Stronger relationships are often the pathway to better customer service

Employees who approach their work with confidence are more likely to bring the same positive energy to their interactions with customers, says Aaron Barnhart, Senior Vice President and Retail Sales Leader at Westfield Bank. Thus, one of the best ways to strengthen customer service in a company is to place employees in roles that fit with what they do best.

“The ability to relate to customers with confidence and compassion can make a world of difference,” Barnhart says. “When customers see that you employ individuals who are invested in their needs and are eager to provide a high level of service, it reflects well on the employee and your company as a whole. Customer service becomes less about being a job and more about helping people.”

The key to making this work is creating an environment where supporting customers and relationship building are held to the same high standards as being knowledgeable about the business.

Smart Business spoke with Barnhart about how to put your employees in position to provide great customer service.

What is a common mistake that companies make in trying to provide great customer service?

Companies often fall into the trap of talking about how good they are at providing customer service without clearly defining how they deliver on that promise. What is at the core of their exemplary service? You want employees who enjoy their work and understand your business. But they also need to be familiar with your company’s approach to customer service so they can respond in the moment. If this knowledge hasn’t been conveyed, or the company itself doesn’t fully understand the pillars on which its customer service platform was created, that’s a problem.

A customer service plan could center on building strong relationships, delivering quick response times, providing multiple contact points, flexibility or any number of other points. It could be a mix of all these characteristics. The critical piece is that the components of the plan need to be clearly defined. Once the framework of a plan has been conceived, it’s important that everyone understands the thought process behind it and can visualize how it should be carried out.

What’s the key to empowering employees?

Obviously, there is a hierarchy in any organization in terms of the authority to act and make decisions. However, it’s important that customers not feel as if they are being passed from one person to the next in their attempt to get a problem resolved. Successful organizations empower their business unit managers with standards. They are then passed down to department leaders, who are empowered with the authority to work within those standards to provide a positive customer experience.

Take steps to ensure that employees who do not have as much authority have easy access to someone who does to facilitate a faster response when a problem comes up. In some cases, it could be a very simple matter that a front-line employee can respond to without managerial support. Schedule regular training sessions to talk about various scenarios that might occur during the workday to ensure that employees are as prepared as possible to assist customers.

How has technology affected customer service?

Technology makes it easier for customers to do business without the need to interact with someone in person or on the phone. From a profitability and efficiency standpoint, this can free up personnel to focus on other important tasks. But that productivity comes with a cost if companies fail to maintain open communication channels for customers to ask questions, provide feedback and share their thoughts on your business. This is where relationship building becomes key. Companies in today’s world must make the most out of every face-to-face interaction because there are now fewer of them. When those opportunities arise, talk about the new tools that are available and learn how customers feel about them. Make the extra effort to help customers have a better experience with your business.

Insights Banking & Finance is brought to you by Westfield Bank

Work with your bank to assess your company heading into 2018

As we slip into the fourth quarter to wind down 2017, it’s time to start planning for the year ahead. When it comes to running a successful business, there are many factors to consider, such as staffing needs, making improvements to operational procedures and addressing your company’s finances. That’s where your bank comes in.

“There’s something to be said for building a relationship with your bank,” says Adrian Pasquale, Vice President and Senior Commercial Lender at Northwest Bank. “Regular communication promotes a high level of trust and keeps your banker updated on what’s happening with your business.”

Smart Business spoke with Pasquale about how consistent communication with your bank can pave the way to enduring success for your business.

What key steps can a company take to build a stronger relationship with its bank?
Open communication is critical to establishing and maintaining a strong relationship with your bank. You should have a team of trusted advisers in place working to identify growth opportunities for your business, with your banker at the top of that list.

To maintain a strong relationship with your bank, conduct an annual financial review and share projections for the upcoming year so potential credit needs can be addressed. If you’re in growth mode — either organically or through acquisitions — quarterly meetings help make your bank aware of potential needs so it can react appropriately.

Since bankers work with a variety of companies in various industries, they have a wealth of knowledge in terms of current market activity, trends and experience in structuring credit which can provide value to business owners.

What benefits does this provide the company?
In today’s fast-paced world, business moves at high speed. As a result, financial needs can change rapidly as well as the need for equipment or short-term working capital.

