POWERing Up Business

A Business Boost—Jill White, who owns and operates T&J’s Dairy Barn ice cream shop and restaurant with her husband Thomas (in the background), has participated in Eastern Virginia Bank’s POWER program for women entrepreneurs since it began last September.

A Business Boost—Jill White, who owns and operates T&J’s Dairy Barn ice cream shop and restaurant with her husband Thomas (in the background), has participated in Eastern Virginia Bank’s POWER program for women entrepreneurs since it began last September.

Eastern Virginia Bank launches program for women entrepreneurs

By Ed Avis

Women business owners have the same needs as any business owners—access to capital, good advice and productive connections with others in their field. But when Eastern Virginia Bank headquartered in Tappahannock, Va., conducted a focus group with women business owners last year, it learned that many of those entrepreneurs had other needs not being met by their financial institutions.

“The three major points we heard in that focus group were: I don’t want to be ‘sold,’ I want a relationship with my banker, and I want you to come see me and really understand my business,” says Michelle Simon, the bank’s senior vice president and director of marketing.

Furthermore, Simon says research by EVB, as Eastern Virginia Bank is known, shows that one out of four business loan applicants at EVB Bank are female, so it made business sense to learn more about serving those customers.

EVB, which has just over $1 billion in assets, launched the POWER (Potential of Women Entrepreneurs Realized) program last September that offers a unique package of financial products and services tailored to women business owners. The program includes a combination of educational events, networking opportunities and enhanced bank services. For example, members of the network can apply for a basic checking account with lower balance requirements and loans that feature less paperwork and faster decisions for amounts ranging from $5,000 to $75,000.

“A lot of women were asking for a low-balance loan that is not as complicated to get as a regular business loan,” Simon explains. “And another great feature of the program is the purple POWER-branded debit card. It comes with the same features as regular debit cards, but it’s a fun way to promote the POWER program.”

Bringing the POWER

Jill White, owner of T&J’s Dairy Barn, an ice cream shop and restaurant in Burgess, Va., has been a member of POWER since it began. “EVB has always been personable and accessible, but the POWER program really added value,” White says.

“The program offers much more detailed and specific information and networking opportunities. Having that resource is very helpful, especially for women in small businesses. We don’t all have the safety net we need.”

Business and financial education is also an important part of the program. Some is delivered through in-person events, such as a breakfast that featured a speaker who discussed pricing strategies, and some through POWER’s website (www.evbpower.com) and social media pages.

“We found that so many of the women business owners had no place to turn for advice, such as writing business plans or getting financing,” says Gail Hubbard, the POWER program manager. “So education is a huge part of the program’s.”

Connecting with other women business owners is another benefit of the program. Connections are made at POWER events, through social media and via a membership directory that connects members with other women business owners and professionals.

“Women want to empower each other, help each other,” Simon explains. “And we want to be part of that. The program is more about building connections with women than just opening accounts.”

Reaching women

The program had about 65 members as of this spring, and Simon says a new campaign promoting POWER is just kicking off.

The program is promoted through the events—which are open to current EVB customers and non-customers alike—and through contact at the bank’s two retail offices. Each of the bank’s offices has one designated POWER representative; a sign on her desk identifies her. The branch that generates the most POWER activity each month is recognized with a special performance award.

Simon says the key to the program’s success so far is that it offers genuine assistance and connections, not just product packaging. “POWER has brought on new relationships for us,” she says. “It has expanded our footprint and brought us into a niche market.”

Hubbard echoes that perspective on what has driven the program’s success: “I’m a small-business banker, and this gives me another tool to use when I visit customers. When I introduce POWER to them, it puts me on a different level with them.”


Ed Avis is a freelance writer in Illinois.

Top