The Trinidad and Tobago IVF and Fertility Centre and JMMB Group TT have entered into a life-changing collaboration – the bank is offering loans to people wishing to do any type of fertility treatment.
“The loans give clients a quick and easy ability to get whatever fertility treatment they need,” director and consultant gynaecologist at the centre, Dr Catherine Minto-Bain told Business Day. She had approached several banks to partner with the centre to help finance this need among people struggling with infertility in TT. So far, JMMB is the only institution that has come on board.
“There are about 300 people on our waiting list who would love to do IVF (in vitro fertilisation) but they need to get about $60,000 to $70,000 to do it and they just can’t at the moment,” said Minto-Bain.
She also lamented that no local insurance company offers coverage for fertility treatment. “We ask them to reconsider their positions every year, but sadly no company will cover the tests or treatments for infertility.”
Although the advertised loan maximum is $150,000, and Minto-Bain believes it is extremely rare for anyone to need more than that for treatment, JMMB TT’s chief marketing officer Lisa-Maria Alexander said clients can access more if needed.
“It’s actually up to about $200,000 but we just thought the average landed at $150,000. But if you need up to $200,000 it can be available,” she said.
This follows on the heels of JMMB Jamaica signing an agreement with the Hugh Wynter Fertility Management Unit (HWFMU) at The University of the West Indies, Mona, in April. The bank provides up to J$5 million in financing for people who need help offsetting the cost of fertility treatments offered by the HWFMU.
Alexander said the loan is unsecured with a repayment period of three years. Normal lending requirements apply. “You have to certainly show your ability to service the debt, along with all the other debts that you may have.” However, she said while there are parameters, “…it’s not hard and fast and we assess everyone on their individual needs and circumstances.” For example, she explained, although a mortgage is a huge debt, it can actually help with the loan approval. “A mortgage shows stability and there is equity in a mortgage that can make a difference.”
And although Alexander said there is a flat rate of interest, she reiterated that because the circumstances of every client is different there may be some wiggle room. “We have a package that’s standard, but the truth about it is that maybe if a client can qualify for something outside of the package, and still get financing, we would give it to them… For instance, it’s an unsecured loan, but you may say, 'I want to actually secure my loan,' the rate can go down… From a JMMB perspective, we’re not focused on products. We really like to offer the client a solution that suits them and that’s the bottom line.”
The bank has appointed marketing relationship officer Calvin Ramsawak as the point person on the accounts to avoid clients having to discuss their extremely personal details with too many different people. “When we decided to do this we understood the sensitivity of the issue. It’s not just a loan. We looked at what it looks like to the client. We understand that infertility is not gender specific and one of the key things the client would want is that confidentiality and confidence that somebody gets it and would be able to handle them in a sensitive manner,” Alexander said. The bank designed a process that includes all the sensitivities – the direct contact, the confidentially, the speed, “because it is time-sensitive. So, it’s really not just a loan to us. There is a whole process that supports this.”
So how can someone access their Miracle Moments loans? It all begins with a call to the clinic for a consultation and some basic tests, followed by a visit with the doctor to determine the problem and treatment solutions. “When we review the case we say ‘here are your problems, here are the possible solutions for you’. We go over the success rates of each one and the cost of it. That’s where the loan comes in,” Minto-Bain explained. The patient is given a package with the information to take to the bank if they choose to do so. “We never give personal information to the bank,” she said.
Likewise, the bank never gives personal banking information to the clinic. “In this business of banking, confidentially and sensitivity are very important. The client is actually making the contact with all parties,” Alexander emphasised.
Ramsawak said the first questions he asks are if the clients had visited the clinic, done an assessment and knew the cost associated with the procedure – all information that is readily available in the package. “There is a thin line between the emotional aspect of it and us understanding how important it is to them, compared to the fact that they have to qualify for the loan. It’s a very specific type of conversation, because even if very early in the conversation we realise they can’t qualify, it’s not just to say ‘no you can’t qualify’, but to have a type of supportive conversation with them so they don’t leave discouraged. So then you may have to throw in another option such as (applying) with their partner, if their partner is around. We offer financial guidance on how to get to where they want to be,” Ramsawak said.
And, Alexander quipped in, although bad choices in early life have a way of coming back to bite you later in life, JMMB understands that circumstances change. “Because you’ve had a bad experience doesn’t make you a bad person…Bad debt doesn’t necessarily mean the end of the world, it means you need some good advice. Your circumstances then may not be what it is now… rather than work with cut and dry – you qualify or don’t qualify – sometimes it really is an alternative because you may not qualify today, but with a little something that you may change, or additional support from someone else, you can actually qualify.”
Ramsawak said although he has received approximately 30 calls from people wishing to access loans, there have been no conversions so far. “But there has been a lot of conversations. It’s early days yet. We only started on September 15.”
According to Alexander, financing fertility treatment is not generally viewed as important. “There is a real need and it doesn’t get the same respect as a car or a mortgage. But we’re dealing with real people.”
Minto-Bain agreed. “It’s hard for people to come knocking on our door or call us, let alone go to a bank to talk to someone who maybe has no clue what you’re talking about and may judge you. And imagine if you’re a guy and you need surgical sperm retrieval because you’ve got no sperm. Trying to explain what you want the money for can be so embarrassing that you may put it aside."
Among the many services and treatments offered at the centre are a number of fertility tests for both men and women – IVF, intrauterine insemination, sperm banking, egg freezing, donor sperm treatment and growing eggs with fertility medication. “People think about our clinic and they think IVF. But we do a lot more. The reality is that more people will need the loan for IVF because it is the most expensive treatment,” Minto-Bain explained.
She said 80 per cent of patients don’t tell their closest family that they’re being treated for infertility. “It’s a big life stress, a big financial burden for some people. The stigma is even worse than mental illness. So for every one person who comes to speak to Calvin, there will be three or four who can’t. We hope to change that. We hope to change the conversations.”