By maintaining a strong relationship with your bank, both you and your bank can respond more quickly to potential financial needs. A shortage of working capital or delays in financing can impact your bottom line and result in lost opportunities. Clear communication with your bank can help you avoid that fate and get the capital you need to grow and maintain your business.

What are some things companies may not know about how banks function that could enable a stronger relationship?
Most customers aren’t aware of the strict regulatory requirements federal agencies require banks to follow, which mandate that they keep historical and current financial data for borrowers on file to determine creditworthiness.

Most loan officers also work in a team setting where analysts prepare a credit summary  to obtain credit approval. Having a solid relationship with your banker would facilitate the loan approval process by maintaining updated files.

What materials or information should companies have available to make a meeting with their bank more productive?
Critical documents for bankers to review include current accounts receivable and accounts payable. These documents can help your banker determine potential credit needs.

If your company relies on federal funding as well, any information to help support continued funding is very helpful. Your banker should truly be your trusted business adviser and reinforce a solid relationship with your business. Banks can help support business growth and development, so the communication lines should be open and ongoing.

Relationships are a key to success with all businesses, no matter the industry. So maintain key relationships with your business partners and give your business a chance to achieve higher levels of success.

Northwest Bank is Member Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. (FDIC)

Insights Banking & Finance is brought to you by Northwest Bank

Banks can be a valuable partner as you look ahead to 2018

The fourth quarter is an important time to tie up loose ends and wrap up your financials while beginning to think about what the upcoming year might bring for you and your business.

“Regular reviews of your finances are vital to ensuring continued success and to avoid unpleasant surprises in the first quarter and come tax time,” says Lisa Carey, senior vice president and district manager at Northwest Bank.

“By keeping your financials up to date and regularly reviewing them with your banking partner, you can be prepared for whatever comes your way and stay the course to financial success.

Smart Business spoke with Carey about how businesses can wrap up their last quarter and plan for future success in the coming year.

What are some key things a business should be thinking about as it prepares for the final quarter of the year?

It’s important to know where you stand now, rather than after the first of the year. Take a holistic look at your finances for the year to assess what went well and identify problem areas that you could improve upon.

Touch base with your tax adviser to ensure you’re on track for the upcoming tax season. If you’ve had a successful year, you may want to increase your contribution to avoid tax penalties. If your fiscal year coincides with the calendar year, you should start creating your budget for the upcoming year and also plan to meet with your leadership team, board of directors, advisory council, consultants, advisers and staff to begin your strategic plan.

How does the company’s performance for the year thus far affect the strategy going into the fourth quarter?

The first thing you should do is look back at what your business has accomplished over the past three quarters to understand what worked and what didn’t. If you’ve had a good year, you may want to consider acquiring capital equipment to take advantage of accelerated depreciation.

In other words, it’s a method where you invest in an asset that loses value at a faster rate than traditional assets to minimize your overall taxable income for the year. The third quarter is also a good time to evaluate your overall line expenditures like personnel, marketing and operational budget to see where you need to make reductions or increase your spending in the upcoming year.

Although you may be tempted to focus only on successes, failures are just as important to evaluate. It can be tough to swallow, but they need to be evaluated so you and your team can avoid making the same mistakes in the future. 

What are key things you can do during the final quarter to set your company up for success in the first quarter of the new year?

In order to set your business up for success in the new year, you should do a thorough review of your company’s year-to-date progress — what are you doing well and what can be improved upon? You should also have an understanding of the global economy and how it may affect your industry.

If, for example, you work in the tourism industry and the price of oil is expected to skyrocket, you may want to consider planning for a downturn in your industry as people cut back on traveling. As technology continues to evolve, you should also review your IT budget to see where you can improve processes to elevate your overall efficiency and cut back on unnecessary spending.

Information security is also an important expense to consider investing in as we see data breaches and cybercrime continue to rise. 

How can a bank help the assessment of your company’s performance through the first three quarters?

Conduct a regular review of your financials with your bank throughout the year to ensure you’re on track to meeting your financial goals. Your banking partner should be available to review your financial statements and see where your business is at and how you can improve. Work collaboratively with your bank to set your business up for success in 2018.

