Rising to the challenge Featured

7:00pm EDT February 24, 2008

As Brentwood Bank’s “feet on the street,” Cara Stefano has witnessed an alarming trend.

“Big banks have ruined it for many of small and midlevel businesses — they’ve become so focused on their larger business banking clients that they’ve managed to successfully lower the expectations of everyone else,” Stefano says. “Businesses accept getting little or no service or follow-through, settling for a process that is sales-driven and bank-focused rather than solutions-driven and customer-focused.”

Smart Business asked Stefano to describe an alternative business banking model that may be better suited for many small and mid-size business operators or owners, as well as the challenges banks face in addressing the needs of today’s business customers.

What are the ‘symptoms’ that alert you to whether a business is being underserved in its current business banking relationship?

These days, it’s simply not enough to offer ‘big-bank, full-service’ capabilities — a bank that’s truly focused on the needs of the customer has to be there, in person, listening for ways to apply the bank’s expertise and capabilities to your situation. If your banker isn’t there to talk to you about your business, he or she can’t be listening for ways to apply what the bank can do. The ultimate test of what a customer-focused bank can do is to implement a truly customized solution. That simply can’t happen unless the banker fully understands what you, as the business operator, are trying to do.

What should the business operator be looking for in a banker?

I’m not big on sports analogies myself, but here’s the idea: In basketball, there’s something known as a ‘triple threat,’ which refers to a player being able to score, rebound and play defense. This kind of ‘triple threat’ player brings so much more to his or her game that it makes everybody else on the team that much better. Banking’s equivalent of the ‘triple threat’ refers to one person who can navigate through all the organizational layers to get things done. This team member can offer solutions in commercial financing, business deposit services or any of the other even more specialized areas, such as realty services and investment management and advisory services, to name a few.

Does this individual work one on one with the business operator?

Yes, absolutely. All business operators or owners benefit from having their own personal go-to banker. ‘Triple threats’ are the ultimate go-to bankers because they have the hands-on skills and experience in so many different facets of their game. For instance, any bank can provide online cash management service. But a ‘triple threat’ has the hands-on know-how to help you customize the bank’s EFT (Electronic Funds Transfer) application, allowing you to essentially process your own direct deposits for employee payroll. You get more out of your cash management service, eliminate the considerable expense of using a separate payroll service to provide your payroll direct deposit, and the ‘triple threat’ knows from experience to recommend it only if you have someone in-house who is capable of handling the payroll deductions. As a business operator, the benefit of working with a banking ‘triple threat’ is that you get so much more out of your relationship: Your time is better spent because it’s one on one, you get someone with a wide variety of hands-on skills who is highly proficient in a number of different areas, and you get someone you can depend on to come through for you in the clutch and make things happen.

What other special tools does the ‘triple threat’ banker have to work with?

It’s primarily a matter of having the right process. That process starts with a culture that’s focused around the customer. It encourages problem solving, and it’s there to make a difference. Yes, the ‘triple threat’ brings the full spectrum of business and personal banking products and services to the table. But more than that, because ‘triple threats’ can wear all the different hats, they know the best ways to mix and match and innovate to find just the right product and service combinations. They know what can be customized, and they can drive much of the effort themselves, rather than passing you off to somebody else.

When you put the banking equivalent of a ‘triple threat’ into the right kind of environment, business operators simply get more bang for their buck. That’s really the ‘triple threat’ benefit.

What kind of business will benefit most?

It’s ideal for the small or midsize business that’s growing and ready to make a move. The challenge facing these businesses is to find the ‘triple threat’ banking partner that can provide the missing pieces and fits their situation. To gauge if there’s a fit, any ‘triple threat’ should be able to demonstrate three distinct capabilities based on personal experience: first, the ability to custom-tailor unique solutions; second, the ability to find better ways to integrate existing products, services and new innovations around the needs of the business customer; and third, the ability to help you anticipate the eventual ramifications of growth and success.

CARA STEFANO is a business development officer for Brentwood Bank in Bethel Park, Pa. Reach her at cstefano@brentwoodbank.com or (412) 409-9100 x281.