The U.S. Comptroller of the Currency has denied a local group's application to set up the nation's fist federally chartered women's bank in downtown Washington.
The applicants, who include a number of Washington businesswoman and educators, were told that as a group they lacked the qualifications to run a bank and failed to show the economic potential to make one profitable, according to a letter from the comptroller's office.
The applicants also were told that the downtown area in which they had planned to locate already has many banking offices and that other small banks in Washington, many of which serve special groups, "are finding it increasingly difficult to compete."
Emily H. Womach, who heads the proposed women's bank organizers, met late yesterday with Acting Comptroller Robert Bloom, whose office charters and regulates national banks, and gave him documents containing evidence which the organizers contended had not been considered because they had not been forwarded by a regional office.
Following the meeting, Bloom issued a letter saying he would "consider carefully" the material to detemine whether there are grounds to reconsider the denial. The organizers' lawyer, Robert C. Zimmer, described Bloom's response as "somewhat encouraging" and promised a complete rebuttal of the comptroller's reasons for denying the charter at a press conference today.
The first bank in the country to be run by women seeking to reverse alleged discrimination against women in banking was the First Women's Bank of New York, chartered by the state of New York in 1975. That same year, the State National Bank of Maryland, based in Bethesda, opened a branch at 6921 Arlington Road that is managed by women and operated primarily for the benefit of women.
Since then, womens groups have been formed in more than a dozen cities to set up similar financial institutions. No women's group has obtained a federal bank charter, which all banks in the District of Columbia and all national banks elsewhere have.
The proposal for a Women's National Bank here was first made in late 1974 and a formal application was filed with the comptroller's office a year ago. The organizers said they were seeking "to address the unfulfilled banking needs of women."
In a letter to attorney Zimmer, associate deputy comptroller Gail W. Pohn said the organizers failed to show that their services would be "uniquely directed at women," nor that "creditworthy women have been discriminated against in obtaining credit or other bank services in Washington."
"In short," Pohn said, "applicants failed to establish the uniqueness of the bank, other than its name . . ."
As a result, the application had to be considered on the same basis as any other, Pohn said, and his office "can admit only those qualified entrants that can be economically supported and profitably operated."
He also said that smaller banks in Washington "are finding it increasingly difficult to compete" and there is no reason to believe that Women's National Bank, proposed for a new building at 1627 K st. nw., would not have the same problem.
There are about 70 commercial banks in the Washington area, five of which we established to serve specific minorities. Two long-established banks serve the black community. The other three, all of which have been chartered since early 1973, serve respectively, American Indian, Oriental and Spanish-American clientele.
The biggest of these banks has deposits of $33 million while the smallest has $7.2 million. By contrast, Riggs National, the city's biggest bank, has $1,465 billion in deposits.
In his letter denying the women's bank application, associate deputy comptroller Pohn said that smaller District of Columbia banks with deposits below $50 million are having a hard time competing with bigger banks.
"The reasons include lack of substantial growth, inability to compete for larger accounts, increasing costs of doing business, small lending limits, lack of depth of qualified lending officers and strong competition from "the numerous banking offices throughout the Washington metropolitan areas."
The organizers also were told they "represent a minimum of business experience" and "overall . . . do not have the necessary business backgrounds or experience that is essential to the success of a new bank venture."
Pohn said that while one organizer, Jewel Rosenberg, has had extensive business experience as treasurer of House of Wines, Inc., she is "76 years of age, which raises a question as to the extent of her involvement in the organization and management of the venture."
Other organizers of the bank include Barbara Carroll, a Labor Department economist, who headed the organizing group when it filed its charter application last year, and Eleanor Franklin, associate dean for academic affairs at Howard University.
Other organizers were Jockey Club president Louise Gore; Gail T. Young, a systems accountant at the Federal Aviation Administration; Alicia E. Hastings, head of the department of physical medicine at Howard, and Rhea Radin, president of Rhea Radin Real Estate.
Lawyer Walter G. Finch was one of the organizers, as were Alverne S. Heilenthal, associate director of the Cost Accounting Standards Board; Leezee Porter, president of Porter Interior Design; Dixie Pemberton, a University of Maryland professor who heads its inland environmental laboratory; stockbroker Patricia Sprague; and Nancy Felipe Russo, staff associate at the American Psychological Association.
First Women's Bank of New York has had a turbulent history since it opened and its first president, Madeline McWhinney, resigned last September in the wake of what she called a fundamental disagreement on how the bank should be run.
In its first six months, the New York bank operated at a loss of $400,000 and experienced what employees called a "massive turnover" in personnel and problems with computer statements. A 23-year-old employee publicly charged the institution with discrimination after she was fired, upon notifying superiors she was pregnant.
Lynn D. Salvage, who has been working at the Treasury Department in an exchange program while on leave from a vice presidency at Bankers Trust Co., reportedly will be named to head the First Women Bank this year.