Community Partner Highlight: James H. Bason, President, TruFund Financial Services
1. How long has TruFund Financial Services been in the business of helping small businesses?
“The genesis of our organization really started in the aftermath of 9/11, where we began to secure grant dollars and private capital to support those small businesses impacted by the tragedy of 9/11. At this time, our former parent company, Seedco, generated a loan fund, which became Seedco Financial Services. For the first several years of our existence we were a loan fund within Seedco and our legal standing was as a separate non-profit 501(c)(3). We became a completely independent non-profit Community Development Financial Institution (CDFI) in July 2012, and rebranded to our new name, TruFund Financial Services, just this past June.”
“We make small business loans to businesses that are unable to obtain traditional financing. Our primary focus is to help economic development in low- to moderate-income (LMI) communities by providing affordable capital and technical assistance. Our principal lending region is Metro New York, which is where we are headquartered, and we also have operations in Southeast Louisiana, principally based out of New Orleans, as well as central Alabama, specifically headquartered out of Birmingham.”
2. What’s been your organization’s biggest hurdle in achieving its goals of aiding small businesses?
“Part of the challenges that we face is around making the small business community aware of the services that we provide. We provide access to capital when these small businesses are declined from traditional sources and we want them to realize that there is a true alternative to credit card financing, in addition to the technical support we provide. Our challenge is around getting acknowledgement and helping small business get an understanding of what we do as a CDFI.”
“We are essentially a boutique lender and there are times that people may compare us to banks, because we understand the banking model around small business. It’s important for them to know that we are not a bank, nor do we compete with banks. Banks are conventional sources of capital. If people approach us and have the ability to apply and obtain bank financing, we will send them there. We are really geared to work with people who are in an evolutionary and transitional mode where they are not quite ready for bank financing. We are here when necessary to provide capital, as well as the knowledge based services to help people improve their business operation models.”
3. Describe any major accomplishments for your organization over the last year.
“In July 2012, we separated from our parent company, Seedco Financial and have undergone a rebranding as a result of the separation. We feel it was an opportunity for us to take the next step to evolve the organization, and to be more effective in terms of our mission and purpose.”
“This year we are approved to become an SBA Community Advantage lender and we are very much excited about that. This is an opportunity for us to partner with NYBDC, as they are going to provide servicing and underwriting for our Community Advantage loans through Prudent Lenders.”
“The organization has come a long way from becoming a loan fund after 9/11 to creating a formal legal structure, to having a completely new brand name and look. This has enabled us to really create a new level of impact and we are proud of that.”
4. What are the key strategic goals for your organization over the next year?
“We are going to continue to build out our lending platform around more government guaranteed type-lending programs, such as the Community Advantage program. We’re looking to continue to embrace other forms of credit enhancements to allow us to be more effective in reaching those constituents, such as those businesses in low-income communities. That is what our mission charters around and is where we aim to focus our activities.”
“In addition, this will give us the opportunity to expand upon our existing platforms into additional borrower segments and geographic areas, such as Long Island and Northern New Jersey. We have a presence in Birmingham, Alabama and we are looking into a number of initiatives throughout the state, as well as in Louisiana, where we are looking to launch programs to continue to support fisherman who are still recovering from the disasters on the Gulf Coast.”
5. What should a small business entrepreneur know about TruFund Financial Services?
“Whenever a small business owner is really looking for an opportunity to either stabilize or grow their business, either through accessing capital or knowledge support and hasn’t been able to find those resources in more conventional models, they should look toward engaging us in conversation.”
“Whereas small business owners perhaps have been decline by a traditional lender, but really believe in their business and they’re willing to put in the hard work, they should know that when they commit to us, we commit to them. Whether we can provide a resource directly or there is someone that we can point them to within our network, we’re always there for people who are willing to put in the effort. We are more than a loan, we are an opportunity.”
“One of our ongoing priorities for this year, considering we’ve recently rebranded, is to engage all of our communities and partners to make sure that they are aware that we are still committed to our mission. The only significant changes are our name and our look and we’ve done so because we believe we have an expansion opportunity, a chance for people to see us anew and to expand our reach.”
6. Where can they get more information about TruFund Financial Services?
Online at http://www.trufund.org/
7. Describe your partnership with NYBDC and why it is instrumental to your organization achieving its mission.
“Once we became TruFund, we began to reestablish a relationship between this organization and NYBDC. When TruFund was selected by the SBA to be a Community Advantage Program participant, the challenge around building out the operations to support that lending activity can be daunting. I knew that I had a very strong partner in NYBDC given their breath of experience in SBA lending. For me, it made natural sense to partner with them and allow them to provide their services for us.”
“We continue to look for ways to work collectively with NYBDC. There is still a space for us to continue to work with NYBDC around strategies that can affect the New York City marketplace jointly, rather than either one of us doing it independently.”