St. Petersburg-based First Home Bank, coming off a stellar year in terms of asset growth, ended 2020 with a new mission for 2021: to become the preeminent minority business lender in the Tampa Bay region.
The bank, one of the area leaders in handling PPP loans, had $1.5 billion in assets through Sept. 30, according to Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. data. That’s up 196.4% from $506.8 million through Sept. 30, 2019. Now the bank heads into 2021 with what CEO Anthony Leo calls an “aggressive goal” of distributing more than $50 million in loans to minority- and women-owned businesses in the region by 2023. “This is the right thing to do for both the community and our shareholders,” Leo says in a statement.
The bank made that announcement in December, after a roundtable discussion for First Home employees called “Advancing Minority Businesses.” Speakers at the event, according to the statement, addressed some of the financial challenges facing minority-owned small businesses and potential lenders to them. The list includes language and cultural barriers; lack of trust in financial institutions; red tape; financial literacy; and the disproportionate impact of COVID-19.
Eileen Rodriguez, regional director of the Florida Small Business Development Corp. at USF, was one of several speakers who touched on some of those cultural and related barriers — with a note of caution. “Don’t assume minority business owners are unsophisticated,” Rodriguez said at the event. “You will find they are all different in terms of financial and management experience.”