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Worldnet expands network in hunt for more business

Published:Sunday | July 5, 2015 | 12:00 AMTameka Gordon
Hurshel Cyrus, CEO and majority owner of WorldNet Investment Company Limited.
Hurshel Cyrus, CEO and majority owner of WorldNet Investment Company Limited.

Worldnet Investment Company Limited has expanded its operations to Beechwood Avenue in Kingston, extending its footprint further across the capital as part of the groundwork being laid to grow its loan book by at least 30 per cent over the next three years.

The company has been in expansion mode since 2014 when it moved into its 8,000-square foot headquarters on Molynes Road. The 4,000-square foot Beechwood outlet was completed in March of this year.

These expansions have come amid upgrades to the Montego Bay location, which was moved into "a much larger shop", general manager Sophia Campbell told Sunday Business.

Over the past four years, Worldnet has invested $250 million of capital in new buildings, upgrades to existing plant, and build-out of its information technology (IT) network - financed with a mix of loans and the company's internal resources, she said. Under the IT project, the company added an online loan application service.

WorldNet Investment, which is headed by Hurshel Cyrus, was incorporated in 1997 but actively began writing loans in 2002, backed by personal funds from its directors who also pumped capital from other business ventures into the company, Campbell said.

The company now has 17 locations spread across Jamaica, with Beechwood being the newest addition.

The micro-finance company has, over the years, grown from providing loans specifically geared toward taxi operators to now offering personal loans for a myriad of purposes as well as motor car loans.

WorldNet's client base has also grown to more than 10,000, up from the 100 loans it financed at infancy.

"We ended last year financing a little over 2,000 vehicle loans. Total loans were roughly 10,000, spread across different products," Campbell said.

WorldNet has also increased its staff count to 120, up from 70, with Molynes holding the largest staff complement of 30 "due to the fact that a lot of our departments are centralised", she said.

The expanded Montego Bay outlet doubled its staff to eight; Beechwood is staffed by six persons, two of whom are new, she said.

The need to dispose of repossessed cars spurred the acquisition of the Beechwood site, which was intended to be a vehicle storage facility but has blossomed into a full-scale outlet.

"We do a lot of vehicle loans. We don't just do financing, but we also do a title loan, which means that persons would pledge their title as security for a loan. With that, we found that there are times when these loans might go bad and we had to seize the security," Campbell said, while noting that the company outgrew the storage space at its previous Derrymore Road headquarters.

The move also saved on costs, as Worldnet no longer has to pay car dealers commission to sell its vehicles and could now also collect "a minimal storage fee" from its customers.

Also: "A person might come to purchase one of these vehicles and find that they don't have enough money and rather than heavily discounting those vehicles, we can give them a loan for the additional money that they are short," Campbell said.

The company has also expanded its services to offering online applications with bearers used to deliver documents to customers who can then sign and return the documents with the bearers.

The bearers are also trained to write the loans to reduce customers' need to come in branch to process their transactions.

Worldnet ranks itself among the top three microlending firms with Kris and Charles and Access Financial Services in the top listings, Campbell said.

Access Financial, whose finances are public because it is a listed junior stock market company, has a loan book valued at $1.5 billion, amid total assets of $1.75 billion at March 2015. Its network spans 16 branches. Worldnet by its own account would have a smaller market.

The company is open to setting up shop in other places "as long as there is the demand," says Campbell, who said St Thomas and St Mary are likely to be explored.

"Over the next three years we are looking at between 25 to 30 per cent growth in business," Campbell said.

Worldnet is a little worried about emerging government policy on public sector wages. With a significant portion of its business coming from loans to civil servant, Campbell said the company is keeping a keen eye on developments with the International Monetary Fund and the economic reform programme, under which Jamaica has agreed to reduce its wage bill.

But it also sees opportunity elsewhere, especially, in the business process outsourcing sector in the western end of the island.

"We went on a marketing drive and we started lending to those companies so we realised that be need to expand the branch in order to accommodate all of that," she said.

Worldnet is a privately owned company by Pettyguy Williams, Sheryl McKenzie, and Cyrus as majority shareholder. Its directors are Cyrus, Norma Cyrus, Dennise Wilson and Clive Blackwood.