An Aussie Lesson on Female Entreprenuers

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Banks that want to attract more women business owners as customers should consider looking to Westpac Banking Corp. for a few pointers.

Westpac is Australia's second-largest banking company and over the last decade or so it has become the bank for female entrepreneurs in that country, largely by catering to their nonbanking needs. Like all banks, it offers traditional products and services for businesses, but it sets itself apart from competitors by also offering consulting services in such areas as marketing, branding and staffing, either directly or through its network of female entrepreneurs.

It also runs a popular website, therubyconnection.com.au, where female entrepreneurs can share ideas-through articles, blogs, seminars and networking events-on building profitable, sustainable businesses.

Larke Riemer, Westpac's national head of women's markets, says many women are successful at what they do, but often aren't sure how to grow their business. They need financing, of course, but they also value education and information. And Riemer says banks-with their web of business contacts-are perfectly positioned to meet those needs.

It's a message Riemer has been spreading in her role as the chairperson of the Global Banking Alliance for Women. Riemer and other banking executives founded the alliance a decade ago and it works closely with organizations like the International Finance Corp. to help develop and grow women-owned businesses worldwide.

I spoke with Riemer at the alliance's annual global summit, which took place this fall in Washington, and she says that U.S. banks in particular do not fully appreciate the size of the female economy. There are millions of women-owned businesses in this country, and many of them complain about being unable to access capital. She thinks the reason for that is bankers aren't taking the time to really understand the businesses.

"When these business owners are saying they can't get access to capital, what they are really saying is that they don't know how to go to their bank and get money," Riemer tells me. "What they need is a strong business plan so they can get the loan, and it's their banker who should be giving them that education."

Her advice to bankers: "Sit down with these women and ask them, 'What do you want from me?'"

Speaking from her own experience at Westpac, Riemer says banks that make the effort to court these women will be rewarded not only with their loyalty, but with referrals.

"Our customers are our best marketers," she says.

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