CHICAGO – A group of local women from the banking and professional services industries is looking to start a commercial bank in Chicago, with a focus on lending to women-owned businesses as reported by the Chicago Tribune.

First Women’s Bank, which received conditional approval last month from the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp., would be the first financial institution startup in the Chicago area in more than a decade. Organizers are raising the necessary funds and aim to launch early next year.

The idea for the bank grew from a discussion among the three co-founders — Lisa Kornick, Melissa Widen and Amy Fahey — on how female entrepreneurs still trail their male counterparts in accessing loans even as more women start their own businesses.

“During my time as a restaurant owner, I needed to select a new bank because our existing bank could no longer meet our needs,” said Lisa, co-owner of DMK Restaurants, which operates Ada Street and DMK Burger Bar in Chicago.

“I was shocked to find there were no banks focused on women. As an entrepreneur, I immediately saw an opportunity,” said Lisa, 55.

Lisa will serve as the bank’s chief experience officer. Amy, who spent about 29 years with JPMorgan Chase, holding different senior positions, will be chair of the board of directors, and Melissa, a former Chicago attorney, will be vice president and chief administrative officer.

Marianne Markowitz, who led the U.S. Small Business Administration as acting administrator under former President Barack Obama, will be president and CEO.

“I know a lot about the gender lending gap from my time at the SBA. It’s real. It’s persistent. It’s up to banks to really solve it. This is really about supporting the women’s economy — the growth of which is led by women of color,” said Marianne.

Women-owned businesses make up about 42% of the 30 million small businesses in the U.S., according to a 2019 report by American Express. Between 2014 and 2019, the number of women-owned businesses grew 21%. Women of color made up half of all women-owned businesses in 2019, the report found.

Those are the businesses First Women’s Bank is trying to target, like hair salons, day care centers, bookkeeping firms and consulting firms. The bank will offer traditional lending products, with a focus on SBA-backed loans, a profitable area because of the government’s high guarantee rate, which also makes it a great tool for service-related industries, Marianne said.

The bank is bringing various people from the banking and professional services industry on board. Maria Tabrizi joined earlier this year as chief risk officer. Tod Gordon, a former banking executive at Riverwoods-based Discover Financial Services, will be chief financial officer. And Colleen Ryan, who led corporate communications at Kraft Foods and the Archdiocese of Chicago, will be the chief marketing and communications officer.

The last bank to launch in the city was Gold Coast Bank in 2007, according to the American Bankers Association. Nationwide, new banks have dwindled. According to the association, more than 1,000 banks opened between 2000 and 2009, but that number dropped to 27 between 2010 and 2019.