Dr. Michael Jerkins struggled financially in medical school and later in his residency.
“Every month, we were not able to cover all of our expenses,” said Jerkins, who had a young family to support.
He found dealing with banks for a personal loan difficult and frustrating. Bankers told him he wasn’t a good loan candidate because he didn’t have much credit history, had high debt and wasn’t making money.
“During the day, I’m entrusted with literally people’s lives,” he said. But he couldn’t get a bank to loan him a few thousand dollars.
He said that he believed doctors deserved better.
Jerkins, working with Dr. Ned Palmer, who was a resident with Jerkins in Ohio, came up with the idea for a bank to cater to doctors in 2015. “We identified a problem within the community,” Jerkins said.
But it wasn’t until Tyler Stafford offered his help that the bank “finally got off the ground,” Jerkins said. Stafford and Jerkins had been roommates when they were undergraduates at Harding University in Searcy. For nearly a decade, Stafford was a managing director and equity research analyst at the financial services company Stephens Inc. of Little Rock and covered banks.
Jerkins, who practices internal medicine and pediatrics through Baptist Health in Little Rock and Cabot, said he, Stafford and Palmer started Panacea Financial LLC of Little Rock.
The co-founders spent hours building the brand and working to craft products tailored to physicians. “No other bank can say, ‘By doctors for doctors,’” said Stafford, who is the CEO of the company.
Panacea’s services include personal lending to doctors and doctors in training. It also refinances doctors’ student loans and offers practice financing for physicians, dentists and veterinarians.
Panacea’s first loan was in November 2020, and since then it has gained about 1,700 customers in 50 states. It is adding hundreds of doctors as customers every month. The company also has originated nearly $120 million in loans and expects in two or three years to have made more than $1 billion in loans to more than 10,000 doctors.
“Clearly, we’ve tapped into something,” said Jerkins, who is president of Panacea. Palmer is the chief operating officer.
Panacea has partnered with Primis Financial Corp. of McLean, Virginia, and operates as a division of Primis in order to provide Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. insurance and regulatory oversight to Panacea’s customers.
Panacea touts that it operates faster than traditional banks. If a doctor has requested a loan to buy a practice, it might take 60 days working with a larger bank before the doctor learns whether the loan has been approved and then another 60 days to close on the loan, Jerkins said. “We’re getting those answers of approval or disapproval in a matter of a couple of days.”
Stafford said that Panacea also can approve a personal loan quickly. A fourth-year medical student or a resident can receive up to $30,000 in their account within 24 hours. “We’ve actually done them in as fast as three hours … using our unique underwriting approach,” Stafford said.
He said Panacea’s technology allows it to quickly verify whether applicants are practicing doctors, confirm their income and determine whether they have a clean credit history.
Jerkins said Panacea also has someone available to field questions 24 hours a day, seven days a week. “When I’m done seeing patients, typically all the banks are closed, so I can’t get hold of anybody,” he said. “So we like to say we work doctors’ hours, not bankers’ hours.”
That lending early in a doctor’s career helps Panacea build a relationship with its customer.
“So, in a couple of years when I need to refinance my student loans, who am I going to go with?” Jerkins said. “I’m going to go with somebody who was there for me when no one else was.”
Last month the company announced a partnership with the Arkansas Medical Society, making it the latest physician group to partner with Panacea. Panacea has eight partnerships with national or state medical or dental associations that represent about 400,000 doctors. More partnership announcements are expected by the end of the month.
“We are … just trying to make a doctor’s life a little bit less stressful,” Jerkins said.