IMPROVED and innovative access to finance and loans for small, micro and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) is just a click away, as Term Finance Holdings Ltd (TFHL) and 3Stone Ltd have developed a strictly digital platform to assist such businesses. The digital platform, SME TT which has been in beta testing for the past six months was launched on September 21, 2020.

TFHL chief executive officer Oliver Sabga explained that Term Finance was established five years ago with a focus on providing loans to employees of reputable companies across the Caribbean. Sabga said he and business partner Christian Stone, CEO of 3Stone Ltd saw it necessary to create such a platform for SMEs as many persons who owned such businesses expressed interest in accessing loans.

Also, both men said when they heard of the difficulties these business owners encountered to acquire loans from commercial banks or other financial institutions, they realised the need for such a platform was urgent.

“Our credit assessment methodology is now more fit-for-purpose, innovative and flexible than legacy financial institutions, giving us insight into areas that the big banks do not know how to evaluate.

“A study a few years back indicated that SMEs generate approximately 30 per cent of our country’s GDP. If we can support SMEs in their growth missions, we can grow the economy,” Sabga added.

Stone, the mastermind behind SME TT said the partnership between 3Stone and Term Finance is not only timely, but also a much-needed boost for the national ecosystem, and by extension the local entrepreneurial community, as access to funding remains a major sticking point in realising successful entrepreneurship.

He explained that when a business owner applies for a loan via the website, they identify how much money they want to access as well as the term of the loan.

Stone said further explained that based on the amount, the necessary calculations will be made on the website, including full interest with no hidden fees attached, and identify the amount that would need to be repaid monthly.

“On the application form you identify how many employees your business has, the purpose of the funding, click “Submit” and someone would be in contact with the owner in a short space of time, to ensure the relevant documents are provided. Once that process is over and all the necessary criteria are met, the capital can be disbursed directly into our customers’ accounts through online banking,” Stone said.

The director also outlined that consultancy services for the owners who express interest in acessing loans are given at no cost to the business owner. Customer care, he added, is very important to the company, as this will in turn attract other SMEs to do business. He added that the newly launched digital platform has received over 100 applications thus far.

When asked, what collateral the business needs in order to qualify for a loan, Stone said a sound business model is all that is needed to qualify for the loan.

Sabga chimed in: “What we observed happening is the small businesses who have transacted business with us, have put other owners on to us, which in turn is helping our business grow. Caring for your customers and giving sound financial advice must be paramount.”

Hassle-free

He added that the limit for a loan is $250,000 but the two companies can treat with loans beyond this amount on a case by case basis. Express Business spoke with two SMEs to get their views on their experience with the new digital platform that has now made accessing loans hassle-free.

Sean Walcott, owner of Club Fitness in Arouca, said he wanted to transform the gym but did not have all the finances.

He said it was his friend who put him on to Stone who then guided him through the process and on what was required. “Stone then came to the location the morning and when I told him my ideas I had for the gym he also gave some advice.

By the afternoon he called me and said to send certain documents and by the next day the loan was approved.”

Walcott said it felt “unreal” as that has never happened with any banks or other financial loan institutions.

“I applied for the SME loan that the Finance Minister announced was available for small businesses during the pandemic and it took up to three months for them to even finalise my documents. When businesses are applying for such loan it’s because its’s an emergency, three months is a ridiculous wait,” Walcott said.

And Karen Balgobin Ramdhanie, marketing manager of A Ram-dhanie Trading expressed similar sentiments.

Trying to secure a loan at a financial institution during the pandemic was a tedious procedure. She said a friend who also knew Sabga and Stone told her to try the new digital platform.

“I got my loan in no time and I have no regrets going with this company. What is seriously lacking in the public sector is proper customer care and ensuring one’s needs are met.

“This company gives advice and also puts you on to other SMEs who may be interested in conducting business with your company,” Ramdhaine added.

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