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Bringing Voices Together: Identifying Challenges and Opportunities for Expanding Small Dollar Lending for ImmigrantsAt a roundtable discussion in July 2018, UnidosUS partnered with the UNC Center for Community Capital and JPMorgan Chase to convene a group of stakeholders to discuss the needs, barriers and solutions to expanding the small dollar (e.g. $250-$5,000) credit market for immigrants. The stakeholders represented 20 lenders, community-based organizations, and governmental and philanthropic institutions, including Bank of America, the Federation of Community Development Credit Unions and Prosperity Now.

The goal of the roundtable was to clearly identify the challenges facing these varied stakeholders, then work across sectors and perspectives to brainstorm potential solutions and next steps for expanding access while maintaining profitability for providers. “Using a facilitation approach aimed at highlighting diverse perspectives and generating new ideas, the meeting included small group discussions, large group activities and presentations from experts across often siloed areas,” said Jess Dorrance from the UNC Center for Community Capital (CCC).

“To fully integrate into American society and achieve economic security, immigrants need access to high-quality affordable financial products, including small dollar loans that serve as an entryway to credit. Unfortunately, immigrants to the U.S. face many barriers in accessing safe and affordable financial services. In addition to navigating the complex financial marketplace in the U.S., immigrants must overcome challenges such as limited English proficiency, thin credit histories and a lack of both familiarity and trust in financial institutions.”

– Bringing Together Voices Report

In a report summarizing the roundtable called “Bringing Together Voices: Identifying Challenges and Opportunities for Expanding Small Dollar Lending for Immigrants,” the group identifies nine challenges and opportunities in expanding this market for lenders, community-based organizations, and government and philanthropic institutions.

Nine challenges and opportunities to expanding small dollar lending to immigrants

“There are significant structural challenges contributing to a market void of small-dollar loan products available to immigrant consumers,” said report co-author Sabrina Terry of UnidosUS. “Multi-sector interventions that target both financial institutions and immigrant-serving institutions will be needed to overcome those challenges. Policy changes along with technology investments are critical to achieving the efficiency and scale needed for lenders to profitably offer small-dollar loans. Similarly, policy interventions and capacity building funds, are essential to creating comprehensive credit coaching and referral programs led by immigrant-serving institutions.”

The report concludes that such innovations are essential to meeting the needs of the growing immigrant population whose financial future will continue to impact the economy. “Without affordable entry-level products, immigrants will remain outside of the financial mainstream. Financial exclusion will stifle immigrants’ contributions the U.S economic system as well as result in stagnant customer acquisition and loss of revenue for financial institutions. Furthermore, such investments are equally important for other low-income consumers and consumers of color who struggle with financial insecurity,” noted the authors.

Roundtable attendees represented the following organizations: Central American Resource Center; Capital Good Fund; JPMorgan Chase; Federation of Community Development Credit Unions; National Coalition for Asian Pacific American Community Development; Latin American Community Center; Bank of America; Credit Builders Alliance; The Financial Clinic; Mexican American Opportunity Foundation; Prosperity Now; Building Skills Partnership; Democracy Fund; eMoneyPool; Catholic Legal Immigration Network, Inc.; Center for Financial Services Innovation; CASA; New America; Gulf Coast Jewish Family & Community Services;  and Community Development Corporation of Brownsville.

UnidosUS, previously known as NCLR (National Council of La Raza), is the nation’s largest Hispanic civil rights and advocacy organization. Through its unique combination of expert research, advocacy, programs and an Affiliate Network of nearly 300 community-based organizations across the United States and Puerto Rico, UnidosUS simultaneously challenges the social, economic and political barriers that affect Latinos at the national and local levels.

The Center for Community Capital is a non-partisan, multi-disciplinary research center housed within The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and is a leading center for research and policy analysis on the power of capital to transform households and communities in the United States. It is part of The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill’s College of Arts and Sciences and an affiliate of UNC’s Center for Urban and Regional Studies.

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