Trust and time Featured

12:46pm EDT June 24, 2005

Entrepreneurs may be long on imagination, determination, business sense and drive, but they almost never have enough time.

Entrepreneurs, more than their counterparts in publicly traded companies, often don't have the luxury of time to devote to long or repetitive meetings. Bankers must understand this and bring a proper sense of urgency when dealing with business owners.

Regardless of how large or diverse their companies eventually become, and no matter how much authority and responsibility they delegate to others in the organization, entrepreneurs often remain very hands-on when it comes to their businesses. They are involved in or informed of every significant decision that's made.

People who devote that kind of time to their businesses want things in order. They want bankers, attorneys, accountants and other professionals they can trust. They want to make a decision and not worry about it again.

That makes it particularly important for entrepreneurs to select the right bank. Bankers who serve entrepreneurs must look at each client as an independent customer, regardless of how similar it may be to other closely held, family-owned firms. Virtually every bank offers the financial products entrepreneurial firms need, from checking accounts and loan products to estate planning and investments. The difference is in how well the people delivering those products understand the particular challenges that entrepreneurs face, as well as the issues confronting the owners of specific companies.

Experienced bankers appreciate the time constraints under which entrepreneurs continually operate, and approach every meeting and phone conversation focused on what must be accomplished and what is needed to get the task done. Additionally, such bankers are anticipatory -- they look beyond the immediate requirements to see what may be needed a few years down the road.

They also take the time to understand each business by asking questions, such as how old key manufacturing equipment is, what kinds of expansion the owner expects and what that expansion will require financially.

Armed with that information, a banker can provide entrepreneurs not only with the lines of credit they need today but also with the borrowing capacity - and service -- that will see them through tomorrow. The banker might, for instance, discover that a certain company provides cars for its key executives. By establishing a vehicle line of credit, separate from the revolving credit, the bank enables the business owner to fax over dealer invoices and let the bank handle the rest.

At the same time, a good banker understands when a business doesn't need a particular product or service. When bankers ask the right questions and listen carefully to the answers, they don't offer busy entrepreneurs the wrong things.

Finally, good bankers realize that they don't lose clients because a loan isn't approved or a credit line is lower than expected. Bankers lose clients when the clients begin to feel the bank has grown too large, or the banker has become too busy, to give them the service they want.

Entrepreneurs, especially, have a hard time letting go. They follow up on every detail to assure themselves that things are moving forward properly. They can't do that when they are forced into a jungle of voicemails, e-mails and faxes that may not receive prompt responses.

Unfortunately, in many banks, the people who have developed the knowledge and understanding needed to work with entrepreneurs are promoted until they are no longer working directly with these clients. When banks encourage department heads to maintain active client relationships while they manage the department, and give them freedom to use their authority to make quick decisions on the bank's behalf, entrepreneurs win.

Bankers who understand the entrepreneurial spirit approach their client service accordingly. They rearrange their own schedules as necessary to suit their entrepreneurial clients' calendars, they prepare for every meeting and telephone call by staying focused on what is required to get the job done, they open entrepreneurs' eyes to advantageous financial options and they return messages as quickly as possible. In short, bankers who understand entrepreneurs take pride in offering fast answers rather than long "maybes."

Bill Spoo is president of the West Region in the commercial banking department of MB Financial Bank. Reach him at (630) 993-8302 or