Columbus resident Lisa Berger, the proposed board chair of Fortuna Bank, which is due to open later this year in Grandview, told the Columbus Jewish News one of the bank’s goals is to help women overcome financial burdens as it will be one of the few female-owned and operated banks in the United States.

She said female empowerment holds strong roots in her life as one of three daughters who went to an all-girls school growing up.

“I was lucky to be surrounded by people who always propped me up and helped me and told me I could do it,” Berger said.

Berger, who does not belong to a synagogue, but grew up observing all of the Jewish holidays, said she noticed a need for women to have financial literacy mentorship and this lead to the idea of a bank that focused on female empowerment.

“Our mission is to be a bank for all of our communities, but we will have a specific focus on lifting women beyond the barriers to their financial success,” she said.

Berger, who is also an attorney, said she had a business partner, Jeff Meyer, who opened a bank before, so she enlisted his help in bringing her idea to life.

Meyer, a Bexley resident who belongs to Beth Jacob Congregation in Columbus, will serve on the board of directors and is one of the initial investors in the bank.

“I approached him to ask if he would look into opening a women-owned bank that would focus on uplifting women in the community and that’s our origin story,” she said.

Ilaria Rawlins, who is the proposed president and CEO of the bank, is a “successful banker” who has previously been part of a new bank, Berger said.

“She knows what it takes to make a bank successful,” she said. “She is equally motivated to help women, and specifically women business owners, succeed.”

Fortuna will have a specific focus on the educational aspect of banking, Berger said.

She said, “It’s our hope to both put on our own educational programs and series, and also partner with other women’s groups both locally and statewide to educate women, to put on programs, to have speakers, to provide mentorship opportunities, and the reception we’ve had so far has been pretty outstanding.”

One does not have to look far to see that the pay gap between men and women starts at an early age, Berger said.

“We’ve seen studies that say parents pay boys twice as much allowance as girls and that gap sustains and grows over time,” she said.

Fortuna has been in the works for the last 18 months with those efforts culminating with applications submitted Feb. 15 to the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation and originating depository financial institution, she said.

She said next step is conditional approval. This process usually takes three to four months. Upon conditional approval, regulators will tell Berger, Rawlins and others how much money they need to raise from investors and how much time they have to raise the funds.

“As we’re going to be a women-owned bank, the majority of our investors have to be women,” Berger said.

The minimum investment has been set at $10,000, which is lower than many other banks because it is more difficult for women to access capital, she said.

Berger said they hope to open the bank during the second quarter of 2023.

“We are deep into the negotiation of our lease for the space,” she said. “At this point, all options are open and the sky’s the limit.”

Research has found that there are less than 20 female-owned banks in the United States and Fortuna’s executives have spoken with the most recently opened one, First Women’s Bank of Chicago, Berger said.

“Options are open and we’re willing and happy to do anything that helps lift women up and is a sound business decision,” she said.

Berger said she chose Columbus as the location for the bank because it has been home for her whole life.

“(I) thought I’d just start helping the people in my own community first,” she said.

In addition to the proposed board chair, and proposed president and CEO, Fortuna Bank has identified a proposed chief financial officer, controller, community development liaison and board of directors, she said.

“We’re really lucky to have them,” Berger said. “These are all leaders in the community here and they’re all excited to be on board. Everybody’s pretty excited.”

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