One of the favorite stories I love to share comes up when I introduce lending to new hires in my job at the credit union. I make the story fit my curriculum at work but I’ll share with you what really happened.
A guy, I’m just going to call him Mike, came in to get a loan. The thing was, Mike saw me often to get a loan but I was never able to give him one. Mike had a good job but had made some poor financial choices in the past and held more debt than any man ever should. I knew that every month it was likely he needed to make the decision to eat or pay his bills. I just wasn’t able to do anything for him that wouldn’t make his situation worse.
A lot goes into the measure of a man. Mike could just never say no to his family. The repeated loan requests were always for the benefit of his wife or daughter and never about him. One beautiful spring day he came into my office and sat heavily in the chair across my desk. He had been crying. I acted as if I hadn’t noticed. He needed fifty bucks to get him through to payday because his daughter had been invited to Prom. His wife and daughter would make a dress. He was certain she would be the most beautiful girl at the prom… if he could only get his hands on fifty bucks… to buy a bit of cloth.
Everything about this loan was wrong. Credit worthiness, capacity to repay and the loan fell below my minimum loan requirements. I made the loan. You might ask why I didn’t just hand the guy fifty but I knew he wouldn’t have accepted it that way. I set him up for a ninety day note and by the time you add up the cost of toner, the documents, the statements and the data processing expenses it was a loser of a deal no matter what interest rate I would have charged him. But sometimes doing business isn’t about making the best deal.. Sometimes doing business is affording another a little dignity and that is what this was about. As the papers came out of my printer and I spun them for a signature I noticed Mike sitting taller and looking about ten years younger.
I have made some good loans in my day. College loans, vacation loans, wedding loans, car loans and home loans. Few things are better than handing a check to someone to make their dreams come true. That being said, no loan ever gave me more satisfaction than handing over that fifty dollar loan draft on that beautiful spring day. We locked eyes and shook hands. A lot can be communicated through a handshake when you look a man in the eye. I think I never saw more resolve and gratitude than in that moment. Still, no matter Mike’s intention at that point, I had assumed that I would pay off this loan before it went delinquent. I never had to. I’ve heard people brag about making the best deals, the biggest deals and so many deals, believe me, I’m just not impressed. I want to know what’s in a man’s heart. If he works hard and struggles for others then I’m impressed.
I got lucky on that loan. I explained it to my board and they weren’t happy but they trusted that my heart was in the right place. We need more of that these days. There are times when leading with your heart is the right thing to do. Oh! And Mike came back after prom and showed me pictures. My favorite was the one where he stood tall beside his daughter with the look of the proudest father in the history of fatherhood apparent in his smile. It’s likely his daughter was the most beautiful girl at the prom.