On May 18, Houston-based Agility Bank NA announced that it has received all regulatory approvals to open as the first bank in the U.S. primarily owned and led by women under a special charter by the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency. Through this Minority Depository Institution (MDI) charter, Agility Bank’s focus will be on serving women and all small and mid-size businesses. The bank opened for business on May 23.
“This is a historic event for banking, our country and Houston,” says Lauren Sparks, founder, president and CEO. “Our goal from the beginning has been to promote financial parity for women, so they have better access to capital and can have a seat at the table in a world where differences are valued and celebrated.”
Sparks notes that nearly 97 percent of the businesses in the Houston region have fewer than 500 employees. “There are more than 200,000 small businesses in the Houston region today and that number is growing—many will be owned or started by women,” she says. “Minority- and women-owned businesses are growing at a rate faster than any other group. We are going to be there to support the growth, opportunities and success of these and all business owners.”
“Today marks a small, but important step in increasing diversity in bank leadership and ownership,” says Michael J. Hsu, acting comptroller of the currency. “My hope is that today’s event marking Agility Bank’s success in obtaining a national bank charter inspires others to follow in founder Lauren Sparks’ footsteps.”
Achieving the Minority Depository Institution charter enables Agility Bank to work with other financial institutions and corporations to foster deeper economic growth. While there are currently about 4,400 banks in the U.S., there are only about 156 MDI banks that target underserved communities. Agility Bank is the first established with the purpose of supporting women, as well as all business owners of all small and mid-size companies.
To achieve MDI designation, a bank must have 51 percent minority ownership and board membership. Agility Bank’s board is 75 percent minority and 54 percent of its ownership is minority. In addition, more than 85 percent of Agility Bank’s shareholders are Houstonians. Agility Bank, which has a national charter and is insured by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, has raised more than $35 million in capital surpassing its regulatory requirement of $30 million to open.
“A group of women asked me in the 1980s to form a bank. Houston was just not ready. Today, it is,” says Edna Meyer-Nelson, a founding Agility Bank board member and former banker. “Our investors have said that it is time for a commercial community bank to focus on those small and mid-size companies who are growing our economy.” Meyer-Nelson, who founded one of the most successful woman-owned real estate development firms in Texas, adds: “The interest in this bank speaks to the overwhelming desire for access to new avenues of capital and services for all companies intent on growing our economy.”
“Yes, we are a bank,” Sparks adds, “but we have built the community bank of the future, and we are positioned for the new shape of banking.”