Top 5 difference makers Featured

8:00pm EDT July 26, 2008

According to Jeffrey R. Skocik, vice president and manager of commercial lending for Brentwood Bank, the single most important tool a commercial banking officer can bring to the table is the ability to understand the unique needs of each commercial customer.

“Five factors will ultimately determine just how much of a difference a bank can make for your growing business,” Skocik says.

The five factors are:

  • Hands-on expertise, know-how

  • Flexibility (custom-tailoring)

  • Local servicing

  • Fully integrated capabilities

  • Lending capacity, strength and stability

Smart Business spoke to Skocik about the five factors that separate mere commercial loan originators from potential difference makers.

When looking for a banker with hands-on expertise, what should you look for?

More than anything, look for a bank that gives you the ability to work with the same commercial officer on an ongoing basis — a hands-on relationship manager who can also take a global, long-term view of your business relationship; someone who can both be there for you throughout the entire loan process and can familiarize himself or herself with your overall business circumstances. It stands to reason that you will get more out of your banking experience when you work with someone who takes the time to get to know your business and can apply his or her insight to your other business needs. All too often, the larger, transaction-focused institution will simply hand you from one transaction specialist to the next. When that happens, you cannot possibly receive the full benefit of the bank officer’s expertise.

How does custom tailoring help a business?

No matter what kind of business you run, the day is going to come when you will need to upgrade technology or make capital improvements. Many up-and-coming business operators don’t realize that financing terms can be designed around the unique needs of their operations, which can be very important when you’re looking to fund growth or expansion. Look for the bank that can provide tailor-made terms and conditions to meet the needs of your specific operating circumstances.

In today’s business world, why is local servicing still important?

Growth and expansion is an ongoing series of transitions for a business — not just financial transactions with defined timetables and parameters. When the seamlessness and smoothness of your business operations matter, loan servicing matters, not just during the loan application process itself but also after the loan docs are signed. The reason is simple: When any business grows and expands, challenges occur. Your circumstances can change in ways you’ll never expect or anticipate. Loan servicing that’s local and in-house ensures your ability to have flexibility. You deal with professionals you can ask for by name — a back-office team that’s always there for you to answer any questions or discuss any issues that may come up. This kind of servicing is what makes it possible to custom-tailor loan terms and conditions and still have an approval process that is accurate and thorough.

How do you know your bank’s capabilities are fully integrated?

While many banks promote ‘full-service’ capabilities, most typical business banking interactions end up being with loan originators or ‘product pushers’ who must maintain narrowly defined focuses. They tend to be transaction-oriented. They may solve the situation at hand, but they deprive you of a fully integrated approach — the ability to work with someone ‘in the know’ who will develop an understanding of the unique circumstances that surround your business and point you to the right resource. It pays to work with someone who has broad hands-on experience, a full spectrum of integrated business banking capabilities and the ability to find just the right combination of product and service solutions. Find out how the bank officer’s role is defined within his or her organization and what the bank officer and his or her team can offer in the way of deposit services, advisory services, realty services and other specialized capabilities that may be relevant to your specific growth-related issues.

Isn’t lending capacity really a function of the bank’s size?

When it comes to commercial bank services — especially financing — size is not everything. For the growing and expanding business, smaller, more specialized institutions can provide a personal touch and one of the most reliable sources of commercial financing today. Of course, there are business operators who won’t even think to contact a community bank because it never occurs to them that a community bank will have the specialized lending expertise and multimillion-dollar capacity they require. The fact is, however, that today many community-based institutions do have those capabilities. Combine the fact that the community bank sector is the real stabilizing force in banking today and you can see why a smaller, more specialized institution with the right know-how is often in the best position to make the biggest difference.

JEFFREY R. SKOCIK is vice president, manager of commercial lending for Brentwood Bank. Reach him at (412) 409-9000 x228 or