Key Bank has created a program to help women get critical access to capital to finance existing or fledgling businesses. Through the Key4Women program, they’ve shown a committment to helping women overcome the distinct challenges they face when it comes to accessing capital. Data collected by the Center for Women’s Business Research indicates that, relative to their male counterparts, women business owners (WOBs) have a more difficult time raising business funds.
Maria Coyne, KeyBank EVP and Founder of Key4Women was kind enough to answer a few questions about the program and its purpose.
What was the motivation to start a special program just for women, Key4Women?
MC: Women rely more heavily upon networking and find great strength and inspiration from engaging with and receiving advice from other women. KeyBank had been lending concertedly to women for quite some time, but officially launched its Key4Women program in 2005, designing it to directly address WOB challenges, providing female entrepreneurs with access to capital, financial solutions, educational offerings, and networking opportunities.
Do women business owners face unique challenges in a down economy?
MC: We just learned from the Key4Women Confidence Index, which was done in conjunction with the Center for Women’s Business Research and surveyed women business owners around the country, that the current challenging economic climate has had a significant negative impact on their businesses. More than half (56 percent) reported lower net earnings and 18 percent decreased employment in the first quarter of this year.
However, 90 percent of the respondents thought the economy has at least hit bottom and will either remain the same or improve in the next six months.
Women business owners have been taking actions to bootstrap in this environment: two-thirds of respondents said they are watching their cash flow much more carefully over the past six months, and 42 percent said they are collecting receivables more aggressively.
The survey results were announced on May 27, 2009, and the full survey report can be accessed at www.cfwbr.org. We’re interested in what women business owners think about the results and what their own experiences have been. We encourage business owners to comment on the survey’s findings by posting a comment on the blog at www.mariaonmoney.com.
Are women at a disadvantage when it comes to raising larger sums of money – venture capital for example?
MC: Traditionally, women have received only a small fraction of venture capital funds and have historically not accessed bank financing as men do, but that is changing. In 2006, the Center for Women’s Business Research found that 70 percent of women business owners polled were satisfied in their efforts to get credit, compared with only 50 percent ten years earlier. Key is making sure women have access to capital, we have pledged to lend $3 billion to qualified women owned businesses by the 2012, which will also be important to our country’s economic recovery. This new commitment comes on top of lending more than $3 billion to women-owned businesses since 2005.
What are some of the ‘key’ differences you perceive between men and women when it comes to financing their businesses?
MC: Through Key’s focus on developing trusted client relationships we know that women business owners also focus on relationships. While all business owners have the need for financial products that are right for their business, women place a higher priority on how their bank treats them. According to the Center for Women’s Business Research, more than two-thirds of women business owners choose financial products and services based on their relationship and experience with a lender.
Research indicates that, women owned business are still less likely than businesses with comparable revenue owned by men to use business credit or equity financing. Our message is: “It’s okay to borrow strategically,” and Key4Women is designed to make sure women business owners can get the financing they need.
For women business owners reading this – what are your top three pieces of advice?
1) Pay attention to all aspects of your business, seek ways to maximize efficiencies and eliminate wasted time and money. Look for ways to do more business operations online, eliminate redundancies, and be judicious about how you spend your own time.
2) Recession-proof your business by expanding into new markets or introducing new products that fill needs today. Seek ways to be innovative, take suggestions from employees and customers about how to improve value and contain costs.
3) Manage the numbers: Business owners who come to their bankers with realistic business plans, and who know how to quickly adjust the levers that drive their revenue and cash flow always have an advantage. When making projections, talking to your banker before small concerns become big crises is always the best way to get their help.
Thanks to Maria Coyne and KeyBank for the education. If you would like to find out more about Key4Women, check out Maria’s blog, www.mariaonmoney.com.
Thanks also to Marylee A. Gotch, Vice President, Public Affairs Manager, for arranging this interview.