podium and took my place, beginning with the respective responsibilities for the participant and the partner to get clients enrolled and Lending Circles created. It was key to emphasize to this group of potential providers how the transition to a more robust social loan platform has made the expansion of 40+ Lending Circles partnerships possible in states like Texas, a platform that is designed around the capacity and user experiences of both partners and clients.

I was humbled by the engagement of the crowd.

It was clear that almost everyone knew each other from the way each person greeted one another like old friends do. Although everyone at the event was a new acquaintance for me, two staff members from a Lending Circle partner attended: the Houston-based Chinese Community Center. This partner is one of five current providers offering Lending Circles in Texas: Family Pathfinders, YWCA Fort Worth, and El Paso Collaborative, a new partner signed in April 2015.

The only question that remains: which one of the 70 Houston organizations will I get to work with next?

 


Tara Robinson

is the Chief Development Officer for Mission Asset Fund. She spends an inordinate amount of time thinking about what to say, how to say it and who to say it to.