Small bank launches green loans with help from fintech

Virginia Community Capital Bank in Richmond is rewarding the clean energy loan program it started five years ago. But as a small community development finance institution, it lacked the resources to find socially minded depositors on the scale it wanted to fund its solar loans.

Ando, ​​a challenger bank that focuses on sustainability, finds them instead.

With help from fintech Ando, ​​Virginia Community Capital Bank has already provided $ 7 million in solar loans this year to entities such as charter schools, churches and nonprofits, Bill said. Greenleaf, head of the bank’s mortgage lending team and responsible for clean energy lending.

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San Diego fintech has the attributes of a typical neobank: no monthly fees, early direct deposit, and interest rates that increase in exchange for referrals. But its mission is to finance clean energy, sustainable agriculture, and other green loans from partner banks, including Virginia Community Capital, with assets of $ 233 million (which comes under the VCC name) is the first.

“At VCC, I’ve always dreamed of matching impact-conscious deposit customers directly with the solar loans we make,” said Bill Greenleaf, head of the bank’s mortgage team and head of mortgage lending. ‘clean energy. “We just don’t have the technological infrastructure or the marketing resources to find individual depositors who want to focus on clean energy. “

The program is relatively small and the partnership formed by Ando and VCC is rare, but they highlight the creative ways that financial institutions – even the smallest – can find to support growth and attract a new generation of socially conscious customers.

“You see more grassroots efforts to make the retail consumer understand that he has more options and that, especially when it comes to climate issues, he can do something positive even with his checking account. “said Lauren Compere, Managing Director of Boston Common Asset Management, an environmental firm. conscious investment firm.

Banks are already taking steps to decarbonize their portfolios and help investors identify sustainable options. Recently merged bank reinforced its commitment to social and environmental values; Citizens Financial Group and MUFG Union Bank have announced deposit products for their corporate clients, where the funds will go to environmentally friendly projects. But the partnership between a physical bank and a fintech in this space is unique, Compere said.

“I think we’ll see more models like this,” she said. “The emphasis is on attracting customers who want more transparency on the use of their bank deposits. Customers also want to feel like they have an impact on their banking relationships as a whole.

Small regional banks may find it easier to take advantage of local networks and be more intentional in their lending.

VCC sources its borrowers from a network of solar installers who direct them to businesses, such as wineries or manufacturing companies, typically in the District of Columbia, North Carolina, or Virginia. The bank then takes out and closes the loan, after which Ando will make a deposit equal to that amount.

Greenleaf wishes to lend to projects with a social impact. One example is Solar for All, a DC government initiative to provide low to moderate income families with locally produced energy.

With Ando’s help, Greenleaf hopes to double the clean energy loans it makes this year. So far, he has made $ 7 million in solar loans for entities such as charter schools, churches, and nonprofits.

“Having a dedicated funding source helps us keep up with the growth of the solar lending space,” he said.

He is also looking for ways to promote this partnership.

“I started doing this with a few clients – ‘Your loan was funded by a deposit through this new fintech called Ando, ​​and they are collecting deposits from retail consumers across the country,'” he said. he declares. “My clients are quite enthusiastic about this. “

Ando founder and CEO JP McNeill said his family had made lasting lifestyle changes like switching to electric cars and cutting back on meat in their diets, but they were troubled by the idea that “our money was working against us,” McNeill said. “We realized that the bank can be a force for good.”

The name Ando is a Spanish term meaning “the path” or “the walk”.

“The idea being that there is a new way of doing something that people take for granted,” McNeill said.

The challenger bank partnered with VCC in March, operated in beta until April, and began marketing its product in May. McNeill will not disclose the number of customers, but says Ando is onboarding more than 5,000 customers per month and has seen 15% customer growth month over month. About half of its clients come from referrals. A more recent addition to its growth strategy is its partnership with climber Alex Honnold, who will promote Ando and sustainable banking on social media and create his own initiatives with Ando.

McNeill’s goal is to align Ando with other community and regional banks and credit unions across the country to fund sustainable loans. Since entering into his partnership with Virginia Community Capital, Ando has signed agreements with three other banks. It allows the financial institution to identify and take out loans, after which Ando will communicate to its clients how their money is reducing emissions.

Pie charts in the Ando app show customers where their money is currently going with the VCC partnership (84% to commercial loans for clean energy and 16% to residential loans) and detail Ando’s future financing plans, Which are evenly split between clean energy, sustainable transport, green buildings, sustainable industry, and sustainable agriculture and forestry. Case studies on Ando’s website detail the Virginia Veterinary Clinic, California Schools, and other entities that benefit.

“The idea is for the consumer to understand how they are involved in this whole process,” McNeill said.

“I like the level of transparency provided,” said Compere. “I think demand will increase for impact metrics that show how your deposit is being allocated.” As more and more partnerships emerge, another level of transparency can be demanded: certification by a third party that monitors impact and expected results.

For now, Ando will make money from interchange revenue and off-grid ATM fees. McNeill said he plans to launch other income-generating products in the future.