British banks faced heavy criticism from black and ethnic minority women in business who accused them of not understanding the specific challenges faced by BAME’s at an event organised by the National Black Women’s Network at City Hall on Monday.
Delegates accused bank bosses of refusing to lend to black business owners and flawed the mentoring schemes on offer, for not having enough mentors of black and ethnic minority origin who understood the black community.
The event organised by Sonia Brown MBE, the founder of the National black women’s network was aimed at providing information and resources to black small and medium size enterprises (BAME), specifically in regards to access to finance and support for business growth.
The women, who were taking part at the conference tagged ‘Unlocking The Potential Of Diverse Businesses’, featured a live Q&A session with bank bosses who were present at the event to dialogue with black women in business in order to understand the challenges of finding funding for their business.
RBS Chief Executive, Business & Commercial Banking, Ian Cowie assured participants that the banks were lending to black owned businesses, but agreed that more needed to be done in the area of sign posting entrepreneurs to the right resources and support that they needed.
The RBS boss spoke at length about measures being taken by the bank to bridge the gap with black and ethnic minority businesses, and invited delegates to work hand in hand with the bank to improve communication between the two parties.
He also hinted that entrepreneurs can appeal decisions made to refuse them funding and admitted that 40% of the decisions were overturned. A fact that was picked up by delegates who pointed out that this was a sign that the banks were not listening to entrepreneurs.
Mayor of London Boris Johnson who spoke at the event praised the organisers for providing a platform ‘to help young businesses overcome that fatal moment when there is no access to finance.’
He added that the government was working to find ways to properly distribute finance across all businesses who need it, be it women, black women or ethnic minorities.
Boris Johnson noted, “In the last 6 years since I’ve been Mayor, we’ve had 28, 000 start-ups just in the tech sector, a sector that virtually didn’t exist before. Start ups now employ up to 40, 000 people in London.’
‘One of the problems we have in our city is that we have these skills, these ideas and we’re not converting them into the kind of scale or size like in America. That’s why I want to bring you guys together with the bank so we can start this conversation.’
‘There is no better time to launch a business in London’, he concluded.
Anthony Browne of The British Bankers Association (BBA) who also spoke at the event, touched on the challenges of providing finance to BAME’s and SME’s, giving insights into the requirements necessary to get your loan approved and what to do if your application was rejected.
The speakers also reiterated that the government had an important role to play as the banks weren’t the only source of funding to SME’s. There are numerous grants and schemes available to entrepreneurs looking for funding to start or grow their business, they said.
Other speakers at the event were C4’s secret millionaire Caroline Marsh, who gave an inspiring account of her journey to success. The Zimbabwe born business woman urged black women entrepreneurs to stop playing victim and step up to the game.
‘The onus is on the entrepreneur to make her business work at the end of the day. If I who came to this country from Zimbabwe could do it, then certainly so can you’, she said.
Sanaz Zaimi, Managing director and global co-head of Fixed Income, currencies and commodities sales at Bank Of America Merill Lynch told the conference that there was a massive discrepancy between the percentage of women hired into the corporate world and the percentage running the top positions in the corporate world. She urged delegates to work hard to close the gap between men and women at top positions and stressed that women possessed the skills and expertise required to run successful businesses but that they had to believe in themselves first.