Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, minority business owners faced plenty of challenges –from having limited access to capital to lacking professional networks to help them with advice.
In response to this longstanding issue, Valley Bank decided to establish a Community Lending team to work with minority business owners who haven’t had traditional banking relationships before.
The focus is on “smoothing out the bumps in the road” for business owners who need help in learning how to get funding, while giving them connections with professionals like accountants, lawyers, and business development specialists who can help them grow their businesses.
As one example of creating these types of connections, Valley Bank’s Women in Business program connects female entrepreneurs to peers in their local business community, giving them opportunities to network and collaborate. Other perks include a special Women in Business checking account, skill-building seminars, access to conference and meeting spaces, and discounts on safe deposit boxes.
For minority-owned businesses that aren’t yet ready for traditional bank funding, partnerships with community organizations and community development financial institutions (CDFIs) can provide much-needed resources to capital.
To provide more resources for our minority-owned business banking clients, we have valuable ties to organizations such as the Palm Beach County Black Business Investment Corp., which, to cite just one recent example, helped negotiate a guarantee for a $250,000 line of credit so a business could get the funds it needed.
We can also make referrals to the Florida-based National Entrepreneur Center, which since 2003 has provided coaching and training services to tens of thousands of small businesses, entrepreneurs and nonprofits.
Valley Bank’s Community Lending team goes to great lengths to understand our business banking clients in a holistic way, not just as entries on a spreadsheet. The end goal is to set business owners on a path to more robust financing options in the future as their business expands. Part of this relationship also involves connecting business owners to service providers who can be helpful to them, from insurance, payroll and merchant services to financing sources for acquiring equipment.
Establishing and maintaining a relationship with a Community Lending banker can also bring many other benefits, such as step-by-step guidance in applying for funding from government sources like the Small Business Administration. At Valley, we helped many minority-owned businesses obtain Paycheck Protection Program funds, yet we also heard stories about how some business owners didn’t bother to apply or didn’t know how to apply because they lacked a close working relationship with a banker. Our goal is to change this situation as much as we can.
As we think of ways to help businesses in our underserved communities, remember that this effort can start by simply doing business with them. Do your shopping with them, and use them as suppliers for your company. You’ll be glad you did.
Thais R. Sullivan, based in West Palm Beach, is National Director of Community Lending for Valley Bank.
– Valley National Bank is a Member of the FDIC and Equal Opportunity Lender.
PHOTO CAPTION – Valley’s South Florida Community Lending team members. From left to right: Martine Pierre-Paul, First Vice President P & Regional Director of Community Lending; Thais R. Sullivan, Senior Vice President & National Director of Community Lending; Aquannette T. Thomas, Vice President & Business Development Officer