In today’s episode of Lending Leaders, Heather Horovitz, the SVP of Community Development, Financial Institutions, and Impact Lending at VyStar Credit Union, joins us to discuss her journey into community development and impact lending. Heather’s transition from being a chef to working in finance might seem like an unlikely path, but it was driven by her passion for strategic planning and the desire to make a difference in her community.
Heather’s journey into finance was unexpected but driven by her desire to make a difference. Growing up in the Bahamas, Heather developed a love for the food industry and pursued a career as a chef. However, she realized that her skills as an executive chef were transferable to other industries, particularly in operations management, diverse staff management, and performing under pressure. This realization led her to pursue an MBA and transition into finance.
Heather’s passion for community and volunteering played a significant role in her decision to join VyStar Credit Union. When the opportunity arose to become a Community Development Financial Institution (CDFI), Heather saw it as a perfect alignment of her work and personal passions. By marrying her expertise in finance with her commitment to community building and wealth creation, Heather found a dream job that allowed her to make a tangible impact.
Heather emphasizes the importance of building community partnerships in community development and impact lending. Creating loan products or programs in isolation is not effective. Instead, financial institutions must actively engage with nonprofits, Community Development Corporations (CDCs), and other organizations on the ground to understand the specific needs and barriers to financial access.
VyStar takes a hands-on approach by having leadership members serve on boards and commissions of various community organizations. This close engagement allows them to listen to their members and community members, understand their challenges, and work collaboratively to develop solutions. By meeting people where they are and supporting existing organizations, financial institutions can have a more significant and lasting impact on their communities.
A common misconception is that community development and impact lending are purely charitable endeavors. However, Heather emphasizes that financial institutions can align their bottom line with their commitment to community development. While profitability is essential, it should not be the sole driver of decision-making. Financial institutions can create member value, support the community, and still generate revenue.
VyStar focuses on member value and the long-term benefits of community development. They understand the importance of providing financial services to underserved areas, helping individuals transition from a cash economy to a banking relationship, and supporting small businesses. By taking a personal approach to lending, providing education and support, and being transparent with their members, VyStar ensures that their impact goes beyond simply closing loans.
Education is a powerful tool in community development. Financial institutions can play a significant role in educating community members about the importance of banking relationships, credit building, and accessing capital. By speaking on panels, engaging with small business centers, and sharing expertise, financial professionals can empower individuals and small businesses to make informed financial decisions.
“Every decision we make as an organization,” Heather insists; “every loan we fund, is changing someone’s life.” The impact of community development and impact lending is tangible and transformative. Financial institutions have a unique opportunity to drive positive change by investing in their communities and helping individuals and businesses build wealth.
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