Insights Banking & Finance is brought to you by Northwest Bank

 

Strategic planning and the importance of proper capitalization

Successful companies go through a variety of business cycles. Unfortunately, many in leadership positions don’t plan for those stages and aren’t properly capitalized when a transition occurs.

“Without a thoughtful five-year plan that’s updated annually to address shifts and changes in business cycles, companies often don’t have enough capital to compete effectively as they grow,” says Jim Altman, middle market Pennsylvania Regional Executive at Huntington Bank.

He says companies may find that in order to compete more effectively, they need to broaden or diversify their capabilities through an acquisition or expansion because they find they either need to create efficiencies or can’t do it alone.

“Companies that don’t do strategic planning and think about their capital needs through the process might find they aren’t properly capitalized for a crucial next step.”

Smart Business spoke with Altman about the importance of matching a financial plan to a company’s strategic plan.

In what areas should capitalization factor in to the discussion as companies go through strategic planning exercises?

Every year, as a company reviews its strategic five-year plan to make updates, it should challenge itself with the question: Do we have enough capital to execute the plan? Consider whether enough capital is available or could be obtained to acquire a business or sell a piece of the company’s existing business, or to invest equipment to be more competitive. If not, how will the company endeavor to get the capital it needs? That might mean more than just bank financing. It could mean equity, subordinated debt or retention of profits.

Put on paper a financial plan that supports the strategic plan. In essence, monetize the strategic plan so the company can be sure it has a plan to obtain the capital to grow or be more competitive. Many companies don’t do this and it can often be too late before they recognize they can’t finance their plan in time to execute.

Who is important to get involved in these strategic planning discussions as the topic of capitalization is brought up?

Many companies don’t leverage the resources of their banker, CPA or lawyer. They all have insight and advice on how to make a plan come to life. But if they’re not involved in the plan, they’re ineffective in providing advice.

All of these advisers, as well as the company CFO or treasurer, should be in same room with leadership brainstorming. Early conversations can touch on strategic priorities and plans to execute them to broaden thinking. This creates a dynamic environment in which ideas come together to provide the right advice to make a strategic plan work.

When strategic planning is through, what should companies know about their capitalization?

Companies should know the options that are available to improve or meet their capitalization requirements. That could mean seeking bank debt, raising capital from different sources, their own profits or subordinated debt. They should have explored their options and the associated risks of each, and know the cost of those choices.

Companies don’t want to be in a position to suboptimize because they didn’t plan far enough in advance to execute their capital choices. They could end up having to give up control or choose a costly option because they didn’t plan effectively.

While it’s impossible to plan for every scenario because there’s so much uncertainty, companies should plan for what they can control and update that plan annually to reflect changes in the market. It’s important to know the execution risk, the availability of capital and the timeline necessary to acquire that capital.

Leadership should utilize as much internal and external resources as possible rather than relying solely on their own insights and knowledge, which could be limited. A combination of inside and outside partners is powerful.

Plan early, update regularly and get the right people involved in the planning process.

Insights Banking & Finance is brought to you by Huntington Bank

Banks enjoy the opportunity to discuss their business clients’ future

Technology has made many aspects of life easier, including banking. When you’re a business leader with numerous daily responsibilities, the extra time you gain from not having to make a trip to the bank can be quite valuable. Care must be taken, however, to ensure that the relationships you’ve built with the people at the bank are preserved, says Rick Hull, Executive Vice President/Regional President at Home Savings Bank.

“It becomes very easy for people to hide behind texts and emails and avoid personal contact,” Hull says. “They may believe that they are doing others a favor by not engaging in a conversation by phone or in person. But those live interactions help strengthen relationships. In the banking world, companies need to be in regular contact with their bank to ensure they are on the right path to maximize the growth potential of the business.”

Smart Business spoke with Hull about some keys to establishing a better working relationship with your bank.

How often should company representatives meet with their bank?

The frequency of communication is different in every circumstance. There are companies that prefer to meet with their bank on a quarterly basis. They value the routine of sitting down every three months to review financial statements and get an update on where the business is at from an economic perspective. Other companies would rather meet annually to recap the past year and make plans for the year ahead.

Banks will almost always defer to the desires of the client. In some cases, the company has no need for audits as it has built a system that has proven to work quite well. But these same businesses will still take the time to review their statements each year and set up a formal meeting simply to ensure that they haven’t missed anything. Banks appreciate clients that are proactive and take the initiative to maintain a regular dialogue to discuss their fiscal status.

