Fayetteville-based Arvest Bank on Thursday (Jan. 12) revealed details of a new financing mechanism for small businesses that don’t meet bank lending policy requirements.
According to a press release, Arvest Opportunity Fund is a wholly owned non-banking subsidiary that provides loans and lines of credit. Hillis Schild, based in Little Rock and with more than 30 years of banking experience, is the CEO.
“We are committed to providing opportunities through access to credit and financial education to all groups in the markets we serve,” Arvest Bank President and CEO Kevin Sabin said in a statement. “This includes those who do not have enough resources. In addition to being the right way to do business, we believe Arvest Opportunity Fund’s efforts are critical to the economic health, stability and security of the communities we serve.”
According to the release, Arvest Opportunity Fund loan recipients must receive financial education training 12 months after funding. The financial education program, delivered by professional educators and community partners, is designed to improve the financial standing of recipients to the point where they can meet traditional bank lending standards.
Candidates for the Arvest Opportunity Fund are determined when the loan application is submitted to Arvest Bank online or in person. The applicant chooses to be considered by the Arvest Opportunity Fund. If the applicant’s credit file does not meet the requirements of the bank’s credit policy, the application is automatically reviewed by Arvest Opportunity Fund for consideration.
After a beta market test in mid-2022, the Arvest Opportunity Fund launched in August in Arvest’s four-state footprint. As of January 6, the Arvest Opportunity Fund has delivered more than $1.2 million in small business loans.
Schild’s background includes 17 years in community development banking. She serves on the board or advisory boards for the Arkansas Access to Justice Foundation, the Arkansas Coalition for Housing and Neighborhood Growth and Empowerment, and the Arkansas Asset Funders Network, among other civic endeavors.
“We know that underbanked business owners often rely on financial services that may address an immediate need but do not contribute to their overall and long-term financial health,” Schild said in a statement. “The Arvest Opportunity Fund is intended to serve as a bridge to provide financial and educational assistance that gives these business owners full access to the products and services they need to grow and prosper their businesses.”
Eileen Jennings of Fayetteville is director of community lending and investment for Arvest Opportunity Fund. For almost 20 years, she worked in various jobs at Arvest Bank, mostly as a commercial banker working together with small business owners. She was named Commercial Banker of the Year by the Central Arkansas Chapter of the Risk Management Association and Business Advocate of the Year by the Fayetteville Chamber of Commerce.
Jennings is a board member for the Northwest Arkansas Land Trust and RMI Inc. The latter is a certified development company based in Jefferson City, Missouri that makes SBA 504 loans to businesses in Arkansas, Kansas, Missouri and parts of Illinois.
“Nothing about these companies that we’re trying to help is small,” Jennings said. “Not only are these huge undertakings for the people who run them, but they are vital to all the communities we serve.
“Our goal at Arvest is to have conversations with these owners not only to discover their financial obstacles and how we can solve them, but to surround them with a group of trusted advisors. Adding trained financial coaches and educators to that group increases the owner’s prospects for long-term success.”
Other Arvest Opportunity Fund staff include Rob Keys, senior manager of education and communications, and loan officer Martha Huerta.