Money in the bank Featured

8:00pm EDT October 26, 2007

Many business owners turn to their banker only when they need a loan, but that can be a mistake, says Jamie Brotherton, senior vice president of Ohio Commerce Bank.

Instead of viewing bankers simply as a source of money, business owners should develop relationships with them, viewing them as valuable partners who can help grow their business.

“They need to work together and communicate as to what that business’s financial objectives are and how they can meet those needs going forward,” she says. “(Bankers) need to be part of it so they can understand what the business is trying to accomplish, what their financial objectives are, maybe areas where they anticipate growth.”

She says that by getting to know the business, the banker is in a better position to offer ideas.

“What they will do is they will offer solutions for them through offering appropriate products or services that might meet their needs,” she says. “It aids in the decision-making and problem-solving. If a company needs to borrow money, it would simplify or streamline the process. When someone knows you, they know the issues the business is dealing with and facing on a daily basis. That aids in obtaining financing for your company.”

To ensure the banker is helping you make the best decisions, never lie about what’s going on at your company.

“People need to be upfront and open and honest with the bank because the banker is going to be a financial partner in their business,” she says. “They need to understand the good, bad and ugly. They need to know the ups and downs so they can offer good solutions for them.

“As much information as possible is always helpful.”

Brotherton says poor communication with your banker can hinder the decision-making process when a banker is looking to extend credit or find other financial solutions.

“The banker has to understand why certain things are happening,” she says. “We as bankers can help businesses go to that next level. We can offer suggestions for dealing with economic life cycles because I deal with different types of businesses.

I have the exposure to how they have dealt with situations in the past, so it helps us offer suggestions or advice to other customers.”

To maintain that open communication and to make sure you’re getting the most informed advice, set aside time to meet with your banker and be prepared to answer questions. Arriving at the meeting ready to provide as much information as possible can go a long way toward impressing the banker.

“Understanding things that have happened in the business that you can point out, so the banker understands the economic life cycle of the business, like historical information, is always really important,” Brotherton says. “It’s important to meet with the banker on a regular basis.”

Therefore, don’t just schedule meetings with your banker when you need something.

“A good banker should be meeting with their clients quarterly,” she says. “If a business owner can set aside time for a banker to help them understand their business goals and objectives, then that just makes a solid foundation for expanding that relationship going forward.”

HOW TO REACH: Ohio Commerce Bank, (216) 910-0550 or www.ohiocommercebank.com

Choosing a bank

When choosing a bank, a business owner must consider a number of factors, including size, location and convenience.

Darren Nicolli, owner of Michael Christopher Salon, says that before he decided where to do business, he shopped around and settled on Ohio Commerce Bank because of its smaller size. He says that while the bank has fewer branches than a larger bank and he has to drive further, the service makes it worth it; when he needs something, the bank knows who he is, making it easier to get things done.

But regardless of the size of the bank, Nicolli says it comes down to loyalty and honesty in dealing with a bank that helps him daily.

“They knew if I was doing something, the first thing I was doing was calling them,” he says. “It’s a trust factor.”

When you have that loyalty and that trust with your bank, you feel a lot more comfortable when you are doing business or signing papers, Nicolli says.

“I never felt like there was anything else they were having me do that I didn’t feel good about,” he says.