HSBC said on Thursday that it plans to lend US$1 billion to women-owned businesses through its newly launched Female Entrepreneur Fund in Hong Kong and 10 other markets over the next 12 months. The fund is part of the bank’s “HSBC Roar” initiative, which provides networking, masterclass and bespoke advisory services for women-led start-ups. “As the city continues to rebuild from the impact of the pandemic, small and medium-sized businesses will continue to be the bedrock on which our economies and local communities are built, meaning we need to ensure that those led by women are given the support to fulfil their full potential,” said Christina Ong, HSBC’s head of business banking, Hong Kong. The Female Entrepreneur Fund will be open to both new and existing customers in Hong Kong, Britain and the United States, as well as Argentina, the Channel Islands, Egypt, Indonesia, Malaysia, Mexico, Singapore and Uruguay. More than a third of women entrepreneurs experienced gender bias when raising capital and women-led businesses secured 5 per cent less capital on average globally, according to a 2019 report by HSBC’s private bank. A study by Boston Consulting Group that same year found that closing the gender gap for women-led businesses could boost global gross domestic product by US$2.5 trillion to US$5 trillion . Last year, female founders only received about 2 per cent of all venture capital dollars in the US, a five-year low, according to Pitchbook. That is despite US start-ups founded solely by women raising nearly US$6.4 billion in 2021. Separately, Citigroup on Thursday announced its new “Return to Work” programme, which is designed to help women in Hong Kong transition back after a career break. The programme is open to women who have taken a career break of two years or longer, and hope to join or return to the financial services industry, Citi said. Successful candidates will go through a six-month structured programme to transition back to the workplace and then be placed in a variety of roles across different departments based on their experience and skill sets, the bank said. “Through this programme, we want to attract women who are planning to return to the workforce after taking a career break. They are one of the greatest untapped talent pools and we want to support their transition back to work and further career advancement,” said Angel Ng, Asia-Pacific head of Citi Global Wealth and CEO for Citi Hong Kong and Macau.