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Financial Services Profile: Ray Vadalma

Chief Credit Officer Valley Economic Development Center Sherman Oaks Ray Vadalma oversees all loan processing for the VEDC, a nonprofit small business lender. The organization has lent around $400 million in guaranteed and direct loans to businesses that are mostly owned by women and minorities. Vadalma also serves as chief executive at VEDC. Approach to Customer Service: We are in a very competitive service industry, so showing a sense of urgency is imperative, especially when dealing with entrepreneurs who have enormous responsibilities and very little time. Every customer has a unique way of running their business, and we try very hard to provide them with helpful, responsive service. Most Difficult Part of the Lending Process: We are dealing with clients who have often been turned down by banks. With that in mind, our lending personnel need to find ways to meet our clients’ needs while at the same time making loans that allow us to continue serving the community. Unlike banks that have deposits, we borrow money from financial institutions to make loans. Additionally, our clients are small businesses that do not necessarily have the same resources as larger companies, so the challenge is to obtain enough financial information to enable us to make reasonable credit decisions.  Overcoming Objections/Problems: We provide technical assistance programs free of charge that cover a wide array of subjects such as how to create a business plan, preparing to buy a business, assistance in accessing capital, etc. Handling Difficult Customers: Anytime you are dealing with money, there is the chance you will have an issue develop affecting both the borrower and the creditor. Since we are not regulated like a commercial bank, we have more flexibility to work with our clients and meet their immediate financial needs. However, every good relationship is a two-way street. If we run into situations where the client and VEDC cannot agree, we attempt to refer them to someone who can better serve them, or we will enforce our remedies to protect our lender’s funds. Many complaints are handled with a phone call and resolved quickly, with positive feedback. Do Customers Prefer In-Person, Phone or Email Communication? Generally, all of the above. VEDC is very interactive, and we encourage our borrowers to be as well. The first interaction for a small business loan from VEDC is usually with one of our business development officers. They meet with the client face-to-face, to gather financial information and fully understand the basis of the loan request, and also to visit their place of business. Regardless of the type of business, credit is credit, and we need to understand what the money will be used for, and how the customer intends to repay the loan. Once the loan is made it is more likely that future contacts will be done by either phone or email. Email has become an acceptable way of doing business with most clients, but we also understand how important a phone call can be to our business community. Most Common Complaints: We cannot approve every loan request, which can be disappointing. Aside from that, the most common complaint is the amount of time it takes to process a loan. Over the last few months we have instituted new procedures to obtain more information during the application period, so that we can come to a preliminary decision quickly. Even though no one likes being declined for a loan, most would rather know that decision early in the process. Favorite Experience With Customer Service: VEDC recently received a grant from the Tory Burch Foundation in association with Bank of America. An event was held at the Getty Museum to recognize women entrepreneurs, and VEDC was fortunate enough to be recognized as the local CDFI lending partner. The event included a panel discussion and on the panel of four was Ruth Garcia-Corrales, the director of VEDC’s Los Angeles Women’s Business Center, and one of our clients, Toni Ricci, the owner of Elite Dance and Performing Arts. Although I am not objective, in my opinion they stole the show – especially Toni. She gave a very factual but amusing recap of how she started her dance studio, the difficulties she overcome and ultimately how it has become a successful business today. She was very complimentary of VEDC’s support and service, but in the end it was she who built her business to be great. Advice on Customer Service: A good CEO knows that without customers you do not have a business. The customer is king. – Stephanie Bedolla

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