What do companies tend to miss when conducting their own fiscal review?

When bankers review a company’s financial statements, they look for trends. What’s the status of that company’s receivables and have there been any changes worth noting? Does the company have more invoices than usual that have stretched to 45 or 60 days without being paid? Left unchecked, these trends can lead to bigger problems that hamper the company’s growth.

On the payables side, banks can help clients identify opportunities to dictate better terms with vendors. They may not realize that they can earn a discount by paying an expense within 10 days. Bankers are continuously looking for options that allow their clients to function more efficiently.

How should a company raise concerns it may have with its bank?

Bad news does not typically get better with time. If a company has an issue or a concern either with something that has happened internally or with the bank itself, it’s always better to have that conversation early and openly address the problem. If it’s a financial problem such as the loss of a key client or an industry challenge, the sooner the bank can get to work on finding a solution, the better off the client is going to be. Banks can take steps to help address problems with cash flow or monthly payments such as deferring a payment or making it interest only for a period of time. If the company delays communication and the problem gets worse, the path to a solution can become significantly more difficult.

What is the benefit of working with more than one bank?

Even companies that have built a strong working relationship with one bank should consider taking some of their business to a second bank. It could be a small equipment loan or an arrangement to lease cars. It’s much easier to initiate a relationship with a bank when you don’t need to do it. It serves as a protection against unexpected changes that could happen at any time. A bank may find itself in a position where it has to make changes that affect your business, through no fault of your own. If you don’t have a backup plan or a relationship that has already been formed, it could make the transition more challenging.

Insights Banking & Finance is brought to you by Home Savings Bank

How your bank can help protect your financial future

Business owners willing to set aside their own interests for the betterment of the company are lauded for their ability to be selfless and create a sense of true collaboration with employees to work toward a common cause.

It’s leadership at its best. But if this altruism extends too far, they can lose sight of the need to prepare for life after business, which puts them in a tough spot when that moment arrives.

“It gets complicated when you try to manage your personal life and your business,” says Kurt Kappa, Senior Vice President, Market Leader, Cuyahoga County, at Westfield Bank.

“Leaders invest so much time and energy into building a strong company that they postpone the discussion about what’s next in their own lives. That strength of commitment is what makes leaders who they are. However, they need to dedicate some of that same vigor to protecting their own future and that of their families.”

Banks can be a valuable resource for leaders who seek balance in this effort.

“Leaders willing to share their goals and vision with a trusted adviser are able to utilize that expertise to shape a more prosperous next phase for both the individual and the company,” Kappa says.

Smart Business spoke with Kappa about this process and the role your bank can play in making it work.

How can leaders get started shoring up their own financial future?
It takes ample skill and knowledge to run a business, but this aptitude doesn’t always position you to effectively manage your personal finances. Fortunately, most leaders don’t have to look far to find a team of valuable resources to bridge the gap.

Accountants, attorneys, financial planners and bankers can easily transition from analyzing the business to studying the financial portfolio of those who lead it. They are trained to minimize complexity and offer workable solutions, so take full advantage of the wisdom these assets can provide.

Share the long-term goals you have in mind for yourself and your business and craft a plan that creates alignment toward achieving these benchmarks. Keep in mind that changes will be needed as unexpected developments occur over time. The important thing is to put together a framework that gets the process underway.

How can outside advisers help in this effort?
Internal advisers can fill a key role in structuring your plans. However, you also need unbiased experts that can review this strategy and subsequently offer constructive feedback if needed, or suggest alternative options that are worth your time to consider.

These are professionals who have worked in a similar fashion with other companies and performed the same role you are now asking them to fulfill on your behalf. They can instill discipline into these practices to hold you accountable.

Their priority is your individual future, not the day-to-day happenings of your business. It’s a safeguard to ensure that no matter how busy your workload may be in the office, there’s still someone invested in your personal affairs.

How can your bank be a valuable partner?
Your banker can serve as the quarterback in this effort, acting in a leadership capacity to maintain alignment as the strategy takes shape.

Bankers appreciate the opportunity to be involved and facilitate an approach that gives you peace of mind. They want to initiate a relationship with your attorney, your accountant, your office manager and other members of your team.

