Small loans company Money Express, a FirstBank sister operation, is marking 20 years of doing business in Puerto Rico, where it commands a 22 percent market share with a $104 million loan portfolio.
Company executives said Wednesday that despite the tough economy, Money Express will push forward with expansion plans that call for opening several new branches and extending its reach via online tools.
“Since its inception, Money Express has experienced healthy growth within the small loan industry. We were in fifth position five years ago, but today we are in a solid second place due to measures that strengthened our financial structure,” said Carlos Power, president of Money Express Corporation.
Puerto Rico’s small loans industry has been shrinking over the past decade, when more than 20 such companies were in operation, generating $2 billion in transactions. The number is down to about five at present, with Island Finance leading the sector that is just shy of producing $1 billion for the economy, Power said.
“We’ve had to make decisions over the years and make adjustments in line with Puerto Rico’s economic reality. When Citi Financial, Popular Finance and Commoloco closed, it created opportunities for us,” said Reynaldo Padilla, Money Express’ general manager.
Money Express has 180 employees across 27 branches, a call center and a collections center. The company has 31,000 active personal loans ranging from $150 to $5,000 and from $5,000.01 to $15,000 through its Prestamás product. The company’s customer profile is split between retirees — which account for about 40 percent of the portfolio — and salaried, blue-collar workers.
“During our 20 years of doing business, we have granted more than 540,000 loans representing an economic impact of more than $1.6 billion,” said Padilla.
He added that the closure of the former competitors “left market segments unattended, which encouraged us to consider opening new branches and relocating others, to be more accessible to these customers.”
That process began in November 2014 with the opening of a Money Express branch in Caguas. In coming weeks, it will be relocating its Cayey branch to the Montellano Mall. New branches entail an average investment of between $175,000 and $225,000 and create four or five new jobs, said Power.
Because the company does not plan to have physical presence in all 78 municipalities, it is expanding other channels through which it can do business, the executive said.
“At Money Express we continue to build up our products and services portfolio. We are able to renew our clients’ loans and disburse the funds immediately, while they visit our branch. Furthermore, we improved the efficiency through our alternate service channels, expanding their choices, as they can make loan payments by phone or direct online debit, from the comfort of their home, all especially designed for our customers’ convenience,” said Power.
In line with these services, Money Express launched its new website that allows customers to access a menu with information of branch services, locations and telephone numbers. Consumers can provide their information online, to be contacted by the branch of their preference. It also provides a calculator to estimate loan payments.
“This is very important. Nonetheless, we must acknowledge that what sets us apart as a brand is the quality of service provided by our employees and the speedy disbursement of our loans,” said Padilla, adding on average, customers can complete the loan application and disbursement process in about two hours.
“We continue to develop strategies that allow us to provide the best possible service aligned with those population segments with special financial needs,” said Padilla.
This month, Money Express kicks off its 20th anniversary celebration with a multi-media advertising push under the “Antes y Ahora” theme that seeks to evoke the company’s performance, which is anchored on offering a quick solution to the consumers’ financial needs.
“The concept developed for print and digital media, highlights the fact that our financial needs to cover expenses remain the same and though many things change during the course of 20 years, others do not, an example of this is Money Express, that is always there to help find a solution for the consumer. As part of this promotion, we will launch a contest where customers can win TVs, mini iPads and a car, with their loan disbursement,” said Antonio Pertiñez, senior vice president of marketing and public relations at FirstBank, adding the company will invest about $500,000 in the campaign.