“Relationship” might be the most overused word in banking these days, but it sums up the difference between providing a commodity and truly serving a customer’s needs.

“It really is about having a relationship with someone who comes to know and trust you,” says Jeffrey M. Whalen, senior vice president in the Specialty Markets division at Bridge Bank. “What we do in this industry is serve the needs of clients.”

Smart Business spoke with Whalen about how banks stay involved with clients and build mutually beneficial relationships.

Where should price fit into the decision when choosing a bank?

Most business owners say that, when it comes to choosing a bank, developing a long-term relationship in which owners feel empowered to achieve their goals is their highest priority.

Sole proprietors, closely held corporations and family owned businesses in particular want to get to know their banker, and they want their banker to know them and the ups and downs of their industry. They still want a competitive price, but more often than not, they are seeking a partner who can add real, tangible value to their business in the form of sector expertise, advisory services, etc.

Certainly there are business owners who do prioritize pricing above other aspects of a banking relationship, but in those instances, the owners shouldn’t be surprised if the relationship with their banker doesn’t yield much in terms of value-added services.

By nature, some businesses are very transactional and may not require value-added services. In those cases, business owners may look to other criteria to evaluate a potential banking relationship, such as how active the bank is in supporting their industry or business ecosystem, or how the bank’s core values align with theirs.

Some also want to deal with independent banks, as opposed to larger national banks, because they often have direct access to decision-makers. At a large bank, your account might be managed from a region far from your own, and local representatives can’t help you if there is a problem. For example, if you want to increase a line of credit or need help optimizing cash flows, a regional or independent bank may be able to respond faster because of its locale and relationship with you.

How can banking relationships provide additional benefits to the customer?

Relationship benefits depend in large part on what kind of bank you have chosen to partner with. Banks with a broad range of capabilities can, for example, accommodate an equally broad range of needs a business owner might have as his or her company moves throughout the business cycle. And banks with broad sector knowledge can bring a unique and valuable perspective to the table when helping a business owner evaluate options for growth and expansion, for example. Also, a bank should be able to bring forward a network of professional service providers who can help the owner with other issues that inevitably arise, such as how to establish an employee stock option plan, tax audit and preparation, etc.

So, the right relationship can yield a multitude of additional benefits, and it is important that these conversations are held prior to committing to a bank.

How frequently should bank personnel and clients meet?

It should be every month for larger, more complex client relationships and at least every quarter for smaller ones. Those guidelines, however, are general. Every business should be viewed as unique — because it is.

Therefore, the frequency of interactions with a banker should be driven by the needs of the client, and the dynamics of its business. It’s important for clients to know that a bank should have their best interests at heart and is there to solve problems. Sometimes a client might have problems it isn’t even aware of, but if its banker has the right experience and perspective, and if the communication in the relationship is frequent, the banker should be able to catch these problems before they impact the client’s business.

Communication in the relationship, combined with expertise on the side of the banker, is the key to getting the most in terms of value for the business owner. It really becomes a strong partnership if that can be achieved.

Jeffrey M. Whalen is a senior vice president, Specialty Markets, at Bridge Bank. Reach him at (408) 556-8614 or jeff.whalen@bridgebank.com.

Insights Banking & Finance is brought to you by Bridge Bank

Published in Northern California

NIVEA Global was looking to partner with a celebrity who could genuinely represent its skincare products in a worldwide marketing initiative celebrating its 100th year. Enlisting the services of Brand Synergy Group, a marketing firm with strong ties in the entertainment industry, NIVEA discovered a perfect match in singer Rihanna, who had been introduced to the brand by her grandmother.

BSG Partner and Vice President Laura Striese joined former Island Def Jam Music Group co-worker and current BSG CEO Jeff Straughn when he founded the firm two years ago, combining their experience in strategic marketing for the entertainment industry to build a marketing agency that pairs celebrities with corporations for advertising and promotional campaigns.

The five-person firm’s portfolio has grown to include partnerships across various industries between well-known names such as Cee Lo Green and Duracell.

“(We) create strategies, really take time with our clients to sit down and decide what it is they’re looking to accomplish and how we can partner them with artists to help them do so,” Striese says.

Identifying constituents’ needs and goals is the first step to facilitating a successful partnership. Begin by reviewing clients’ past methods and strategies, identifying failures as well as successes.

“You never want to spin your wheels and work on something that’s already been vetted, tried and executed, and failed,” Striese says.

This interaction should be direct and personal.

“It’s really important to maintain that level of face-to-face interpersonal communication,” Stirese says. “You have to spend plenty of time sitting down with the client and really getting an understanding of what they’re looking to achieve. And it’s not just a matter of sitting in one meeting; it’s a matter of spending a lot of time with them to understand their long-term goals. Work alongside their existing agencies. … All the information is out there – the goals of all their different silos, be it digital or sales, whatever.”

In addition to giving deeper insight, this personalized association fosters trust – a necessary element for collaboration.

“It’s a bit intimidating,” Striese says. “Where do you begin? How are we going to be able to work together? How do we even begin to have that conversation?”

“A lot of this comes down to word of mouth and the element of trust. … They feel comfortable sharing the information with us and letting us know where projects are going, because they too see the value in this partnership marketing.”

Maintain this personal level of interaction even when not face-to-face to strengthen the relationship, as well as bolster creative exchange.

“Pick up the phone and call people when you need to speak to them, and really work through ideas that way,” Striese says. “E-mails (you) can rely on to follow up and do the next-step-type stuff, but the conceptualizing and getting those ideas fleshed out, we need to really speak to one another.”

Direct communication also ensures clarity.

“When you can deal directly with the brands and with the artists, you understand what both agendas are – you don’t have other people weighing in about their cut of that.”

Once the needs and goals of your constituents have been identified, you can more accurately plan potential partnerships. Brand Synergy Group uses a methodology called Brand Alignment Matrix to evaluate artists’ and brands’ compatibility.

“On one axis we list all of the artists we’re considering for a campaign, and on the other we list all of the brand’s attributes,” Striese says. “We determine which artists are really going to fit for the brand and make sure they will resonate with the brand consumers.”

After taking the time to identify and align constituents’ needs, you then need to facilitate communication between the involved parties.

“Often times they probably feel as though they’re speaking different languages, but at the same time, ultimately, you can help decipher what they’re saying because at the end of the day, they’re both looking to achieve the same thing,” Striese says.

How to reach: Brand Synergy Group, (212) 584-8045 or www.brandsynergygroup.com

Direct approach

Personal communication is a key focus internally for Brand Synergy Group.

“Work really hard as a team to make sure that the team members have all the information that they need, that they’re well-informed, that they have the insight they need to be confident in their ability to create and execute a strategy,” says Laura Striese, co-founder and vice president.

Face-to-face interaction is integral to ensuring employees are well informed.

“Even though we’re in this digital age where e-mails are supposed to help keep businesses moving and flowing, I think a lot of times … that can slow you down,” Striese says. “Get up, get out of your chair and go talk to them.”

This will also push employees to be more independent.

“If you can always reach somebody by e-mail, you can always ask somebody else what you think you should do,” Striese says. “It’s really about delegating and making sure there are great people on the team that are all responsible for different aspects of the business.

While we all work together to strategize and execute, ultimately one or two people are going to be closest to the project and be responsible to make those decisions. So they feel confident they don’t always have to check with everybody else - sometimes there are just moments where you have to make those decisions on the fly, and because they’re closest to it, it’s a well-educated decision.”

Published in National