Bank benefits Featured

1:07pm EDT July 27, 2005
When business owners want to add employee benefits, they may consult their insurance carriers, tax advisers and attorneys as they look for affordable programs that won’t break their backs to administer. They should also consider talking to their bankers.

Why? In programs that often are marketed under names such as “Bank at Work,” many banks are taking their services out of the bank and directly to their business customers’ employees. With these programs, bank staff members visit workplaces to open checking or savings accounts and implement other basic services for employees.

In most cases, there is no charge to the employer; all that’s needed is a space for the bank staff to meet with interested employees.

Such programs, which may have originated as add-on services for existing commercial bank customers, have evolved into highly desirable benefits that employers can offer with no effort. In many cases, banks with strong presences in ethnic markets offer materials in Spanish, Polish, Korean, Ukrainian or other languages. That’s particularly important to companies that employ large numbers of immigrants who may not yet speak English well.

Recent immigrants — those who have not been in the country long enough to have selected banks of their own — appreciate workplace banking services. By allowing them to open accounts and establish banking relationships, the services represent not only a step toward financial security but also a step away from currency exchanges and other businesses that charge check-cashing fees that can erode any paycheck’s buying power.

As with any service, however, business owners should know what they’re getting before they invite a bank to talk to their employees. Most often, banks focus on opening checking accounts and providing debit cards for employees when they visit work sites, although they also can typically open savings accounts or even take loan applications, if required.

Many banks also include a strong educational element for people who may never have had a bank account. Bankers will sit down with employees to discuss how to manage a checking account, improve credit ratings or select the right savings product.

Good banks understand that having an account doesn’t do much good if you don’t know how to use it — and will take the time to be sure that new customers know exactly how their accounts work.

The best programs are those in which bankers work hard to cater to the needs of each company’s employees, regardless of whether there are five employees or 5,000, or whether they’re from Ukraine, Latin America or the heart of Chicago. Valuable workplace banking programs will accommodate different shifts and will visit the workplace as often as employers and employees feel is necessary.

Banks should recognize that while it’s important to win new customers, it’s even more important to retain existing accounts. A good workplace banking program won’t measure success by the number of new accounts it opens in a day — and neither should employers. A successful workplace banking program is one that earns employees’ trust and establishes positive relationships, even if those relationships don’t immediately translate into new accounts. When the bank adds an element of fun to its visits with snacks or prizes, relationship-building gets a boost.

In the end, a workplace banking program that gives employees convenient, voluntary opportunities to establish, renew or expand their relationships with a bank may be one of the best benefits employers can offer. If the banking staff is knowledgeable, friendly, caring and attentive, not only do employees walk away with the banking services that are best for them, but the employer — and especially the human resources department — walks away looking like a hero.

Susan Fisher is regional manager and vice president in retail banking at MB Financial Bank. Reach her at (847) 653-2813 or sfisher@mbfinancial.com.