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How Camino Financial is Using AI to Help Underserved Latinx Entrepreneurs

Camino Financial is the first AI-powered Community Development Financial Institution (“neo-CDFI”) expanding access to credit for underserved Latinx entrepreneurs in the U.S. The company is uniquely positioned to offer affordable loans, combining its proprietary AI technology with access to CDFI designated low-cost capital and resources.

Sean and Kenneth Salas, Founders of Camino Financial

The company is passionate about empowering Latinx entrepreneurs to thrive. Camino financial was originally founded by twin brothers Sean and Kenneth Salas back in 2014. The inspiration came after their mother lost her business when they were 12 years old. “She opened over 20 Mexican restaurants in the Greater Los Angeles area but struggled to manage her business after 25 years. We have since devoted our lives to never leave a small business behind.” said the brothers. 

When it comes to small business owners, they can often be left behind due to a lack of access to capital. This has been a particular issue during the Covid-19 pandemic leaving small businesses left in the lurch. In response to this Camino Financial offers simple and affordable loans to microenterprises that find it difficult to borrow through a bank, establishing long-term financial partnerships with our borrowers helping them build their credit and graduate to lower interest rate loans. They have also produced the largest bilingual content hub to empower Latinx entrepreneurs to thrive and graduate into lower-cost, longer-term credit products. 

Utilising AI

Camino Financial has built data infrastructure and ML models around its Luna.ai backend platform. Luna.ai has a cloud-based infrastructure and is integrated with third-party solutions so it can scale without compromising data governance, compliance and security. 

“Luna.ai hosts the largest proprietary data set of the Latinx market including sales & marketing data, credit performance and payment behaviour. We use this data to build ML models that enable us to reduce our customer acquisition costs, reduce credit default risk, offer more competitive loan terms, and further automate operational workflows,” said Sean and Kenneth.

“Furthermore, Luna.ai hosts a robust business intelligence interface which gives us timely insights to identify market and operational opportunities and risks. Thus, Luna.ai is able to provide Latinx business insights to offer best-in-class financial services to the New Mainstream Latinx Economy while increasing customer retention and lifetime value, offer higher approval rates and lower customer acquisition costs, lower credit defaults, and yield higher performance.”

Luna.AI enables the company to reveal previously hidden insights, accelerating a greater analysis of their customer market and determining demands as well as the identification of business hindrances. The data used to achieve this analysis is varied, with the most valuable data used is the loan application and credit performance data that is highly concentrated among first-generation Latinx immigrants who operate an established business. While their businesses are established, about %0% of applicants and borrowers are undocumented, and so they use their individual tax identification number (ITIN) to pull their credit history and verify their identity. They are also able to pull Experian credit data for all their applicants during the loan process, as well as their personal data from LexisNexis.

They said: “Another unique value driver in our data is the bank transaction data our applicants share with us during the application process. Most lenders (even fintechs) collect pdfs of the bank statements from our target customers. We’ve successfully built a brand that enables us to collect bank data via a third-party called Plaid, which gives us a more reliable and robust set of bank data. We collect the last 6 months of bank transaction data at the application stage, and are able to refresh the bank data as long as the applicant’s login credentials have not been changed. 

“The combination of the Experian, LexisNexis, Plaid and loan payment data give us an opportunity to fuel our marketing, credit and operational models, which are critical to scaling our business models and increasing profitability.”

The Impact on Underserved businesses

Camino Financial lends to underserved and underbanked businesses that operate in low to moderate-income areas, with their target market within Latinx small business owners. According to them, to lend to this market you must be extremely efficient and tech up, even where many assumed it’s not doable. 

“We use a combination of standard underwriting techniques AI and ML Models and integrated systems to evaluate our clients in income and history even when not readily available through a more traditional approach like the credit bureau tax returns, etc. Being data-driven using our Luna.ai technology has helped build insights within this cohort to learn how to better serve needs.”

With AI, financial institutions can often have a better understanding of what their customers want and how they want to do their banking. 

“Historically, traditional lenders have found it difficult to look into the smallest microenterprises and gauge their creditworthiness. With the help of AI, we will have the ability to make agile decisions that will shape the needs of the Fintech industry into the future,” they said. 

“While many might view AI as a human replacement, this technology serves a different purpose. On the contrary, AI can shift traditional business models in terms of allowing risk officers to avoid routine tasks and engage in more complex ones. Ultimately, the real power of AI lies in what you make of it.”

Author

  • Polly is a journalist, content creator and general opinion holder from North Wales. She has written for a number of publications, usually hovering around the topics of fintech, tech, lifestyle and body positivity.

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