The bank can also work with customers concerned that it’s too late to start this process. It’s never too late to start, but the results will be significantly better if you take a proactive approach and don’t wait until you’re ready to retire to get started.

What benefit can private banking services provide?
Private banking services can cater to the personal needs of an individual such as the owner of a business. It’s another asset that can simplify the work it takes to manage your own financials. Leaders are often looking for a single point of contact who they can rely upon to be there for whatever needs arise.

These professionals can also make introductions and facilitate relationships that can be valuable. There are plenty of tools available to help you develop a road map for success.

Insights Banking & Finance is brought to you by Westfield Bank

Lease or buy? Factors to consider before buying new equipment

Whether it’s merchandise displays for retail, refrigerators for food service, railcars to move grain, or 3-D printers for manufacturing, every business needs equipment. But how the business acquires that equipment may not always be clear.

“As a business owner, one of the most significant decisions you can make is whether to lease or buy the equipment that keeps your operation running,” says Jim Altman, middle market Pennsylvania Regional Executive at Huntington Bank.

Smart Business spoke with Altman about the key factors to consider before buying new equipment.

How does cash flow factor into the buy/lease decision?

Leasing may improve a company’s cash flow when compared to a term loan or cash option. The primary benefit is that leasing frees up working capital to use in other ways — to grow the business or to invest in marketing or research, for example.

When a company leases, it can acquire equipment and get it installed with minimal initial expense. Buying, on the other hand, requires a significant outlay of cash: Typically, a company can only finance up to 80 percent of the purchase price or hard costs.

Leasing may allow a company to get more expensive equipment than what it could otherwise afford. With leasing, there is also the opportunity to incorporate within the lease some soft costs, which could include training, software and installation costs.

What should companies understand about upgrades and appreciation?

When the lease is up and the equipment is out of date, the company simply leases new, updated equipment. Some equipment can become outdated even before a lease ends, so before entering into a lease, it’s a good idea to find out if the equipment can be upgraded early.

A company might, however, consider buying if it plans to use the equipment longer than five years and if the asset is expected to appreciate in value. In this instance, the company is in a position to gain equity in the equipment as it pays down a traditional term loan. Owning equipment outright also gives companies the option to customize it, sell it or trade it as business needs change.

Which is the better option when flexibility is desired?

Leases are usually easier and quicker to obtain and have more flexible terms than traditional term loans for buying equipment. A company may be able to close on a lease of up to $500,000 in just a day or so. Companies may also be able to bundle multiple pieces of equipment from different vendors into one lease, and, by doing so, they can get a lower overall cost.

Further, today’s accounting guidelines allow for some equipment leases to be ‘off balance sheet,’ which means they don’t show up as debt or liabilities on a company’s balance sheet. That means the equipment acquisitions aren’t tying up the company’s debt capacity.

What are the tax implications of the two options?

When a company leases equipment under a fair-market-value lease, it has the option to return the equipment at the end of the lease term with no obligation. For tax purposes, a fair-market-value lease means that the company can deduct the full amount of its annual lease payments.

The IRS allows companies to write off certain equipment purchases every year. Buying equipment also creates the opportunity to realize some tax savings through depreciation.

When deciding whether to lease or buy, companies should consider their ongoing needs for ready cash, how frequently they may need to upgrade, the impact on their business’ balance sheet, and be sure to check with a tax adviser in order to fully understand the tax implications of leasing and buying.

Insights Banking & Finance is brought to you by Huntington Bank

SBA loans can be a valuable tool for companies struggling to get funding

When a small business needs to borrow, it should consider all options of financing. One alternative worth reviewing is a U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) loan.

“An SBA loan can be a valuable financing choice in situations where a bank considers the request to carry additional risk,” says Gary Miles, Business Banking Officer at Northwest Bank.

The SBA shares the risk along with the bank to extend loans to borrowers who otherwise might find it difficult to obtain financing.

“Situations could include a collateral shortfall, an expansion or acquisition, a need for a working capital line and startups,” Miles says. “Benefits of an SBA loan may include longer financing terms and more flexible structures that conventional financing does not always offer. Often, the benefit to a company’s cash flow outweighs the cost of SBA financing.”

