Businesses in the West Midlands that struggle to access finance from high street lenders are set to benefit from a £4m funding package thanks to a unique partnership between three socially-minded organisations.
Block Inc (NYSE: SQ), a global technology company with a focus on financial services, is making its first social impact investment in the UK, providing £2m capital to ART Business Loans (ART), which is being matched by well-established ethical lender Unity Trust Bank.
ART, a Birmingham-based Community Development Finance Institution (CDFI), was founded in 1997 to help alleviate poverty through enterprise. ART lends between £10,000 and £150,000 to businesses in underserved and disadvantaged communities which are unable to obtain their full requirements from traditional Banks.
Dr Steve Walker, Chief Executive at ART said: “This deal is a real game-changer for us and a great vote of confidence from such well-established institutions as Block and Unity Trust Bank.
“With the backing and support of these two allies, ART has never been in a stronger position to write the next chapter of our 25-year history.
“This £4 million agreement puts ART on a firm financial footing at a time of considerable economic uncertainty and enables us to continue to provide key financial support to SMEs across the West Midlands, many of whom are currently facing considerable financial headwinds.”
Block is made up of ecosystems, including Square, Cash App, Spiral, TIDAL, and TBD, with a united purpose of expanding economic access for everyone. Today’s investment comes from its $100m social impact investment fund, which was established in 2020 to support minority and underserved communities, allocating $10 million for social impact investments in markets outside the US.
Amrita Ahuja, Chief Financial Officer at Block, said: “We are thrilled to be making our first UK social impact investment. ART’s efforts to help underserved groups access fair and responsible finance is completely aligned with Block’s mission of economic empowerment.
“We believe fair access to finance is what unlocks opportunities for individuals and communities and are pleased to be able to invest in local programs that further this mission.”
Unity Trust Bank, a thriving commercial bank that is headquartered in Birmingham city centre, has been using banking to improve the lives of UK communities for nearly 40 years. It is a long-standing supporter of CDFIs and has provided ART with £20.4m funding since 2005.
Deborah Hazell, CEO at Unity Trust Bank, said: ““Financial inclusion is a key focus for us and we are committed to providing access to fair and affordable finance through intermediaries such as ART.
“Historically, we have supported CDFIs by match funding grant money they have received from local authorities, central government or the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF). This new co-lending partnership is a significant development and we welcome the addition of a corporate investor supporting this underserved sector.”
Block, Inc. (NYSE: SQ) is a global technology company with a focus on financial services. Made up of Square, Cash App, Spiral, TIDAL, and TBD, we build tools to help more people access the economy. Square helps sellers run and grow their businesses with its integrated ecosystem of commerce solutions, business software, and banking services. With Cash App, anyone can easily send, spend, or invest their money in stocks or Bitcoin. Spiral builds and funds free, open-source Bitcoin projects. Artists use TIDAL to help them succeed as entrepreneurs and connect more deeply with fans. TBD is building an open developer platform to make it easier to access Bitcoin and other blockchain technologies without having to go through an institution.
About Block’s Social Impact Investment Fund
In 2020, Block established a $100 million (USD) social impact investment fund in support of minority and underserved communities, driven by the company’s purpose of economic empowerment and its ongoing commitment to racial equality. $10 million has been allocated as an investment in international funds and lenders focusing on underserved communities in Block’s markets outside the U.S.
About Unity Trust Bank
Unity Trust Bank is an award-winning, independent, commercial bank that uses banking to improve the lives of UK communities.
Living by its principles of banking with integrity, Unity’s purpose is to help create a better society, not simply maximise profits. Operating for almost 40 years, it has supported like-minded organisations that share its values and address social, economic and environmental needs.
With offices in Birmingham, Manchester and London, Unity offers a range of banking services, including current accounts, savings accounts and loans. Unity is a Real Living Wage employer, a Fair Tax Mark business, a Women In Finance Charter signatory, a member of the Banking Standards Board and currently holds the Investors in People Gold standard.March 6, 2023 1:05 pm