Shining a brighter spotlight on what many consultants say is a booming business segment for banks, BankBoston Corp. and Chase Manhattan Corp. have launched small-business initiatives.
BankBoston, which has $71.4 billion of assets, has created a program to make $100 million of credit available to women entrepreneurs in New England in the next 18 months.
The program, to be called Women Entrepreneurs' Connection, will be an extension of BankBoston's two-year-old venture with Women Inc., a national network of small-business lenders and consultants who cater to women business owners.
Meanwhile, $366 billion-asset Chase is reducing fees and offering bundled product services for small-business owners.
That initiative, part of Chase Business Banking, was made available June 1 in the New York metropolitan region and is to be offered elsewhere in New York State July 1.
Both banking companies announced their programs Monday, the beginning of National Small Business Week.
Many banks have offered specialized small-business packages since the early 1990s, when an entrepreneurial boom began, consultants said.
Specialized services for small-business owners can be more profitable than narrower-margin lending to middle-market business customers, they added.
"Small businesses are more into one-stop-shopping," said Gerard Hergenroeder, a consultant at Speer & Associates in Atlanta. "They don't have the time to go around to a lot of different sources, and they tend to be more loyal than other commercial banking customers."
BankBoston's program will offer "access to capital, information, and advocacy" to women starting their own businesses in New England, said Teri Cavanagh, director of the Women Entrepreneurs' Connection.
Ms. Cavanagh, who joined BankBoston 15 months ago after running her own businesses for the preceding eight years, said this week's program kickoff "will be only the beginning of what I hope will be a sustained effort to reach out to women."
At Chase, small-business customers want an increasingly sophisticated array of cash management, investment, credit, and electronic banking products, said Joseph M. Scharfenberger, executive vice president of commercial and professional banking.
The company's new small-business services include bonus rates on money market accounts linked to a variety of deposit, credit, and Chase Vista Funds balances; lower deposit balance requirements; bonus rates on business installment loans and revolving credit accounts; free on-line banking; and a business debit card. Later, insurance products are to be added.
The bundled product Chase is offering small businesses mimics the type of relationship accounts many banks already offer retail banking customers.
Mr. Scharfenberger said the new program was developed using customer comments. "We've heard from our research that small-business customers want more value for all of their business," he said. "They want recognition that they are important as business owners."