As the pandemic continues and economic uncertainty remains, M&T Bank’s Minority- and Women-Owned Business Banking Team continues to work tirelessly providing opportunities for the historically underserved to help small business owners achieve their dreams. Our current climate offers unprecedented opportunity to be intentional in providing women and people of color the opportunity for advancement—both in the banking industry and through lending services.
Tell us about M&T’s women- and minority-owned business banking team and your role. Why was the team created?
Launched in June 2019, the Minority- and Women-Owned Business Banking (MWOB) Team sought out to intentionally and proactively build an ecosystem to assist businesses owned by people of color, minorities and women, overcome the systemic obstacles to success in an effort to help them start, sustain and grow their businesses.
There are too many underserved communities and entrepreneurs. Our team was created to provide access and resources to combat that inequality. In addition to my role, our team is composed of three relationship managers (also known as business bankers), a small business coach/community developer and a portfolio manager.
What were the biggest challenges that women and minority business owners faced in 2021?
Even before the pandemic, access to capital was an issue and it remains the biggest challenge these business owners face. Shortly after COVID-19 hit, we unfortunately witnessed inequity when it came to minority- and women-owned businesses receiving economic assistance funding, particularly the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP). This delay was extremely detrimental. But those that were able to ride out the storm were able to take advantage of further rounds of PPP and other federal, state and local programs and grant funding.
The lack of early access to these funds, in addition to the continued obstacle of gaining equal access to bank loans, has continued to make it very challenging for these owners to sustain their businesses.
Throughout 2021, businesses had to fight to regain economic stability. Most minority- and women-owned businesses are in service-based industries hit hardest by the pandemic. As we look ahead, many industries are facing an uphill battle when it comes to hiring.
How did M&T Bank support them to help their businesses thrive?
In 2021, M&T Bank was intentional about shining a light on the amazing minority- and women-owned businesses in our communities. We did this by helping them gain visibility through creating profiles and sharing their powerful stories. We’ve supported businesses through various accelerator and capacity-building programs to help them gain access to resources and knowledge to sustain and grow their businesses.
M&T Bank also developed a Business Education Portal to share important business content on various topics, relevant to any industry that will help owners along their entrepreneurial journeys. We created new relationships and strengthened existing ones with organizations that were created specifically for the purpose of supporting minority- and women-owned businesses. All the while, M&T has provided the necessary banking, cash management and lending products essential to their business operation. In 2022 we look forward to continuing our support for minority-owned businesses across our footprint.
Why is a strong relationship with a banker critical to success?
A good banking partner will take the time to understand a business owner’s personal and business goals. Trust throughout every step of your entrepreneurial journey can make all the difference in sustaining and growing your business. Having someone to anticipate your needs is critical to your success, in addition to helping you gain access to critical financial and social capital while building a network to expand your reach.
Why is it important to shop small, women- and minority-owned businesses?
It is always important to support women- and minority-owned businesses but this year it is even more critical as they recover from the pandemic. Now is a great time to show support for entrepreneurs who have amazing products and your dollar means much more to them.
The pandemic exacerbated the existing challenges faced by businesses owned by people of color, minorities and women, and an equitable and successful recovery is imperative to the economic future of all communities. The Virtual Spotlight Shop includes many incredible local businesses and shines a light on their contribution to their communities and beyond. Check out what businesses are in your area and start shopping now.
Funlayo Alabi, CEO & Cofounder of Shea Radiance