Fayetteville-chartered Arvest Bank disclosed details Thursday (Jan. 12) of a new funding mechanism for small businesses that fall below bank loan policy requirements.
According to a news release, the Arvest Opportunity Fund is a wholly owned non-bank subsidiary providing loans and lines of credit. Hillis Schild, based in Little Rock and has more than 30 years of banking experience, is the executive director.
“We are committed to bringing opportunity through access to lending and financial education to all groups in the markets we serve,” Arvest Bank President and CEO Kevin Sabin said in a statement. “That includes the underbanked. In addition to being the right way to do business, we believe the efforts of the Arvest Opportunity Fund are crucial 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 coaching for 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 eventually meet traditional bank lending standards.
Arvest Opportunity Fund candidates are determined when a loan application is submitted to Arvest Bank online or in person. The applicant opts in for consideration from the Arvest Opportunity Fund. If the applicant’s credit file does not meet the bank’s loan policy requirements, the application is automatically reviewed by the Arvest Opportunity Fund for consideration.
After beta market testing in mid-2022, the Arvest Opportunity Fund was launched across Arvest’s four-state footprint in August. As of Jan. 6, the Arvest Opportunity Fund has delivered more than $1.2 million in small business loans.
Schild’s experience includes 17 years in community development banking. She is on the board of directors or advisory committees for the Arkansas Access to Justice Foundation, Arkansas Coalition for Housing and Neighborhood Growth and Empowerment, and Arkansas Asset Funders Network, among other civic endeavors.
“We know that underbanked business owners often rely on financial services that may put a patch on an immediate need, but do not contribute to their overall and long-term financial health,” Schild said in the release. “The Arvest Opportunity Fund is intended to serve as a bridge to provide financial and educational assistance that allows these business owners to fully access the products and services they need to make their business grow and thrive.”
Eileen Jennings of Fayetteville is the director of community lending and investment for the Arvest Opportunity Fund. She has worked in various roles for nearly 20 years at Arvest Bank, most notably as a commercial banker working alongside small business owners. She has been 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, Mo., that delivers SBA 504 Loans to businesses in Arkansas, Kansas, Missouri and parts of Illinois.
“Nothing about these businesses we are trying to help is small,” Jennings said. “Not only are they huge undertakings for the people running 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 hurdles and how we can help clear those, but to surround them with a group of trusted advisors. Adding trained financial coaches and educators to that group increases the owners’ chances for long-term success.”
Other Arvest Opportunity Fund staff are Rob Keys, senior manager of education and communication, and loan assistant Martha Huerta.