We had the chance to interview Emma with the Vermont Community Loan Fund and learn about her experience working as a loan officer. The landscape for CDFI’s has changed drastically over the years as technology and new business models have begun to emerge. Dive into the piece and learn from Emma firsthand about the ins and outs of her work and how she continues to prioritize the success of the small business owners to help build community and the future of Vermont’s economy.
Q: Tell us your name and official title within the organization you work for.
A: Emma Enoch, Loan Officer at Vermont Community Loan Fund
Q: How did you get involved in the space of CDFIs?
A: Before joining VCLF and steeping myself in economic justice work, I was engaged in restoration-ag and food security initiatives. I managed regional projects focused on institutional food waste, and was a program director at a food hub focused on combating childhood hunger, and connecting Mainers with ethically grown, local foods to supplement their monthly food budgets. At the end of the day, I couldn’t ignore the fact that many of the efforts in place to combat hunger don’t have the capacity to get at the root of the issue: economic injustice. I started searching far and wide for economic-justice-based non-profits, where I felt my impact could reach the depths of systems change work I was craving. Just, local economies have a ripple effect.
Small businesses are as unique as one person to the next. Whether someone is just starting out, pivoting their business, or working on an exit strategy to keep their business thriving in the hands of a new owner, CDFIs are able to establish long-term relationships with each business owner that is unique to their business’s needs, growth plans, and aspirations. CDFIs bolster local economies all over the country, which inlay systems that support relationship-building between consumers and business owners. Additionally, by meeting the needs of small business owners and supporting their aspirations with flexible capital, it keeps local dollars re-cycling through community-scale economic systems.
Q: Describe (briefly) some of the major tasks of your job and who your typical client is
A: The major tasks of my job involve talking to potential applicants about their business, financing needs, and why now is a good time for their business to take on debt. Application review and underwriting are the main foci of my job. The loan application process is inherently nerve-wracking. Even lenders won’t deny that. I try to meet business owners where they conduct their operations; sometimes that looks like winding through a chocolate manufacturing facility, sprawling farm fields, or on the bench of a small, craft brewery. Together, we dig into their business’s history, mission, financial projects and models. I typically work with an applicant for 3-6 weeks before bringing their project to our loan review committee. If approved, I conduct in-person loan closings and conduct period (semi-annual) site visits to maintain a relationship throughout the life of the loan.
Q: What is your favorite part about your job?
A: The people. From a wide-angle lens, my job is the study of Vermont’s small business owners, their stories, aspirations, and the viability of such. Not many loan officers can say they have weeded a red clover patch across a row of saffron with a new business owner. Vermont’s small business community is vast, cutting-edge, and inspiring. Learning from our applicants and borrowers helps inform us of the trends and future of Vermont’s economy.
Q: What are some tools / tips / tricks you’ve picked up over time that help you reach more borrowers / do your work more efficiently?
A: Showing up in the community and being willing to meet business owners in their world and on their time is crucial.
Q: What are the biggest challenges you see borrowers face?
A: Often times applicants don’t ask for enough money or haven’t evaluated when the right time to apply for a loan is. Taking on debt is a big deal and not a decision to be made lightly. On the other hand, we often see borrowers struggle with how to make debt work for them. I would encourage all business owners who will, are, or want to be working with a loan officer and/or business advisor to consider the true cost of your goals, and how to trust what borrower money can do for you business’s sustainable growth.
Q: What is something you wish more applicants knew about?
A: Three things:
Q: How do you want to see the space of CDFIs change in the next 5 years?
A: I would like to see CDFIs acknowledge and focus on the role financial institutions across this country have had in perpetuating economic, social, and environmental injustices.
Thanks for checking out the interview! At Presta, we love to hear more stories of lenders across the country and how they economic, social, and environmental advancement for the communities they serve. If you are interested in checking out how Presta enables small business lenders to streamline their end-to-end processes or be featured in an interview, please book a call below! We would love to hear from you.