Legacy Bank s Margaret J. Henningsen leads the charge in reaching the unbanked

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1 Legacy Bank s Margaret J. Henningsen leads the charge in reaching the unbanked By Carol Patton 48 IndependentBanker

2 One summer morning in 2002, Christina Mitchell walked into Legacy Bank in Milwaukee and handed one of the employees something totally unexpected: $15,000 cash wrapped in a handkerchief. Although Mitchell had a checking account at a nearby credit union, the 23-year-old no longer trusted the institution after its reluctance to loan her money to expand her daycare business. So she carefully accumulated a pile of cash savings in her house. Around the same time, Wisconsin was on the cusp of implementing Welfare to Work, a federal program designed to help welfare recipients find a permanent job. The program paid for childcare, providing too good of a business opportunity for Mitchell to pass up. Mitchell heard about Legacy Bank at a local seminar that was presented by Margaret J. Henningsen, now the bank s vice president and one of its three co-founders. Henningsen spoke about how the bank was committed to helping local businesses succeed. My credit wasn t so good but she saw that I was a go-getter, recalls Mitchell, owner of Christina s Child Care and Development Center. She took me under her wing, gave me an opportunity and showed me everything to do from the beginning to the end. The bank gave Mitchell two loans one for almost $70,000 to purchase a building for her expanded daycare center and another for $160,000 to remodel it and bring it up to city code. Today, Mitchell s business supports 15 employees, offers 24-hour daycare and cares for up to 85 children (up from eight when she first came to Legacy Bank). Mitchell s story is not unusual given its founder s philosophy and mission: to shed Milwaukee s reputation as the city whose minority citizens including women were denied more home mortgages and small business loans than anywhere else in the country. The bank would cater to those individuals and prove that doing so could be profitable, Henningsen explains IndependentBanker 49

3 There really needed to be a community bank that could address the needs of this underserved market, says Henningsen, whose real estate background and previous position as a bank lender helped prepare her for this new role. I was really motivated to get this off the ground. Shifting Gears Historically, women didn t ask bankers for financial assistance, explains Melissa Curvos, chair of the Financial Women International Foundation, an organization that helps women become successful in their careers by providing educational opportunities. Those who did still lacked important business support networks that were readily available to their male counterparts. Lenders and bankers just didn t have the experience dealing with women and their rate of all firms (17 percent versus nine percent). Smart banks will stay ahead of this trend by allocating some of their resources toward helping women entrepreneurs succeed, Curvos says. Women are a powerful group and bankers need to shift and react to what the market is, which is an emerging women s business market. Meanwhile, Legacy Bank has watched its customer base grow to almost 3,000, its assets reach $139 million and its employees climb to 36. With the exception of three male workers, the entire staff is composed of women. By design, its shareholders are also women and/or African Americans. Jump Start Legacy Bank was established in 1999 by Henningsen and two other local businesswomen with Legacy Bank is a true community bank in that we provide services and products that our community needs that are not provided by the big boys. Margaret Henningsen, Legacy Bank special needs and women did not have the experience to go out there and ask for this support, says Curvos, also vice president and relationship manager at California Bank & Trust in San Clemente, Calif. But times are changing. Over the last decade banks are recognizing female purchasing power. Some 85 percent of household financial decisions are made by women and the Center for Women s Business Research found no discernable gender difference in Margaret J. Henningsen credit quality or the likelihood to remain in business. And women business owners are the fastest growing market according to the Center. Between 1997 and 2004, the number of women-owned firms increased at nearly twice the $7.5 million, raised by selling bank shares. By the time its doors opened, its education campaign was in full motion. The bank s founders cast a wide net by targeting people in the community who were unbanked. Often those were individuals who never had a checking or savings account or stopped doing business with a bank because they lost a job or bounced one too many checks. Some weeks, Henningsen says, she conducted up to 15 seminars for civic organizations, churches and local employers that wanted their staff to learn about banking topics. Teaching people how checking and savings accounts worked and the importance of establishing good credit became part of the bank s mission. The bank also partnered with many childcare centers that began popping up all over town and government employment agencies that trained women on welfare to reenter the workforce. Once Henningsen learned that most companies would only hire people whose paychecks could be directly deposited into a bank account, she made an offer no one could refuse. She agreed to open a bank account at Legacy Bank for every participant as long as each attended one of her financial 50 IndependentBanker

4 management seminars. The two-hour course explained direct deposit and introduced the bank s products and services. Once people started hearing that there was a bank that would work with them and let them open a bank account, the floodgates opened, she says. Most came in here armed with some knowledge about their responsibility as a customer of Legacy Bank. When they got that information, many of them [became] our best customers. Some weeks I conducted up to 15 seminars for civic organizations, churches and local employers that wanted their staff to learn about banking topics. Margaret Henningsen, Legacy Bank Expanded Reach Although 75 percent of Legacy Bank s customers are a direct result of this outreach effort, the bank still needed to make money. No margin, no mission, quickly became Henningsen s mantra. So another layer was added to its education campaign in The bank began focusing on converting 25 percent of its clientele into profitable loan customers within a five-year period. As its hook, the bank used the Earned Income Tax Credit for low-income workers, through which many of the bank s customers received a tax refund of more than $3,000 in Henningsen then encouraged recipients to use the newfound funds for a new bank product called the CD and Asset Credit Builder Loan. Under the program, customers deposited a minimum of $1,000 into a certificate of deposit which was in turn used as collateral for a loan. Once customers paid off the loan, they still had their original deposit plus interest, she explains. 52 IndependentBanker

5 Once again, classes were used to educate consumers about the program. They were educated about the value of taking a loan out, paying it off and getting their credit straightened out or cleaned up, Henningsen says. (About 50 customers participated.) Our default rate is very low less than 1 percent of 1 percent. Tapping the Youth Market This summer, Legacy Bank developed another program, this time for 230 students between the ages of 16 and 19. The City of Milwaukee and Manpower, a national temporary employment agency, joined forces to find internship positions for them during the summer months. Since the teens would be paid via direct deposit, Manpower approached the bank to open a savings account for each intern. Once Legacy Bank agreed, the agency handed the bank a check that covered the opening deposits for all of the accounts. Like the other programs, these interns also had to attend the bank s financial management course. Eighty percent of the students kept their account open after the internship experience, and roughly one-third of their parents also opened up accounts. Still, there are plenty more customers who need to be reached and schooled on financial skills. Henningsen says her bank is positioning itself to offer more home and small business loans. Within the next five years, she expects the bank s assets to soar to $500 million. Legacy Bank is a true community bank in that we provide services and products that our community needs that are not provided by the big boys, she says. Never lose sight of the role of the community bank, to make the community you re in thrive. We re responsible for picking up the slack and making sure our community is healthy financially. ib Carol Patton is a free-lance writer in Las Vegas IndependentBanker 53

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