May 29, 2023

Lee-Chin Jr sows his own financial seeds

Michael Lee-Chin Jr has ventured into an online business that offers loans to unbanked people and others who have challenges getting credit.

Lee-Chin Jr, son of investor and bank owner Michael Lee-Chin, has joined forces with banking and finance veteran Andrew Patterson and technology and communications professional Adrian Dunkley for a start-up called Seed Investments.

Since May 2022, the trio has been testing technology that supports comprehensive digital microfinance operations and dealing with regulators.

Lee-Chin Jr, the eldest of three brothers, says he has no stake in his father’s multibillion-dollar financial empire, which includes NCB Financial Group, Jamaica’s largest banking conglomerate.

In an interview Accountant he admitted that his company is venturing into the NCB-dominated market of lending, but said he accepts his grandmother’s saying that “there is room under the sun for everyone to shine”.

He also stated that he has the support of his father in charting his own path.

“I have never had anything to do with the NCB group. I have always avoided the family business,” Lee-Chin Jr said.

As for the development of Seed Investments, he said that in January he began researching Nubank, a digital banking company run by billionaire David Valez, and eventually discovered that while there were many financial institutions, there were none in the online space.The focus was bank collateral.

“I thought to myself, it’s really something where I can help people, especially people outside of the banking system,” he said.

The immediate idea was to take the company to Africa, which has a larger population and therefore greater growth opportunities, but Lee-Chin Jr decided to come to Jamaica first, where he has connections and access to resources. He then posted a vague LinkedIn ad that simply said, “Jamaican Banker Wanted,” which drew many responses, including from the tellers.

Lee-Chin Jr said that after several interviews, Andrew Patterson proved to be a good fit because he came with experience in the financial markets and ran his own microfinance operation. They then teamed up with Adrian Dunkley, a data scientist and head of Starapple’s analytics business. Lee-Chin Jr owns 51 percent of Seed Investments and his two partners each 24.5 percent.

Lee-Chin Jr says he has invested $3 million in the startup. The money is proceeds from the sale of property he owns in Jamaica and savings.

– I put the proceeds into the launch of this company with the idea that I am going to build this company and make it profitable, which will attract potential investors to grow more. The first step is Jamaica, and the next step is the Caribbean, he said.

Inquiring about the meaning of the name “Seed”, Lee-Chin Jr said that after researching several names, he received divine inspiration during morning prayers. “I really see this company as an ’empire’ company; one that’s going to be here for a long time. Profits are good when they come, but they’re a byproduct of doing good. That’s why we’re here,” he said.

Seed investments are aimed at people who do not find it easy to get financing or who would otherwise have difficulty getting the necessary support for their projects.

“Our customers are everyone, but I really have a soft spot for the underprivileged, the unbanked and the underbanked,” Lee-Chin Jr said, adding that a key difference with Seed is that the company doesn’t look at credit history to find out. loan approvals.

“We don’t look at your past. We have our data scientists with our special scripts where based on the questions we ask you, we have a better picture of you than if you were coming into a bank,” he added.

The company relies on data analytics to assess the risk of potential customers. Loan processing is handled by mobile phone or Wi-Fi compatible devices. The process will be completely digital from application to approval to disbursement of funds.

Seed Investments launched on Monday, October 24, but is not yet able to issue loans as it is still awaiting approval from the Bank of Jamaica.

The central bank, which has recently taken over the supervision of small credit institutions, requires a business license from all new and existing operators.

Lee-Chin Jr says his company will focus on customer engagement and marketing for now until the loans are approved.

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