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How One Chicago Bank Is Growing The Economy And Advancing Women In Business

On September 22nd, 2021, the First Women’s Bank (FWB) celebrated its Grand Opening with a Ribbon Cutting ceremony at its flagship location in Chicago. In addition, the Bank announced its Mission Partners, which includes Aon, Wendy’s, Comcast, William Blair, and the Western Golf Association/Evans Scholars Foundation (WGA). Their support will help create accessible, affordable funding to bridge the gender lending gap.

“Women have been leading an economic revolution in this country, but the gender gap in access to capital is pervasive and persistent,” said CEO Marianne Markowitz. “The potential for the First Women’s Bank to drive social change and to bridge the gender and racial lending gaps is enormous. We will draw significant strength in that effort from our partners.”

First Women’s Bank is a first-of-its-kind, purpose-driven bank with a mission to grow the economy and advance the role of women within it. The Bank is the only women-founded, women-owned, and women-led commercial bank, focusing on serving the women’s economy. It is also the first new bank in the State of Illinois in more than a decade.

“For our city and economy to be at its strongest, residents from all walks of life must have equal access to opportunity and capital,” said Chicago Mayor Lori E. Lightfoot. “First Women’s Bank is truly taking a tremendous step forward in the fight to empower and uplift women. I am grateful to President and CEO Marianne Markowitz and the entire First Women’s Bank team for leaning in to help make Chicago and other cities across the country more equitable and inclusive.” 

The First Bank of It’s Kind

First Women’s Bank is the only women-founded, women-owned, and women-led commercial bank in the country on a mission to grow the economy and advance the role of women within it. One of their main objectives is to expand economic opportunity for the women’s economy and women-owned businesses.

“The story of this bank grew out of the basic notion that this is the time,” said Melissa Widen, Co-Founder, and Chief Administrative Officer. “This is the moment for a financial institution that empowers women economically, that strives for financial inclusion, and that is committed to equal access to opportunity and resources and networks and, most importantly, to capital. This is why we created First Women’s Bank, the first women-founded, women-owned, women-led commercial bank on a mission to grow the economy and advance the role of women within it.”

“And it’s an example of the power of networks,” added Amy Fahey, Co-Founder, Board Chair. We did not know each other, but our networks overlapped and brought not only our leadership team together but our experienced board of directors.”

FWB strives to be more than a bank. In addition to providing innovative capital solutions for small businesses, the Bank has created the FWB Collective, a community of resources, support, and inspiration for small businesses and a platform for individuals and organizations to provide tangible support for the women’s economy.

Women in Business Supporting Women in Business

Just 2.2% of all venture capital in the U.S. goes to companies founded solely by women. In addition, companies with all-male founders receive funding after their first-round close to 35% of the time. For companies with female founders, that number is less than 2%. This means that around 2% of women-owned businesses ever make it to $1 million in revenue, which is 3.5 times less than their male counterparts.

In addition, A recent McKinsey analysis showed that women’s jobs are 1.8 times more vulnerable during the coronavirus pandemic than men’s jobs, and there’s been much talk around addressing the gendered job loss of Covid-19

“Women are leading an economic revolution in this country, but just as there are gender gaps in leadership and pay, there is a gender gap in access to capital, and we intend to solve it.” Said Widen.

Markowitz agrees. “We want to provide not only access to much-needed capital but also to the advisors, mentors, networks, and resources that will propel small businesses, entrepreneurs, and the economy overall.”

That’s not to say that the men will be left out. On the contrary, Markowitz shares that they believe in equality, not dominance, inclusivity, not exclusivity. They hope that male customers, investors, mission partners, and employees will help them thrive and grow.

A Bank With Star Power

On the Grand Opening day, Sophia Bush and Nia Batts were also announced are strategic advisors. Bush and Batts are experienced entrepreneurs, activists, and advocates for equality and passionate about closing racial and gender gaps in pay, leadership, and the lesser-known gender gap in access to capital. As Strategic Advisors to First Women’s Bank, they will help amplify the power and challenges of the women’s economy, educate and activate women business owners, and help connect small businesses to accessible, affordable funding.

“Of the 30MM small businesses in the U.S., almost 13 MM, or 42%, are owned by women. Half of those are owned by women of color,” Batts said. “Last year, women of color accounted for 89% of the new businesses opened daily. Yet, even though the number of women-owned businesses has been growing 2x faster than the national average, they are receiving just 16% of all conventional business loans, and women of color are receiving significantly less. Now, more than ever, we need innovative business solutions to help close the racial and gender lending gaps, and Sophia and I are incredibly honored to be joining First Women’s Bank in this shared mission.”

“Women are leading the economic revolution in this country, yet despite this fact, they are still under-funded and under-served,” said Bush. “Just because women have proven that they can do more with less doesn’t mean they should have to. And when we do better, the economy does too.”

Others joining the Bank in this historic venture are a diverse group of more than 200 investors, including Billie Jean King, Fidelity Investments, and Bank of America. “A critical step toward achieving gender equality is creating economic parity and financial inclusion,” King, an Investor, and Strategic Advisor, states. “This requires closing the racial and gender gaps in access to capital as we work to bridge those gaps and empower women from all walks of life to reach their full potential.”

And while the focus is to cultivate, finance, and support female-owned businesses, Markowitz is careful to point out that when women in business win, everyone wins. “Small business owners support their families, their employees, and their communities – we’ve formed First Women’s Bank to support them,” Markowitz explains. “When women-owned businesses succeed, families win, communities thrive, and jobs are created.”

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