A community development venture in the District of Columbia supported by Citigroup, government officials and local financial institutions has partnered with loan marketplace Biz2Credit to facilitate loans to small businesses.
The partnership, announced Thursday, is a pilot program aimed at D.C. businesses, especially those owned by women and minorities. Community development financial institutions will make the loans, which are backed by funding from the Treasury Department and other sources, organizers said. Small-business owners will file applications through a website created by Biz2Credit; Citigroup said it will contribute funding for the establishment and maintenance of the website.
Some of the program's organizers have grand ambitions. "The plan is to scale it up nationally," as soon as this summer, said Rohit Arora, the chief executive of Biz2Credit.
Loans will range from $5,000 to $1 million with annual percentage rates from 5.5% to 14.99%. Biz2Credit will also provide financial-management advice and educational programming for small-business owners in the program.
Biz2Credit's brand will not appear on the website, though the company will have access to borrower data and has the right to lend to small businesses after their loans through the program have been paid off.
A D.C. economic development official said the pilot program represents a unique combination of participants.
"If you look at the structure of [Housing and Urban Development] and other [government loan and grant] programs, about all of them require matching funding or some kind of leveraging of private funding," said Steve Glaude, executive director of the Coalition for Nonprofit Housing and Economic Development. "This is a new configuration of stakeholders that have not been brought together before."
Treasury's precise contribution to the program is unknown. Treasury will provide grants through its Community Development Financial Institutions Fund, which received $152.4 million in total appropriations for its national grant program this fiscal year. The CDFIs will use funds from Treasury, along with other sources such as corporate donations, to make loans through the Web portal.
Citi recently announced another creative partnership with a marketplace lender for community reinvestment purposes. It announced a $150 million personal loan program with Lending Club last month for borrowers with low-to-moderate incomes.
"These platforms will be more and more important over time," Citi's global director of community development and microfinance Bob Annibale said.
Given that the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau recently found that 26 million U.S. consumers are "credit invisible" because they have no credit record, more partnerships like these may be on the horizon. Alternative players like Biz2Credit and Lending Club frequently tout their use of data as a way to reach underbanked customers.
Arora, a native of India, believes that there is an untapped market of immigrant-owned businesses that are creditworthy but unable to access the loans they need to grow from the traditional banking system.
"Traditionally it has been more challenging to give credit to them," Arora said.
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Corrected May 11, 2015 at 8:13AM: An earlier version of this story mistakenly said Citigroup was contributing to the financing of the small-business loan program, based on inaccurate information provided by a Citi spokesman and others.