Women entrepreneurs program proves hidden gem for Valley National
Susan Ward didn’t expect her bank to help her find business partners — but it did.
At a networking event for women entrepreneurs held two years ago by the then-USAmeriBank, Ward, co-founder of a local coffee chain in Tampa, Fla., happened to sit next to Leigh Tucker, who ran a gluten-free snack bar business. After getting to know Tucker’s project, Ward decided to sell the snack at her coffee shops.
“What was so exciting to me and to our leadership team is to be able to support another woman entrepreneur,” Ward said.
The event was part of USAmeriBank’s Women Entrepreneurs program, which the Clearwater, Fla., bank had started in 2016 to hold social events where professional women could share ideas and seek mentorship opportunities.
Valley National Bancorp in Wayne, N.J., which bought USAmeriBank in January for more than $800 million, is seeking to expand the WE program to New York and New Jersey early next year.
“Our mission is to develop a network focused on creating meaningful and impactful ways to build a strong path forward for women in business,” Dianne Grenz, the chief consumer banking officer at the $30 billion-asset Valley, said in a press release this summer that announced the expansion plans for the program.
Participants are required to bank with Valley after being invited to the first few events if they want to stay involved, said Cami Gibertini, who heads the program.
Valley offers businesswomen checking accounts with free domestic wire transfer and mobile banking services, among an array of personalized banking solutions. Valley plans to start making residential and Small Business Administration loans that feature expedited underwriting processes and lower fees for female entrepreneurs, Gibertini said.
The program has attracted more than 2,000 participants who account for roughly $65 million in deposits and $87 million in loans in Florida and Alabama, Valley said.
However, it is not those products that hook women entrepreneurs, but the relationship bankers at Valley have developed with them, Gibertini said.
Female entrepreneurs, who are generally more loyal to their bankers compared with their male counterparts, can choose to work with female bankers, an option that many participants in the program have found helpful, Gibertini said.
A businesswoman would more likely ask a female loan officer when she comes across a ratio she doesn’t understand — a small question she might feel a bit too intimidated or uncomfortable to raise with a male banker, Gibertini said.
Kathleen McShane, assistant administrator at the SBA’s office of women’s business ownership, said that unique rapport is important.
“A woman banker frankly has more insight into the way a woman thinks,” McShane said. “Women tend to approach business very differently than a man, and those nuances can either make or break a woman who's going for financing.”
“If we just look at Twitter or Facebook, these founders have to start somewhere, so if you happen to be the financial institution that gave them their first loan, those people normally don't change,” McShane said. “When women go to a financial institution and they're treated properly and with respect and they get that first loan, that loyalty is incredible.”
When Tucker moved to Tampa and started her snack brand a few years ago, she found it hard to build social connections in an unfamiliar city while managing her young business. Gibertini, knowing Tucker had tutored children for eight years before opening the startup, invited Tucker to speak at a Girl Scouts CEO Camp event, where she could sell her business story while mentoring young girls.
“What Valley does is they invest in getting to know me, and as they get to know me, when opportunities pop up, I'm on their mind,” Tucker said.