First Women’s Bank receives first new Illinois banking charter in more than a decade

First Women’s Bank receives first new Illinois banking charter in more than a decade

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First Women’s Bank received the first new Illinois banking charter in more than a decade and is set to open this fall with a mission to bolster women-owned small businesses.

The nascent Chicago-based bank, which bills itself as the only women-owned, women-led and women-focused commercial bank in the country, announced Wednesday it had received regulatory approval July 1 and raised more than $30 million through a diverse group of more than 200 investors that includes tennis great Billie Jean King.

“We’re on a mission to grow the economy and advance the role of women within it,” Marianne Markowitz, the bank’s president and CEO, said Thursday. “The real opportunity comes because women-owned businesses are experiencing a revolution — they’re growing two times faster than the national average, and have been for some time, but they don’t receive enough capital right now.”

Markowitz, 55, who served as acting administrator of the Small Business Administration under former President Barack Obama, leads an executive team with a wealth of banking experience and a singular mission to close the gender gap in commercial lending.

Women own 42% of all small businesses, but receive only 16% of commercial loans, Markowitz said.

“We’re leaning in with intention, with focus, to serve the women’s economy and to close that gap,” Markowitz said.

Conceived by a network of Chicago businesswomen, First Women’s Bank was cofounded by Melissa Widen, the bank’s chief administrative officer, and Amy Fahey, who serves as board chair. The bank is the first to receive a state charter since 2009, according to Chris Slaby, a spokesman for the Illinois Department of Financial and Professional Regulation.

The planned opening of First Women’s Bank bucks a decadelong trend, with dozens of Illinois banks closing in the wake of the Great Recession.

The bank will operate from its Chicago flagship location at 1308 N. Elston Ave., across from the former Morton Salt warehouse along the Chicago River. As a commercial lender, First Women’s Bank is also planning to emphasize a digital banking experience with a national scope to accommodate pent-up demand from female entrepreneurs, Markowitz said.

While the startup business bank will focus on bridging the commercial lending gap for women, it will not be at the exclusion of men, Markowitz said.

“We’re really forming to serve the whole small business economy,” Markowitz said. “We’re all about gender equity, not gender dominance.”

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