A bank by any other name is a bank.
That might have been a topic for debate in the previous decade when women charged commercial banks with discriminatory lending practices and organized their own banks in several states.
Now that most of the remaining women's banks have proved their viability while influencing the policies of competitors, it may not be necessary to emphasize their original special-interest role, at least one of their presidents believes.
Banks for women as a special group are no longer needed, says Eve Grover, president of First Women's Bank of Maryland in Rockville.
"Women have come a long way" since First Women's Bank of Maryland opened in 1979, says Grover. "We no longer have to lead them by the hand."
Grover concedes that some women--especially those just entering the workplace and those who are returning--still need guidance in financial matters. But, says Grover, "They no longer represent the majority but are a minority."
Emily Womack, president of Women's National Bank in the District, agrees with Grover but "in a different way."
"Our directors have always said we needed to broaden our deposit base, said Womack, whose bank--the first to be chartered as a national women's bank--opened in 1978.
Women's banks, Womack noted, provide a personal service that women weren't able to obtain at other banks. Realizing that they can get that type of service at her bank and other banks like it, women "don't feel threatened" any longer.
Grover recalled that when First Women's Bank of Maryland began organizing, women needed help in basic financial matters, such as how to obtain credit or financing. However, women have reached the point where they can compete effectively with their male counterparts for those services, she said.
Thus, her bank now emphasizes full banking services for the community, not just women, Grover asserted. "We are truly concerned with the entire community," she said. "We are just a friendly banker who serves the needs of a community."
Nonetheless, there is still a need for "for basic education," says Womack. Hence, Women's National has just initiated the 10th of its popular Brown Bag Seminars, which provide an opportunity for women to learn more about such things as budgeting, credit, how to buy a home and investment planning.
Similar seminars and workshops are held by First Women's Bank of Maryland. It also conducts workshops that give women practical experience in matters such as planning estates, writing wills or investing.
More important, however, both banks stress the importance of their outreach programs and establishing strong identities as full-service community banks.
Indeed, the evolution has been so complete that "our directors feel that at some point, you won't even think about the name of our bank," said Womack. "It will be just like Seaman's Bank, which was founded to serve a special group but which no longer carries a special connotation."
Although some among the remaining eight women's banks have changed their names, Grover doubts that hers will. "I consider the name a great asset to our bank," she said. "It definitely helps us because we have the services available and people will recognize that we do offer special personal services."
One measure of First Women's Bank of Maryland's success is that men account for 50 percent of its more than $14 million in deposits.
"Three years before we opened, I would never have dreamt that, but it's a fact," said Grover.
It's no coincidence either that the senior loan officer at First Women's Bank of Maryland happens to be a man. "That gives businessmen an option. They don't have to deal with me or with another woman if they want to discuss a loan," Grover explained.
"We have come a long way since 1975," says Grover.
Indeed, they have. Both women's banks in the area plan to open their first branch offices soon. Women's National will open a store-front automated branch on M Street in Georgetown this summer and FWB is preparing a feasibility study for a new office.
Capitalized at $1.8 million through a public stock sale, First Women's Bank of Maryland has assets of more than $17 million. Women's National began with a $2 million capitalization and ended 1981 with assets of $16.5 million, $11.8 million in deposits and a 1 1/2 percent return on assets.
It's possible that their continued growth might also change the role of women's banks. But the prospect of becoming a much bigger bank won't affect First Women's Bank of Maryland, Grover insists.
"It doesn't bother me at all," she said. "Training, counseling and providing services . . . I hope we will never lose that."