DURHAM – M&F Bank is joining a new Citi Bank-led lending platform to help small-to-medium-sized businesses access loans of up to $10 million.

The North Carolina-based bank – the second oldest minority bank in the U.S. — is one of 18 banks chosen to join the Bridge built by Citi platform that aims to make the borrowing process “more equitable.”

Described as a “digital meeting place,” it allows borrowers and lenders to connect through a “simple online request.” They can also track the loan process in real-time.

“We are excited to be included,” James Sills, M&F Bank’s president and CEO, told WRAL TechWire. “The Bridge platform allows us to cast the net wider to lend beyond our five primary markets using technology.

“We expect to reach thousands of potential businesses in North Carolina.”

Local business leaders are also hailing the pilot.

“This is a bold step forward in the effort to extend banking services to all segments of the community,” said Bill Spruill, CEO and co-founder of Global Data Consortium, a global identity verification platform.

Last year, fresh off a $3.5 million raise, he led a push among tech companies to move their funds to M&F as a sign of support for the Black community.

Bill Spruill

“I continue to see M&F as one of the key bridges between the Triangle’s tech community and the broader community that we live, work and play in,” he said.

“The best engine for economic growth in a region, state, community is not to import jobs in through company relocation, but to grow jobs from within through lending partnerships such as this one.”

Founded in 1907 as Mechanics and Farmers Bank, M&F Bank has long been a symbol of the Durham’s African-American community.

The bank, along with NC Mutual, made up what was known as Durham’s Black Wall Street. It included a group of black businesses in downtown that became an economic engine for the city’s African-American community during the Jim Crow era of racial discrimination.

Today, it is the only Black-owned bank based in North Carolina, with branches in Durham, Raleigh, Charlotte, Greensboro and Winston-Salem.

However, it continues to face pandemic-related challenges.

“A weeks ago, I was cautiously optimistic that things were getting back to the new normal. Our loan pipeline for the third and fourth quarters was looking very good,” Sills said.

But with the recent surge in COVID cases, he believes the return to the new normal is still “a few months away.”

“Many minority firms are still in recovery mode and have not returned to the new normal,” he said. “It will probably take longer than most people think.”

Global Data’s Bill Spruill says effort to support minority bank is paying off