Caro Invests to Expand Microbusiness Lending in Columbia

Anne Shivers

Caro knows small business, and the credit union also knows that many startups and those with independent side gigs use their personal finances and credit to fund their businesses. Often this is because the loans they need are of no interest to most business lenders, Caro CEO Anne Shivers shared.

“We want to make a difference in people’s lives,” Shivers explained. “If we’re fighting for the business, then we’re just another financial institution to them.” Instead, Caro is focused on getting capital out to the underserved businesses looking to borrow $250,000 to $750,000, and it’s looking to make microbusiness loans as well.

Caro is using a grant to upgrade its mobile business banking platform to handle microfinance loan applications, streamlining the process for busy entrepreneurs and allowing the $112 million credit union to serve more business owners efficiently.

“The grant will help the credit union make more of a positive impact faster on the most vulnerable in our community,” Shivers said.

That will not preclude the personalized touch for which Caro is known. Shivers said the credit union is also seeking to add support for its business relationship team.

Shivers noted people have many reasons to start a business, including people who’ve been released from jail and are having a difficult time finding a job or veterans who want the freedom of running their own business. She explained that the boutique credit union has served a wide variety of members, from University of South Carolina professors to janitors.

“We’re happy to serve them all, but the upper income people don’t need us like the other folks do,” Shivers said. “We want to help keep them out of the payday lenders and from paying three times the price for a car warranty.” As a certified CDFI by the U.S. Treasury Department, Caro has demonstrated its primary mission to serve economically disadvantaged communities. The credit union is also seeking additional grant funding to expand its capacity to help more members.

Shivers added that a single pickup truck and some landscaping equipment can quickly grow into needing equipment for multiple crews, necessitating business loans that aren’t large of enough for most business lenders to care about. Shivers knows this is happening because Caro commissioned a study on small business lending in Columbia, S.C. The study found that minority businesses were 10% to 15% more likely not to apply for loans because of “credit discouragement.” It also found, “The value of a single-employee White-owned business is $45,736 as compared to $22,912 for Black owned businesses. Self-employed Latinos fare better than Black businesses with a median income of $38,638.” Additionally, the research cited a Federal Reserve study, which determined 64% of black business owners who applied for credit received it versus 80% of white business owners.

The report noted that the University of South Carolina and local HBCUs host innovation hubs to promote collaboration, “However, high-tech industries may be out of reach for underserved small business owners due to the capital or connections that are important for operations.”

Caro Smart Financial Solutions offers real solutions for real people. That means we care about teaching you the importance of your finances, helping you gain control of your financial future, and providing you with opportunities to start investing in yourself for every stage of life. We make a difference in peoples’ lives, ranging from financial empowerment content to various loans designed to combat predatory lenders to savings opportunities via in-person, voice, online and mobile banking. Learn more at smartCaro.org.


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