After the death of her father in 1980, Cindy Wertheimer and her mother took the helm of their family's business in suburban Chicago.

Soon after, their line of credit was revoked because the bank didn't feel a widow and her daughter could handle the responsibility, according to Ms. Wertheimer, who is now company president.

Times have changed.

Ms. Wertheimer, now the company president, has a $70,000 credit line issued through a Banc One Corp. program designed to win over female business owners.

"They realize that women business owners are here to stay," said Ms. Wertheimer, whose company, Quality Coated Board, designs and manufactures specialized boxes used to sell everything from computer parts to nail polish.

Indeed, an increasing number of banks are discovering the impact female entrepreneurs have on the economy and that loans to women-owned businesses can boost the banks' bottom line.

Banc One, Wells Fargo & Co., BankAmerica Corp., and scores of community banks across the country are targeting women-owned businesses with special incentives.

"Women business owners have had a lot of negative experiences with banks and feel they are not given the respect they need," said Leta Strube, coordinator of the women's banking program at Bank One Chicago. "That spells opportunity for us to give them what they need."

Banc One Corp. announced plans last week to expand its programs for women entrepreneurs to Cleveland, Indianapolis, Milwaukee, and Houston. It said 37% of its business clients are women.

Last week the bank formed a partnership with Women Inc., a group of 25,000 female business owners, to offer special services to members.

It also offers loans to women business owners through a toll-free telephone number and plans to sponsor educational seminars and teleconferences for women.

Other banks that have formed partnerships with trade groups of women business owners offer discounts on fees for loans or business credit cards.

Statistics show that the banks' efforts are having an impact.

A recent study by the National Foundation of Women Business Owners that asked if women business owners had encountered mistreatment at their bank found that 50% had not.

In a 1992 survey, that figure was 35%.

Ms. Wertheimer's experience also illustrates the value of networking.

She met her banker, Bank One's Joyce Hohfeler, through the local chapter of the National Foundation of Women Business Owners.

"It helps that they have women bankers, but I've been impressed with their male bankers too," Ms. Wertheimer said of the Banc One unit. "They have a real positive approach."

Ms. Hohfeler, vice president and director of women's banking at Bank One Chicago, has visited Quality Coated Board's plant in a gritty neighborhood on the city's West Side.

"It takes a lot of my time, but I feel very strongly that we should see where the person works and what they do," Ms. Hohfeler said. "I don't make my customers come to me."

When she met Ms. Hohfeler three years ago, Ms. Wertheimer's bank was being acquired-as had the one that revoked the company's line of credit-and her account was neglected, she said. In one instance, the bank mistakenly returned to the customer a wire transfer payment bound for Quality Coated. The company received payment, but not without a hassle.

Ms. Hohfeler encouraged Ms. Wertheimer to move her business account to Bank One.

And Ms. Wertheimer didn't even shop around when Bank One offered her a business credit line.

"When they gave it to us, we knew it was a good deal and a very fair rate," Ms. Wertheimer said.

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