Changing lives, one small loan at a time

Changing lives, one small loan at a time
Frances Ronowicz
Head of Community Finance
3 MIN

BNZ’s Head of Community Finance Frances Ronowicz reflects on some of her team’s work – including issuing low and no-interest loans to more than 2,000 limited-income families and individuals.

I once heard a story about a woman named Sharon*. Thoughtful and capable, she had everything going for her. Except her teeth. Sharon’s unpleasant dental issues affected her health, and her confidence – so much so, she fell into a spiral of depression. In her 20s and employed as a personal assistant, Sharon’s mental health struggles forced her to give up work.

With no other means to pay for dental treatment, Sharon finally struck up the courage to book an interview with a community loan worker. Enveloped by a feeling of hopelessness, she failed to make her initial appointments, but desperation eventually won out.

Soon, a loan was arranged, and Sharon received the treatment she needed for her teeth. Her confidence restored, Sharon was soon back in a job and back on her feet.

It’s stories like these that make my role as Head of Community Finance at BNZ really rewarding. As an organisation, we’ve joined with not-for-profit Good Shepherd to offer low and no-interest personal loans to people just like Sharon. We deliver this service through community loan workers who work for organisations such as Aviva and The Salvation Army, and I’m proud to say what we do makes a real difference to people’s lives.

Those we help don’t meet our main bank credit criteria and are sometimes referred by our customer-facing staff. Although they’re usually good with money, when an unexpected cost comes along they can really struggle. And when they’re desperate and need finance, these customers have traditionally had few options other than to turn to predatory lenders.

Their situation certainly isn’t helped by our housing market. We’re seeing people with half their income going towards rent. This means they have little left over for other essentials – like a car.  That’s where we come in. In fact, close to 70% of the low and no-interest loans we fund are for second-hand cars and car repairs.

But it’s not just about paying for the purchase or upkeep of a physical item. It’s what the loan lets our borrowers do. With a car, you can do a proper supermarket shop. It can help you work longer shifts and be more employable, which can lead to financial benefits.

We’ve also recently partnered with Habitat for Humanity to provide an interest and fee-free line of credit so they can expand their home repair programme. They take a holistic approach with families in need and organise contractors and volunteers to help, as well as loans for house repairs.

If you look around BNZ, you’ll see people involved in our Community Finance programme at lots of different levels. There’s a core team of five, based at head office, with people in Communications, Marketing, Legal, and Collections working on this every day. We also have an advisory board of 10 who help guide and grow the programme. And there are lots of advocates across the business who, off their own back, have offered up their skills in some shape or form.

As a result of our collective efforts, I’m proud to say we’ve lent over $5 million to more than 2,000 families – families we estimate would have paid an extra $2.8 million combined in interest and fees had they borrowed from predatory lenders.

Why do we do it? Because it’s the right thing to do. For me personally, I saw an opportunity to make a difference in people’s lives. I don’t like those who prey on the vulnerable – the loan sharks – and we’re doing what we can to get rid of them in our communities. To provide a second-hand car for the family or a washing machine to a busy parent who would otherwise have to trek to the laundromat is simply life-changing. 

*Sharon’s real name and the story has been changed to protect the identity of the community loan user.

Lending criteria and terms apply. Loans are for approved purposes only (no cash loans).

Any views expressed in this article are the personal views of Frances Ronowicz and do not necessarily represent the views of BNZ, or its related entities.

Frances Ronowicz
Head of Community Finance
As Head of Community Finance, Frances Ronowicz leads BNZ’s fight against loan sharks and other predatory lenders.