The new program is part of the bank’s “inclusive banking programs,” and is designed for all cannabis-related, plant-touching businesses, many of which have struggled with access to financial services.
Berkshire Bank is entering the cannabis banking business, launching a new unit aimed at serving an industry that has struggled to access financial services.
The business will be launched through a partnership with Green Check Verified, a cannabis financial services company, to offer an integrated platform for clients to apply and monitor their transactions.
“We recognize many banks do not serve the needs of businesses that sell cannabis-related products and services,” said Lucy Bellomia, senior executive vice president, and head of retail banking. “These businesses have been underserved and we believe, as an industry, we must do better to promote economic equity and ensure access to safe banking services.”
The new program is part of the bank’s “inclusive banking programs,” and is designed for all cannabis-related, plant-touching businesses. The bank specializes in dispensaries, growers, laboratories, processors, transporters, and waste disposal.
Many banks and credit unions are wary of working with the cannabis industry. Cannabis, though legalized in Massachusetts, remains illegal at the federal level. Recently, Mastercard moved to ban cannabis debit transactions, a step that industry leaders said will financially strain cannabis businesses while also making the industry less safe.
Berkshire Bank’s new program launches at a time when the state agency that oversees the cannabis industry has been undergoing crisis after crisis in the past year.
The new banking program will make a suite of services available to cannabis businesses, including ACH and wire services, armored cash pick-up, bank-at-work, debit card and checks, financial education, mobile and online banking, mobile deposit, relationship banking, deposit account control agreements, high yield savings and money market accounts, and wealth management.
The program will be led by Ryan Handelman, who joins the bank as the director of specialty banking. Prior to joining Berkshire, Handelman led the cannabis business banking program at Northern Bank and held roles with Green Check Verified.
The team will also be joined by five bankers across the bank’s footprint in New York, Connecticut, Rhode Island, and Vermont.
“At Berkshire Bank, we look forward to providing a comprehensive solution to the banking challenges faced by cannabis businesses and their employees,” Handelman said in a statement. “The ability to provide a full suite of products and services at an affordable price is essential to the growth of this developing industry.”
As a part of the new cannabis banking program, the bank will offer webinars, seminars, and educational events. The first two events, titled ‘Coffee & Cannabis Conversation,’ will be held in Warwick, Rhode Island, and Albany.
The leader in cannabis banking in Massachusetts for a long time was Century Bank before it was acquired by Eastern Bank in 2021. Eastern then agreed to transfer Century’s cannabis banking business to Needham Bank. Others in the space include Swansea’s BayCoast Bank, Gardner’s GFA Federal Credit Union, and Dedham Savings Bank
Berkshire is the ninth-largest bank in the state with $6.3 billion in Mass. deposits, according to the most recent Business Journal research.
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