Merrill Lynch & Co. and a trade group have teamed up to offer personal and business financial planning to female entrepreneurs across the country.

The big brokerage will offer discounts on planning to members of the National Association of Woman Business Owners - and will enlist members, among others, to help provide it.

The partnership will give woman-owned businesses access to sophisticated financial planning, and give Merrill a shot at a lot of business.

Merrill, with its knowledge of the business community and of business and personal financing, has much to offer, said the group's executive vice president, Caren Wilcox. And the broker sees "an untapped market" in its 10,000 members, she said.

The partnership will be particularly helpful to her members, Ms. Wilcox said, because female business owners tend to have a tougher time than their male counterparts in obtaining credit and other financial services.

"Traditionally there have been problems with getting credit and capital," Ms. Wilcox said. "That is changing dramatically, but there are still problems."

According to press release, association members will be able to call Merrill consultants through an "800" number. Financial plans will be offered jointly with accountants, attorneys, and business consultants - some of whom may be trade group members.

"This arrangement is especially attractive because they're willing to work with our members who are consultants," Ms. Wilcox said.

Officials at Merrill could not be reached to discuss the program.

The trade group has struck similar partnerships with other companies, including one with Wells Fargo & Co., Wells, which offers preapproved credit lines to qualified members.

Because Wells and Merrill both are heavies in small-business financing, one might assume there could be friction. But Ms. Wilcox said that's not the case.

"We discussed this with Wells," she said. "It should be a complementary process, not in any way competitive."

The reason: Wells' services will appeal more to younger, cash-hungry companies, while Merrill's will appeal to more mature businesses, Ms. Wilcox said.

"We have a wide variety of members, some who have been in business for two years and need money and others who have been around for 12 years and are thinking about restructuring their company, buying other businesses, or selling their businesses," she said.

"We have a very close relationship with Wells Fargo and wouldn't do anything that Wells thought was improper for our relationship," Ms. Wilcox said.

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