Community banks offering financial services and small business lending to the small businesses in their communities just makes sense to me. I’m a big fan of Main Street business and an advocate of community banking. Unfortunately, as a small business owner, the best experience I had with a community banker was my banker from a big bank.
Earlier this month John Ginovsky, writing for the ABA Banking Journal, suggested the way to woo small business was with products tailored specifically for them. “Financial institutions now have the opportunity to retain and win back lost small-business customers through more tailored products and services, according to research from Aite Group,” he writes.
Ginovsky suggests that many banks are pushing small businesses into their consumer products (which are free services) and argues there are many services small business owners will pay for. And, banks should make online and mobile banking more small-business friendly.
Although I don’t disagree with what Ginovsky suggests, let me share the things that made our big bank banker a great community banker.
- We knew who he was. Years ago, some partners and I owned a small photography supply business. At the time we were banking with one of the biggest regional banks in the country—not because we were big fans of the bank, but because we liked our banker. I’m not sure why he worked with us the way he did. In fact, since then I’ve come to appreciate the uniqueness of how he worked with us. One of the things that made him unique was his regular visit to our store. Although he probably stopped by every five or six weeks on some kind of rotation, it never felt like it was a contrived or scheduled visit. We knew who he was because he took the time to get to know us.
- He was an advocate—almost a partner in our success. By spending time with us, he was able to observe how we interacted with our customers, the relationships we had, and the strength of our business. When we needed something from the bank, like an increase in our credit line, he knew why we needed it and he advocated with the lending committee to make it happen for us. He felt a sense of ownership, or maybe partnership, in our success. We liked that he took our relationship personally. Although he was from one of the biggest 25 banks in the U.S., he was a community banker in the truest sense.
- He was able to translate what we asked for into what we really needed. Small business customers aren’t bankers. At the time, we didn’t really know what services we needed and probably weren’t able to articulate what we wanted very well. Because he knew us, had spent time in our business, understood what we were doing, and was our advocate, he was able to translate what we asked for into what we needed. He steered us into the loan products that made the most sense when we needed some capital and offered us other services he thought we might need by observing our operation.
- He treated us like our business was valuable to him. I’m sure we weren’t his biggest client. In fact, I’d bet we were pretty small potatoes to the rest of the business customers in his bank. Yet, he didn’t treat us that way. When we were doing business with him, he treated us like we were his biggest customer. And, it wasn’t what he said, it was what he did. If he told us he would have something for us in two days, he did. If he called and said he was going to stop by on Tuesday with something for us, he did. What’s more, I’d guess he treated everyone like that.
Although 21st Century services are just as important to small-business customers as they are to anyone else, I’m convinced they are the minimum requirement to show up to the game. Much like a professional basketball player needs a good jump shot and strong defensive fundamentals to get drafted in the NBA, it takes more than that to become a superstar.
Driving downtown I see no less than four or five billboards from banks “claiming” to be the small-business bank. “It’s relationships that count,” or some other trite phrase marketing executives think will woo small-business customers into the bank. I have to wonder how many of those banks and their bankers do what our banker was willing to do.