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Business

German Women Bank On Investment

The spiral, according to 41-year-old entrepreneur Angelika Huber, is an ancient symbol of femininity. And yet she has chosen it as the logo for a brand new project – a bank for women.

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Angelika Huber (right) and Astrid Hastreiter plan to establish a bank for women by 2003.

There are good reasons for opening a bank just for women, according to Angelika Huber. "Women think differently. Women approach technology differently. And women have a different relationship to money," she says. "Conventional banks don't always support the way women do business."

Huber herself is rich in business credentials. In 1990 she founded a women's computer school in Munich. Three years ago, the school became a joint stock company and has generated over euro 1 million in income. Huber also manages a publishing house and works as a consultant.

Huber and her business partner Astrid Hastreiter started collecting the capital needed to establish a bank in Germany - €5m. The two women sent tens of thousands of emails seeking investment in the project.

Through market analyses Huber and Hastreiter found they had developed a sound concept, but the Women's Bank has had to be put on the backburner while they collect more funds, resolve legal problems expand their skeleton team.

And they're off

Huber describes herself as someone who is more inclined to shift an appointment forward, rather than postpone it. She has no intention of letting the project lose momentum. This Friday, the Bank came one step closer to becoming a reality. In Munich, Huber and Hastreiter launched the Women's Investment Management Company, where the funds will be held in trust for the Bank.

"Today the project moved from a political stage to an economic one," Huber said. In a year's time, she hopes the Bank will be operating. By 2004, it will offer full banking services to women, including personal savings accounts.

Why a women's bank?

A decade ago, the German consumers' organization 'Stiftung Warentest' discovered that banks were providing male customers with better service than women, because they had less trust in women's competence in financial matters. In the ten years since, banks have recognized that women represent a special market, and they now offer services and advice to attract female customers. In recent years, finance seminars for women have become common, and some banks even advertise better rates for women.

But that's not enough, say Huber and Hastreiter. It's still much harder for women to get loans. One of the goals of the Women's Bank is to offer small loans of up to 15,000 for company start-ups or university studies. The Grameen bank in Bangladesh and SEWA in India have been operating in this way since the 1970s, providing microcredit to assist women in getting small projects off the ground.

The idea of a women-friendly bank is not new to Germany. A women's bank existed in Berlin in 1910. The First World War caused its collapse. Another bank with political objectives, the EcoBank, met the same fate in June last year. After a number of loans failed, it became insolvent and its 22,000 customers lost more than euro 2.7m.

We'll do it our way

Huber was herself a member of the EcoBank co-operative and lost money when it went bankrupt. But that hasn't deterred her. The Women's Bank, she says, won't make the same mistakes. But it will invest in environmental funds. Profits from the bank will be invested in environmental and social projects. Huber says women are much more interested than men in investing ethically. They own nearly eighty percent of all environmental investments.

Huber says what will distinguish the women's bank from 'ordinary' banks is that it will cater to the needs of a particular group, rather than simply selling products.

Huber and Hastreiter are keen to stress that their bank is not a social service or a charity.

It will be managed by a small team, so as to keep costs down. The offices will be based in Munich, but services will only be offered online.

Huber says the Women's Bank is intended to be woman-friendly, not hostile to men. And yes, men will be able to use its services, if they're willing to take the risk!

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