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Five years ago, Dr. Ned Palmer was a 29-year-old resident at a Cincinnati hospital making $52,000 a year with $400,000 in student loan debt.

Like many doctors in that stage of their careers, he was earning a low wage considering the long hours he was working, and he was drowning in debt. Palmer was desperately in need of financial relief.

No traditional lender would cooperate in his attempts to refinance his student loans. He scrambled from bank to bank seeking help, and was told he could get a loan only if his parents would co-sign.

“That was a special way to make me feel small,” Palmer said. “Here I was, a practicing doctor with a job, and I felt ashamed being bounced around the financial sector like that.”

Talking with a fellow physician, Palmer realized he was not alone. Many young doctors, they discovered, had similar struggles in finding relief as they looked to improve their financial health.

Now, that frustrating experience has led to the birth of a new startup financial services company in Little Rock, Panacea Financial, that focuses on lending to practicing doctors, residents and medical students.

Palmer and his friend, Dr. Michael Jerkins, drafted Tyler Stafford, a banker by training and working as an industry analyst at Stephens Inc., to help develop a solution to the financial challenges doctors across the nation encounter. Stafford left Stephens in July, and the group forged ahead with building the financial services company. Anna McGrath, another former Stephens executive, also is a co-founder of Panacea and now serves as chief operating officer.

Panacea Financial began operations on Nov. 1 on Kavanaugh Boulevard with eight employees. The company provides financial products and services — personal loans, refinancing, free checking and savings accounts with no overdraft charges — to doctors across the nation. They plan to soon expand their offerings.

By next year, the company plans to provide mortgages, working lines of credit and loans that help doctors open clinics and buy equipment. The plan is to offer financial support through the life cycle of a physician — from graduation through residency to establishing a permanent practice.

Panacea has simplified the loan process for the medical community it serves — loans can be approved in 24 hours, no co-signer is required with proof of a medical degree and employment, and the company does not rely on credit scores or historical earnings to decide whether to issue a loan.

“You can finance with us as long as you can prove you are a fourth-year med student, or a practicing doctor or a fellow or resident,” Stafford said. “Basically, if you have a medical license and you’re in good standing, you’re getting approved.”

The company operates as a division of Sonabank, a community lender based in the Richmond area that is the fifth-largest bank in Virginia with nearly $10 billion in assets.

Panacea attracted a capital investment from Sonabank to begin operations and basically piggybacks on the Virginia bank’s infrastructure and core systems to offer financial products. Sonabank provides a low-cost entry into the marketplace.

Panacea has a five-year licensing agreement with Sonabank, which has agreed to fund the growth of Panacea so the Little Rock company does not have to raise additional capital.

The startup already is attracting attention with its unique underwriting approach for doctors.

One of Panacea’s first customers was a Nashville doctor who had a maturing $90,000 loan at a traditional bank, which denied renewing the loan because his income went from more than $1 million annually to $650,000 during the pandemic.

He turned to Panacea, which accepted and approved his application and funded the loan within 24 hours.

Panacea also is stretching to support training of minority doctors. The company has formed a nonprofit to award grants and scholarships that advance the training of minority residents and fellows.

MEGASITE AVAILABLE

The city of West Memphis and Entergy Arkansas are working together to draw businesses to an 1,800-acre industrial site in Crittenden County.

The megasite near Interstate 40 is being promoted through a marketing campaign dubbed “Mega Plans, Mega Site.”

“The industrial site we have in Crittenden County is unique for our state and region and presents a great opportunity for companies looking to serve North American markets from the center of the United States,” West Memphis Mayor Marco McClendon said in a news release.

The campaign, including showy videos, touts the site’s access to Interstates 40 and 55 and its proximity to Memphis. The site has been certified as ready for development through a program run by Entergy Arkansas.

RESTAURANTS SOLD

Two restaurant mainstays on South University Avenue — Go Go China and Burger King — have been sold for $1.2 million to SE-ARLR1, LLC. Both restaurants are across University Avenue from the University of Arkansas at Little Rock.

The new owners have not announced plans for changes to the properties.

The Go Go China facility, at 3412 S. University Ave., was built on a one-acre site in 1970 and includes 2,747 square feet of space. Go Go China has been a tenant since 2007.

The 3,276-square-foot Burger King, at 3300 S. University Ave., also occupies one acre. Burger King has been the lone tenant since the building was constructed in 1988.

Nathan Monan and Casi Runnells of Colliers International of Arkansas represented the seller in the transaction.

“Both of these properties have been longtime fixtures along the evolving University Avenue-UA Little Rock corridor,” Monan said. “They are obviously a great investment for the buyers due to their easy access and convenience to faculty and students alike.”

SHOPPING TIPS

We all know that Christmas shopping is going to be a little different this year.

Get the jump on what to expect by joining the Little Rock Venture Center and area retailers for a sneak peek into the buying season on Tuesday from 11:30 a.m.-1:30 p.m.

Retailers from Abbi’s Teas & Things, Domestic Domestic, Esse Purse Museum & Store and WordsWorth Books & Co. will be on hand. State economist Michael Pakko from the Arkansas Economic Development Institute will join them to discuss retail trends.

Go to venturecenter.co for more information and to register.

MINORITY BUSINESS

REMINDER

In case you missed it, the Arkansas Economic Development Commission is holding its first virtual certification assistance workshop for minority and female-owned businesses this week.

The virtual session will be held from 10-11 a.m. Wednesday.

The workshop will teach business owners how to get approved as vendors so they can do more business with the state. Attendees will learn how to establish state contracting opportunities and other benefits that can be gained by being certified through the state.

To be eligible, a business must be a for-profit company that has been operating for two years. Go to arkansasedc.com for more information.

Column ideas or recommendations? Thoughts or musings that need pursuing? Contact me at amoreau@adgnewsroom.com or at (501) 378-3567.

Print Headline: New financial services firm offers leg up for doctors, medical students

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