Smart Business spoke with Miles about how businesses can leverage SBA loans to meet their needs.

How does your current status or the nature of your plan impact whether an SBA loan is right for your company?
Several factors can determine whether an SBA loan is the right fit for your unique needs. For example, an SBA loan tends to be a good solution for a business looking to purchase an existing business with minimal collateral because it can help offset this lack of required collateral. Businesses less than three years old are considered new and therefore a higher risk, which may require an SBA enhancement.

SBA loans can offer flexibility regarding the term of the loan, as well as how the loan is structured. There are instances when an SBA loan will allow a business to provide a lower down payment, leaving the borrower with more working capital.

What are some valuable points to consider when reviewing the SBA loan option?
It’s important to have a comprehensive business plan that includes projections, along with a history of your business. The more details you have about your business, your business plan and your industry experience, the easier the process will go. Although it can be a little extra work during the loan process, it’s a good habit to keep your business information up to date, no matter what stage your company is in.

How can you boost your likelihood of securing the loan?
Preparation is critical to maximizing the value of your loan request. The more time you dedicate to preparing for questions that may come up, the better chance you have to obtain financing. Other important aspects of the preparation process include addressing your ideal target market, trade area, location and any local competition.

You should also reference the number of existing employees or any new employees who could be hired as a result of the loan. The SBA’s website, www.sba.gov, provides a solid understanding of what is expected during the process. This resource is particularly valuable to startups because it explains some of the requirements, terminology and options to find local assistance that can get a business off to a healthy start.

What are some misconceptions people have about SBA funding?
Many people believe that the process is very time consuming and involves a lot of additional paperwork. There are a few more documents and some additional underwriting, but the expected effort by the borrower is minimal.

Some borrowers also feel that an SBA loan is expensive. Although there are fees paid to the SBA, they can be spread over the life of the loan, and the benefits may outweigh the additional cost of an SBA loan. An SBA loan can be a valuable financing alternative for startups, businesses undergoing significant acquisition or expansion or for businesses with a lack of collateral.

The time and cost of SBA financing can be easily outweighed by the benefits of longer terms and more flexible structures than conventional financing. When it comes to getting an SBA loan, preparation is key and working with experienced SBA lenders will make the process much easier.

Northwest Bank is Member Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. (FDIC), Equal Housing Lender

Insights Banking & Finance is brought to you by Northwest Bank

How your bank can help protect your financial future

Business owners willing to set aside their own interests for the betterment of the company are lauded for their ability to be selfless and create a sense of true collaboration with employees to work toward a common cause.

It’s an example of leadership at its best. But if this altruism extends too far, they can lose sight of the need to prepare for life after business, which puts them in a tough spot when that moment arrives.

“It gets complicated when you try to manage your personal life and your business,” says Jon Park, Chairman and CEO at Westfield Bank. “Leaders invest so much time and energy into building a strong company that they postpone the discussion about what’s next in their own lives. That strength of commitment is what makes leaders who they are. However, they need to dedicate some of that same vigor to protecting their own future and that of their families.”

Banks can be a valuable resource for leaders who seek balance in this effort.

“Leaders willing to share their goals and vision with a trusted adviser are able to utilize that expertise to shape a more prosperous next phase for both the individual and the company,” Park says.

Smart Business spoke with Park about this process and the role your bank can play in making it work.

How can leaders get started shoring up their own financial future?
It takes ample skill and knowledge to run a business, but this aptitude doesn’t always position you to effectively manage your personal finances. Fortunately, most leaders don’t have to look far to find a team of valuable resources that can help bridge the gap.

Accountants, attorneys, financial planners and bankers can easily transition from analyzing the business to studying the financial portfolio of those who lead it. They are trained to minimize complexity and offer workable solutions, so take full advantage of the wisdom these assets can provide.

Share the long-term goals you have in mind for yourself and your business and craft a plan that creates alignment toward achieving these benchmarks. Keep in mind that changes will be needed as unexpected developments occur over time. The important thing is to put together a framework that gets the process underway.

How can outside advisers help in this effort?
Internal advisers can fill a key role in structuring your plans. However, you also need unbiased experts that can review this strategy and subsequently offer constructive feedback if needed, or suggest alternative options that are worth your time to consider.

