Where Are the U.S. Borrowers?
If you’re a Kiva lender hoping to make a loan in the good ol’ USA, you may have trouble finding a borrower. Kiva loans from the U.S. are funded quickly—within 4 or 5 days, sometimes overnight—despite being larger than international loans. If you see one that is fundraising, jump on it! It may be gone by tomorrow.
At Opportunity Fund, Kiva’s partner in the Bay Area, I help the marketing team interview borrowers and post loans to Kiva. This summer our pipeline of potential Kiva loans slowed down to a trickle. In a visit to ACCION USA in New York last week, I learned of a similar falloff in Kiva loans.
What’s behind Kiva’s U.S. loan shortage?
For starters, not every U.S. client is appropriate for Kiva. Kiva requires loans from the United States to be $10,000 or less. Both Opportunity Fund and ACCION make loans much higher than that (although the average is around $7,000).
The client must also be willing to sign a waiver allowing their image to be published on the Kiva website. It’s not always easy to convince an American borrower to agree to this. When they decline, it’s generally for one of three reasons: a) Unspecified privacy concerns; b) Camera shyness; or c) They don’t want to be associated with poverty.
Another reason behind the U.S. loan shortage: there aren’t enough qualified loan applicants overall. While there are many people in the U.S. who want loans, not everyone is likely to pay them back. The small business team at Opportunity Fund works hard to separate the wheat from the chaff using a combination of traditional and alternative measures. Their loan application process, while simpler and faster than a bank’s, requires applicants to provide business and personal tax returns from the past two years and a year-to-date profit and loss statement.
It is no easy task to find underbanked business owners who will make reliable borrowers. This is why the clients who DO qualify for a loan and make it onto Kiva are so special.
My favorite U.S. borrowers thus far:
Casey Koppelson is a Kiva Fellow (KF12) at Opportunity Fund in the United States.