MSME Spotlight: Oliver Sabga, CEO, Term Finance
TSTT Corporate Communications
Tell us about your business…
Term Finance is a completely web-based lending business, totally focused on providing responsible credit to employees and small-medium size businesses (SMEs).
Before entering the market, we surveyed thousands of employees and SMEs and found that this segment of the credit market was underserved and underappreciated. Term Finance entered the market to provide a solution to this problem.
With a small capital injection and just two employees, we started beta testing our service in Trinidad and Tobago in 2015. Five years later, we are live and lending in T&T, Barbados, Jamaica, Guyana and St. Lucia.
What role does technology play in your business?
We operate a 100% web-based business model, so technology is at the centre of what we do. From application all the way through to disbursement and collections, customers are interacting exclusively with Term Finance’s e-portal and digital-only lending team. To date we have successfully serviced over 25,000 loans across the Caribbean, all from our T&T based headquarters, and without a customer ever needing to meet us face-to-face.
How did the COVID-19 pandemic affect your business?
As a web-based business, we were able to continue serving our customers through COVID-19. Out of extra caution, we triggered our Business Continuity plans and implemented a work-from-home policy. From the customer’s perspective, however, nothing changed. Each of our lending team members was set up at home with the same hardware and software that they have access to in the office. We continued lending through COVID-19 and even offered COVID Relief Loans to employees whose incomes were impacted.
Our focus Post-COVID is on continuing to extend compassion and reasonableness to our customers. Some employees’ and SMEs’ incomes are going to be impacted for months to come, and so we must work with each customer to ensure that we craft solutions that are achievable and fit-for-purpose.
What has been your biggest challenge as an MSME?
Term Finance plays in a mature market with really big and experienced competitors. These guys have been around for dozens of years and have been through it all. It’s like a David and Goliath scenario, where technology is to us what David’s sling was to him.
Based on your experience, what is the biggest challenge MSMEs in T&T and the Caribbean face?
The biggest challenge SMEs face is access to capital. Many of the legacy financial institutions claim to have SME-focused services, but the reality is that it costs them more to understand and appreciate SMEs’ business models and credit needs than the business models and credit needs of their larger corporate clients. It’s understandable when you think about it – one mature corporate client can borrow the equivalent amount that would service 5-10 SMEs, so naturally the focus shifts to the big corporate clients, leaving SMEs underserved.
What is one tool/app/service that has transformed your business that you would recommend to an MSME like yours?
MeisterTask is an online task management tool for teams. It’s really easy to use, collaborative, web-based and mobile friendly. It makes it easy and fun for team members to track their progress through tasks and to share their updates with the rest of the team.
What advice would you give to an entrepreneur who is now getting started?
You must have the guts to make it personal. Entrepreneurship is not a side job, it requires 100% commitment, focus, discipline and sacrifice. You will probably almost always struggle to earn as an entrepreneur what you would earn as an employee for your first few years. But once you stay the course and sacrifice through financial prudence and hard work, the reward will come and it will be beautiful.