“Relationship” might be the most overused word in banking these days, but it sums up the difference between providing a commodity and truly serving a customer’s needs.
“It really is about having a relationship with someone who comes to know and trust you,” says Jeffrey M. Whalen, senior vice president in the Specialty Markets division at Bridge Bank. “What we do in this industry is serve the needs of clients.”
Smart Business spoke with Whalen about how banks stay involved with clients and build mutually beneficial relationships.
Where should price fit into the decision when choosing a bank?
Most business owners say that, when it comes to choosing a bank, developing a long-term relationship in which owners feel empowered to achieve their goals is their highest priority.
Sole proprietors, closely held corporations and family owned businesses in particular want to get to know their banker, and they want their banker to know them and the ups and downs of their industry. They still want a competitive price, but more often than not, they are seeking a partner who can add real, tangible value to their business in the form of sector expertise, advisory services, etc.
Certainly there are business owners who do prioritize pricing above other aspects of a banking relationship, but in those instances, the owners shouldn’t be surprised if the relationship with their banker doesn’t yield much in terms of value-added services.
By nature, some businesses are very transactional and may not require value-added services. In those cases, business owners may look to other criteria to evaluate a potential banking relationship, such as how active the bank is in supporting their industry or business ecosystem, or how the bank’s core values align with theirs.
Some also want to deal with independent banks, as opposed to larger national banks, because they often have direct access to decision-makers. At a large bank, your account might be managed from a region far from your own, and local representatives can’t help you if there is a problem. For example, if you want to increase a line of credit or need help optimizing cash flows, a regional or independent bank may be able to respond faster because of its locale and relationship with you.
How can banking relationships provide additional benefits to the customer?
Relationship benefits depend in large part on what kind of bank you have chosen to partner with. Banks with a broad range of capabilities can, for example, accommodate an equally broad range of needs a business owner might have as his or her company moves throughout the business cycle. And banks with broad sector knowledge can bring a unique and valuable perspective to the table when helping a business owner evaluate options for growth and expansion, for example. Also, a bank should be able to bring forward a network of professional service providers who can help the owner with other issues that inevitably arise, such as how to establish an employee stock option plan, tax audit and preparation, etc.
So, the right relationship can yield a multitude of additional benefits, and it is important that these conversations are held prior to committing to a bank.
How frequently should bank personnel and clients meet?
It should be every month for larger, more complex client relationships and at least every quarter for smaller ones. Those guidelines, however, are general. Every business should be viewed as unique — because it is.
Therefore, the frequency of interactions with a banker should be driven by the needs of the client, and the dynamics of its business. It’s important for clients to know that a bank should have their best interests at heart and is there to solve problems. Sometimes a client might have problems it isn’t even aware of, but if its banker has the right experience and perspective, and if the communication in the relationship is frequent, the banker should be able to catch these problems before they impact the client’s business.
Communication in the relationship, combined with expertise on the side of the banker, is the key to getting the most in terms of value for the business owner. It really becomes a strong partnership if that can be achieved.
Jeffrey M. Whalen is a senior vice president, Specialty Markets, at Bridge Bank. Reach him at (408) 556-8614 or [email protected]
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