Lender plans launch of larger loan offering to help migrants get economically active more quickly

UK-based lender Oakam (www.oakam.com) today reported it has seen demand for its services soar among new arrivals to the UK who find it difficult to borrow from banks.

In the last six months, the company has seen loan applications from customers for whom English is not their first language surge by 40%. This growing demand mirrors a rise in the number of new arrivals to the UK – according to the Office for National Statistics, 636,000 migrants came to live in Britain in the 12 months to the end of March1.

Oakam has underwritten 156,000 loans to new migrants to the UK since 2007, equating to more than £130m. An analysis of these loans showed more than 25,000 were directly used by new arrivals to pay for things like specialist trade tools, formal work wear or basic equipment to help them start a business. Oakam is also now seeing more requests for loans to purchase larger items, such as work vans, or for deposits on office space. The company plans to offer larger loans, of more than £5,000, to fulfil this this demand from 2016.

Oakam was founded by FrederikNze, himself a Congolese migrant, after he recognised a need to help those without a bank account to access credit in the UK.The UK banking system excludes millions of people in the UK – in particular, recent arrivals to the country. This group is vulnerable because they have no credit history, little understanding of how UK financial products work (e.g. the need for a credit check) and often come up against language barriers.

Oakam founder and CEO, Frederic Nze said, “Just because you don’t have a credit history, it doesn’t mean you don’t need credit. Most migrants we work with want to get economically productive as quickly as possible, either by working for themselves or as employees. They often need credit to invest in the things they need to kickstart their career and we’re there to help them do that.”

The Oakam news follows recently published research from social enterprise This Foreigner Can, which revealed migrant entrepreneurs are being hit by a lack of access to funding in the UK.  The study revealed that 61% said that obtaining finance was the biggest obstacle to setting up their business. They are typically held back by not having sufficient credit history in the UK to qualify for traditional start-up loans and business funding.

Breaking down language barriers

Oakam’s growth has been based on the company’s ability to provide a financial lifeline to new arrivals to the UK, giving them access to affordable credit when no one else will help them. Oakam also helps migrants find a route to mainstream credit.

The company operates 22 stores across London and the Midlands, supported by an online enquiry system and a telephone based Virtual Store which serves the entire UK. Oakam staff come from all over the world and speak 27 languages including English, Polish, Portuguese, Spanish, French, Romanian, Filipino, Swahili Lingala and Yoruba. This helps removes language barriers and builds genuine long-term and trusting relationships with people from different communities.

Going digital

After seven years of collecting and analysing the human insights that drive responsible borrowing and payment behaviours Oakam is now transferring its analogue knowledge to the digital world. The company recently launched a new smartphone app. Unlike other loan apps, which focus on customer acquisition, Oakam’s app allows current customers to track their payments, balance and how much money they owe. In this way, the app will help borrowers to meet repayments and give them more control over their loans. Additional features of the app allow customers to call a customer advisor direct and view personal loan details.

Nze said, “At Oakam we’re committed to addressing the needs of the under-banked ethically and sustainably, with a digitally-led solution that is fit for the 21st century. The launch of our first app is the exciting first step – by giving our customers more control over their loans we’re helping them manage their finances effectively. Continual digital innovation over the next 12 months will mean we can confidently expand the reach of our services across the UK and the rest of the world.

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