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From millions to microfinance

Murray McLaren
Posted March 15, 2017

Murray McLaren has gone from a banker loaning millions to giving out microfinance loans through The Salvation Army in South Auckland and he couldn’t be happier.

I worked for BNZ for 38 years, I got quite senior in the bank, managing loans. About 14 years ago I became a Christian and my whole world changed. The upside-down model of Jesus changed my heart and I started getting involved in volunteer work. I volunteered with Victim Support and set up an NGO with social workers, mainly helping people in domestic violence situations.

I saw the Salvation Army Community Finance Loan Worker job advertised and it was the perfect fit of banking and social work.

We help low-income people get low-interest loans up to $5000 or no-interest loans up to $1000 for essential items. It’s a partnership with The Salvation Army, the Ministry of Social Development, BNZ and Good Shepherd.

Previously, my clients borrowed on average $10-15 million each. Now, the maximum a client can borrow is $5000, but my job is much more rewarding. Each week I have probably 60-70 enquiries and I talk to them to sort out who might qualify and set up an interview. They have to go through a check to make sure they can pay back the loan, so it’s ethical lending.

A lot of them have debts with clothing trucks or finance companies. They can be paying $120 a week for loans. When you’re on a benefit of $450 a week, it doesn’t leave much. But with us, the maximum repayments they have are $40 a week.

At BNZ I was aware of these finance companies, but I wasn’t aware of the impact on people—seeing how little they survive on, the stress it puts on them and how many people are impacted. Our loans can help them get a car to get to work or a laptop to go on a course or simply improve their quality of life.

Every person is different and has a different story of why they’ve come to see me. We’ve had Red Cross clients, Syrian refugees and an asylum seeker from Cameroon. I asked her, ‘What would happen if you had to go back to where you came from?’ She said, ‘I would be given to the army’—in other words killed. To play a part, to help them get a loan and get established here feels really good.

It’s not always about giving someone a loan. I can also refer them to other parts of The Salvation Army or another agency, or I pass on budgeting tips. Often they thank me when I say, ‘I can’t give you a loan’, because they can see where they can make changes.

It can be a community effort. We had a mum of four who was living at Women’s Refuge after eight years in a violent relationship. She asked for a loan for a TV so her children could have some entertainment and she could have a break, and also for some dental work because she’d had some teeth knocked out. She couldn’t afford to pay it back, but I called an old BNZ client who donated a TV. Then I spoke to the local dentist who gave her a free check-up and subsidised treatment and we got her a loan to cover the remaining costs.

Another young lady was working with mentors from The Salvation Army’s Family Breakthrough team at Manukau Community Ministries. It was really clear she was taking responsibility for her life and as a result of the changes she made she was able to qualify for a loan for a car. That really encouraged the Family Breakthrough team that they were making a difference—so it was good team work.

FIND OUT MORE | Community Finance Loans  -

by Murray McLaren (c) 'War Cry' magazine, 11 March 2017, pp11
You can read 'War Cry' at your nearest Salvation Army church or centre, or subscribe through Salvationist Resources.