Microfinance Firm Extends Its Reach To Western U.S.
Monday, April 7, 2008; D02
Atsumasa Tochisako, the Japanese-born chief executive of District-based Microfinance International, had a transformative experience while studying Spanish in Mexico more than 20 years ago.
One night, Tochisako dined with a family on a soup made of vegetables and one meager scrap of beef. As he said his goodbyes, a small boy latched on to his leg and asked him not to leave, telling Tochisako that it was the first time in ages he had eaten meat.
It was with this memory that Tochisako founded his Microfinance International remittance company in 2003. Remittances are money transfers immigrants send to their home countries.
"It is the origin of why I am here," Tochisako said. "I saw really extreme poverty."
Microfinance International also offers small loans and insurance to its clients, as well as business and mortgage loans to its customers in their home countries, products the company calls "transnational" loans. The company is not yet profitable.
Last week Microfinance took a big step in expanding its network by merging with San Diego-based El Camino Transferencias, a remittance company with distribution in 22 countries and state money-transfer licenses in California, Texas, Washington and Oregon.
Tochisako hopes to begin offering Microfinance services at El Camino's service centers, some of which are located in delis and liquor stores. Both companies offer their services to banks, credit unions and money-transfer companies.
Tochisako hopes to build on El Camino's infrastructure by integrating its own services. He hopes to build 30 to 40 new financial service centers based on Microfinance International's brick-and-mortar financial center, Alante, in the District. He said he is seeking $5 million to fund the expansion.
-- Alejandro Lazo
Atsumasa Tochisako says he saw "extreme poverty" in Mexico. (Marvin Joseph/twp - The Washington Post)