Working Towards Rejection

Posted on Posted in La Ceiba Stories

She was pissed. Chilo recounted all the curse words used and how dramatically she reacted to the news. She wouldn’t receive a 4,000 LPS loan like she wanted. Instead we approved her for a 3,000 LPS loan.

Sandy is in her late 20’s. She is skinny with light skin and large facial features. She usually has a stern look about her. She has a husband and an infant son. She works as a cashier at a pharmacy and her husband works full-time. They bought their land and built their home themselves. Sandy’s situation is significantly different from that of a majority of clients.

Sandy is the client who asks the most questions, who scrutinizes our loan program, and me, the most. When I told Sandy about our loan ladder and the three repetitions, she scoffed. “Are you serious!? That seems like a lot to me.”

When a new client wants a loan, we sit down with them to review our Customer Information Packet. In this initial meeting, the goal is to review our loan program, the risks of a loan, and the goals of the client. Most new clients are relatively new to loans. I normally have to make an effort to make the client feel comfortable and at ease. I will disclose my intentions and the purpose of my visit right from the start. I tell clients that I am not there to interrogate or judge them but instead to provide them with information and have a discussion.

None of that was necessary with Sandy. She interrupted me to ask a question after every point on the Information Packet. She asked why we offered such small loans, why we charged such low interest rates, how our interest rate is calculated, where we get our capital, how we could afford our service… she had questions about everything.

Sandy wanted a 4,000 LPS loan as quickly as possible. I was concerned when I asked Sandy what goal she had for a large loan; she didn’t have anything in mind. When Sandy became eligible for a larger loan, we offered her a 3,000 LPS loan instead of the maximum 4,000 LPS loan. When Chilo told Sandy of our decision, she was livid. She rejected the 3,000 LPS loan and stopped communicating with us.

I was impressed at Sandy’s ability to tell us what is on her mind, to call us out when our service or product isn’t good enough, to scrutinize and question without fear, and to be able to walk away from the table. Sandy is an intense, edgy, outspoken woman. She was approaching me from firm ground and a place of confidence. Other clients are easily intimidated, passive, and have trouble speaking up.

Perhaps it was Sandy’s financial situation. She had more education, opportunity, and overall wealth than many other clients. Or perhaps it was innate in her character. I wondered too why this was a virtue, it wasn’t just that Sandy had wealth, it was that she felt free of my expectations, she had power in choosing to work with me or not.

There is an unspoken goal for us: we want to become obsolete. Aid and development exist to serve people in poverty. Our goal should be to accept a day when those are no longer necessary. While this may not happen soon, keeping that goal on the horizon affects the way we approach our work. It reminds us that microfinance isn’t about us; it’s about the client. We should work towards the day when clients find a loan unnecessary not just because they already have the wealth and opportunity they need, but because they have the confidence to be able to tell us that they don’t need us.

In December, a few months after our fall out, I finally reached out to Sandy. I went to the pharmacy where she works. I felt nervous and was worried that she would yell at me or curse at me like she did with Chilo.

We spoke briefly and I apologized for how things ended between us. Calmly, she accepted my apology. I offered her the 4,000 LPS. She declined but said she would think about it.

“I’ll give you a call when I’m ready. Just so you know, I deleted your number but I’ll get it from a neighbor.”

Santiago Sueiro, co-Chair of La Ceiba MFI (www.santiagosueiro.com)
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