Wells Fargo Lends Businesswomen a Hand

The hullabaloo inspired by Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg's new book, Lean In, has put the subject of how women achieve success in business front and center. Obviously, Sandberg speaks from experience. However, all the positivity and persistence in the world won't help women get ahead -- particularly those heading female-owned businesses -- if financing is too difficult to secure.

There are some banks, however, that have lending and networking programs aimed specifically at women-owned businesses in an effort to help them succeed. One of these banks is Wells Fargo (NYSE: WFC  ) , which recently announced its stepped-up commitment to these entrepreneurs by increasing its lending target to $55 billion by the year 2020.

Original pledge: $1 billion
When Wells first created the plan in 1995, it promised to lend $1 billion to women business owners over a three-year span. The program really took off, and Wells kept increasing its commitment, raising the target to $10 billion in 1996, then upping the ante to $15 billion in 2002. Since the plan's inception, the bank has lent over $38 billion to women-owned businesses.

Wells is also supportive of groups that cater to the needs of women entrepreneurs, such as the National Association of Women Business Owners. Last September, Wells awarded a $30,000 grant to California-based Women's Economic Ventures, an educational non-profit to which the bank has been donating for 15 years.

Other, less-big banks also offer support
Although Wells' program has the widest scope, other banks have stepped up to the plate, as well. PNC Financial (NYSE: PNC  ) has a PNC-Certified Women's Business Advocates program, which entails mentoring and networking services. The bank currently has 900 specially trained bankers nationwide that work with women who own their own small businesses. PNC estimates that it loans approximately $1 billion annually to women business owners, noting that the bank surpassed that amount last year.

Cleveland, Ohio-based KeyCorp (NYSE: KEY  ) has lent over $6 billion to women entrepreneurs since 2005 through its Key4Women program. Like PNC, the bank also makes networking and educational opportunities available to its clients, and its reach extends into 14 states. The Key4Women program holds seminars and workshops all over the country several times each month.

With the reputations of many banks still suffering from the upheaval caused by the financial crisis, it's refreshing to see some institutions reaching out to the community with little fanfare, just as a normal part of doing business. For those of you who consider the softer side of banking in your investing decisions, these programs are another reason to give these particular banks a good look.

Wells Fargo's dedication to solid, conservative banking helped it vastly outperform its peers during the financial meltdown. Today, Wells is the same great bank as ever, but with its stock trading at a premium to the rest of the industry, is there still room to buy, or is it time to cash in your gains? To help figure out whether Wells Fargo is a buy today, I invite you to download our premium research report from one of The Motley Fool's top banking analysts. Click here now for instant access to this in-depth take on Wells Fargo.


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