These are professionals who have worked in a similar fashion with other companies and performed the same role you are now asking them to fulfill on your behalf. They can instill discipline into these practices to hold you accountable.

Their priority is your individual future, not the day-to-day happenings of your business. It’s a safeguard to ensure that no matter how busy your workload may be in the office, there’s still someone invested in your personal affairs.

How can your bank be a valuable partner?
Your banker can serve as the quarterback in this effort, acting in a leadership capacity to maintain alignment as the strategy takes shape. Bankers appreciate the opportunity to be involved and facilitate an approach that gives you peace of mind.

They want to initiate a relationship with your attorney, your accountant, your office manager and other members of your team. The bank can also work with customers concerned that it’s too late to start this process. It’s never too late to start, but the results will be significantly better if you take a proactive approach and don’t wait until you’re ready to retire to get started.

What benefit can private banking services provide?
Private banking services can cater to the personal needs of an individual such as the owner of a business. It’s another asset that can simplify the work it takes to manage your own financials.

Leaders are often looking for a single point of contact who they can rely upon to be there for whatever needs arise. These professionals can also make introductions and facilitate relationships that can be valuable. There are plenty of tools available to help you develop a road map for success.

Insights Banking & Finance is brought to you by Westfield Bank

How to efficiently manage your technology assets

In today’s environment, technology is everywhere — from tablets and smartphones to medical and manufacturing equipment. That’s created an imperative for companies to carefully track their endpoint devices to ensure they are updated with the most recent software. It necessitates working with an experienced partner that specializes in providing online asset management capabilities and facilitating a successful refresh strategy.

“Companies with many employees are managing a lot of endpoint devices that come in, go out and possibly change hands as frequently as each month,” says Jim Altman, Middle Market Pennsylvania Regional Executive at Huntington Bank. “When software licenses and device warranties end, a company must quickly and efficiently retrieve and replace or update those devices and software applications. That process is made easier through the implementation of a tracking system.”

Smart Business spoke with Altman about how companies can manage their technology assets throughout their lifespan.

What should businesses take into account from the day hardware is bought or leased?

A good first step is to estimate, as accurately as possible, when that technology will be due for an upgrade — what is the useful life of that equipment and when will it need an upgrade? If, for example, a device is on a depreciation schedule of five years, but the actual useful life of it is only two, the company won’t be ready to replace the device because it’s on the books for another three years.

Also, consider the replacement process strategy. Have a plan to swap out the assets, which are proliferating exponentially — consider that, on average, each employee may have three active devices at one time. With so many devices to update and replace, it becomes easy for chaos to be created.

Given all of this, don’t underestimate the value of leasing technology assets to manage the obsolescence factor and avoid having too much capital tied up in equipment.

What are the possibilities for streamlining and establishing efficiencies?

Companies no longer maintain devices that originate from one manufacturer and are purchased at one time. Tracking them requires a platform that enables a company to keep an active catalog of all devices, who has them and where they are in their lifecycle to more easily identify problems with certain model numbers, so users can be called in to have those issues addressed. It also allows a company to incrementally replace devices that have aged-out of their useful life, rather than all at once.

While tracking hardware lifecycles is critical, staying on top of the software maintenance schedules of those assets is equally as important. Have a mechanism to track versions throughout the network to maintain the most recent security updates, the newest user experience and compatibility as people work together and share information.

Companies of any size with any number of company-owned devices should track their assets. While a company with 20 to 30 assets doesn’t need a robust platform, as the device count rises and organizations spread out through remote working arrangements and travel, the need for an advanced solution increases.

Generally, what should companies expect in terms of device lifecycle?

Obsolescence must be carefully estimated, but for a quick reference, keep in mind that smartphones have a useful life of two years, laptops up to four, desktop computers up to five, storage devices and servers will last for four years before needing an upgrade, mainframes can go five years, and network phones and switches can last as long as seven years. Of course, this is just a generalized guide. Companies should review their hardware to determine a more accurate sense of the replacement schedule.

The importance of monitoring and tracking devices and software can’t be overstated. There are cases in which a device is still active beyond its warranty or maintenance contract, which can create costs that are hidden within an organization. Think about where the technology is going to be, not where it is. Accurately depreciating devices can be a major cost saver both in terms of replacement and maintenance costs, and productivity.

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