The personal touch Featured

7:00pm EDT February 23, 2009

With so many different people to deal with on a daily basis and with the inception of technology such as cell phones, e-mail and BlackBerrys, it’s hard to feel like you’re creating any personal connections in business today.

However, that personal touch is still out there, and relationship banking is one way to get it. Relationship banking gives you the satisfaction that someone knows you and cares about the financial side of your business.

“When you consistently work with the same experienced person that has a sincere interest in your concerns and successes, you know you’re not alone,” says Clayton Kinlan, a relationship banker with Brentwood Bank.

Smart Business spoke with Kinlan about how to develop a relationship with your bank and how relationship banking can help your business.

What is relationship banking?

In a word, trust. When relationship banking is done properly, you trust your banker to the point that he or she is the first person you call to discuss business dealings, even when you have needs not related to banking. With this rapport, both parties know the abilities of the other and are comfortable enough that they become referral sources. Many of us have learned the value of networking and generating referrals. On average, all of us know 250 to 300 people. Who in business doesn’t want referrals, the most profitable form of advertising?

In an action, relationship banking means being proactive. It’s having a banker that knows the obstacles you’re facing and does something to lessen or eliminate them. You don’t want a banker who follows the 1990s banking approach of: ‘How do I reach my goals?’ You want a banker that says: ‘How can I reach your goals?’ A good relationship banker will work for you all the time, even when you’re not expecting it.

How can businesses develop a relationship with a bank?

Really, your banker should be developing a relationship with you. Look for a banker that reaches out to you personally through phone calls, e-mails, handwritten notes and/or visits. And make sure your banker is doing this when the bank doesn’t need anything. This shows you that you are not ‘out of sight, out of mind.’ If your banker does this consistently and sincerely, you know he or she has a genuine concern in your needs and wants.

What can banks provide to businesses through relationship banking?

There are two primary benefits to be gained by utilizing a relationship banker — stability and peace of mind.

Speaking to stability, the relationship banker should become your contact for whatever needs you may have. Ideally, at the inception of the relationship, you should be introduced to team members that you will interact and conduct daily transactions with. But, your relationship banker is your point person, the first one you call for deposit, lending, cash management and online banking needs.

Speaking to peace of mind, the relationship banker should be consistently reaching out to you without the hidden agenda of fulfilling a bank requirement. He or she should be providing you an outlet to review your changing needs and the options available to meet them. Your banker should customize products and packages to meet your special needs. Take, for example, a nonprofit organization. A good relationship banker will put together a package that increases cash flow, provides FDIC insurance exceeding traditional limits and improves the organization’s time management.

If small business owners know they can have their banking and financing needs serviced, face to face, without having to leave their places of business, their time management will be greatly improved. True relationship banking means a long-term commitment with the customer.

What happens if businesses don’t develop good relationships with their banks?

‘What is your name?’ and ‘Oh, you have an account with us?’ are painful things for a customer to hear. If you hear this from your banker, you know you’re simply conducting a transaction and not participating in a relationship with the bank. At this point, there are two events occurring — first, you’re just a number to the bank and, second, you, the customer, have become frustrated. What you’re missing is someone who will respond quickly to a need and seek solutions that may not already be preprinted on a promotional piece. In these historical economic times we’re living in, just think of the lost opportunities that are occurring by not having a relationship banker that you trust.

CLAYTON KINLAN is a relationship banker at Brentwood Bank. Reach him at (412) 409-9000 or clayton.kinlan@brentwoodbank.com.