The aftermath of the Haiti earthquake in 2010. Photo: Reuters

How An Earthquake In Haiti Led One Banker From Wall Street to LendStreet

It took a natural disaster 1,500 miles away from where he was living in New York for R. Jerry Nemorin to upend his Wall Street career and start anew. Five months after the 2010 earthquake that devastated Haiti, killing hundreds of thousands and leaving 1.5 million people without a home, Nemorin visited the country where he was born and raised. At the time, he’d been harboring a business idea for nearly two years, but wasn’t sure whether to leave his finance job — not to mention his six-figure salary — to pursue it.

Growing up in Haiti until he was ten, Nemorin saw intimately the financial struggles of day-to-day life. “Financial distress is something I am very familiar with and have lived through and understand,” he says. “We can do better in creating solutions to get people out of financial distress and help them re-engage the financial system much quicker.”

Nemorin knows this because he’s seen it happen on a far grander scale. During the financial crisis, working in the Global Corporate & Investment Banking division at Bank of America Merrill Lynch, he helped major companies with debt restructuring. “Rather than doing new deals, the focus was on figuring out solutions to help existing businesses navigate through the crisis,” he says. “The primary concern was keeping these companies afloat.”

That’s when a light bulb went on for Nemorin. “If we can do this for these clients, why can’t we take a similar approach for people in distress?” he asked himself. But taking that leap meant leaving the security of a prestigious job for the uncertainty of launching a new business. It was scary. But not nearly as scary, Nemorin quickly realized standing amongst the rubble in Port-au-Prince, as what so many had survived that January in Haiti. “When the earthquake came in 2010, it was a wakeup call for me,” he says. “I went down there and people were putting their lives back together, and living life again. If they could make ends meet, what was I afraid of?”

A Leap of Faith

When Nemorin returned to New York, he quit his job, joined the incubator at his alma mater, University of Virginia’s Darden School of Business, and soon after, founded LendStreet. One of the things Nemorin hoped to change in creating LendStreet was the stigma often associated with customers who default on loans and wind up with bad credit. “It’s unfortunate, but when most people think ‘collections,’ they think ‘deadbeats,’” says Nemorin. “That stigma keeps many people who experience a financial shock from being proactive and seeking solutions out of fear of being judged. We’ve found that most people have the intent to pay, they just don’t have the full capacity required by their current debt load.”

The typical LendStreet customer is someone who has run into unexpected financial difficulty, be it a health emergency, accident, or family crisis that created a financial burden too big to pay off. “These are customers who historically have good credit and experienced a financial shock,” says Nemorin. “They are looking for a solution to manage their existing situation effectively.”

That’s where LendStreet comes in. The company works much in the way debt restructuring worked for large companies during the financial crisis. “Let’s say I’m the bank and you owe me $10,000. I say, ‘Why don’t you just give me $7,500 and we call it even,’” he says. “The only problem is you don’t have $7,500 on hand. So then I say, ‘How about $750 a month for 10 months?’” You can’t afford that either. LendStreet acts as the middleman in this situation. “We ask, ‘How much can you really pay?’” says Nemorin. Say it’s only $500 a month. In this case, LendStreet would give the bank $7,500, and you would pay back your new loan in $500 monthly installments.

While developing and growing LendStreet, the Financial Solutions Lab — LendStreet was a 2015 winner — has proven to be an invaluable resource. “Working with the Lab has been a huge boost for us,” says Nemorin. “Our goal has always been to partner with major financial institutions to help them restructure their customers’ debt. The beauty of working with FinLab is that we are able to get insights from the greatest consumer lab out there. With FinLab we are able to reach a broad array of providers within the financial services space who we didn’t previously have a relationship with.”

Nemorin’s longer-term goal? To return to Haiti and help drive economic development. “I grew up in a country I later found out was the poorest in the western hemisphere,” he says. “I have always wanted to use what I have learned in business to help the country and people who shaped me.” From the start of his career, Nemorin has used his experience as a training ground for the developmental work he dreams of doing in Haiti. “I started off knowing that LendStreet would help me with my long-term vision,” he says. “I would love for LendStreet to form the beginnings of positive long-term visions for others too.”

Learn more about LendStreet.

Learn more about the Financial Solutions Lab.