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How to choose a bank that supports your business

A truly great bank will go beyond standard financial services and provide value-added assistance in partnership with client businesses.

“I think the lost art in banking is the bank being a partner. It isn’t just about taking deposits, doing loans and putting people in a box. If you’re really doing your job you should provide far more than just your standard services, which, frankly, every service provider should do,” says Ed Lambert, senior vice president, marketing manager, Technology Banking Group at Bridge Bank.

Smart Business spoke with Lambert about what it means to be partners and what you should look for when choosing a bank.

What criteria should someone use in evaluating a bank?

The first question a bank should be asking is, ‘How are you doing as a company?’ Not, ‘Who are your investors?’ or, ‘Are you profitable?’ The bank you chose to work with should want to learn as much as they can about your company so they can find ways to meet your needs.

The banker should sit down with you and listen to your background and then, and only then, respond. What you don’t want is a banker who walks in and opens the conversation by talking about their bank and what it provides without having a conversation and getting to know something, anything, about you.

The second criterion for evaluating a bank is, ‘Do they have answers for me?’

The third criterion is whether the banker is limiting his or her answers to what benefits him or her and his or her bank. If there is a need they cannot fulfill directly, they should be able to tell you that and point you in the direction of someone who can help. They should be ready to provide a solution to your problem, whether directly or indirectly.

What kind of added value should business owners expect in a banking relationship?

A bank should be in a position to provide solutions to whatever situational issues could divert you from focusing on growth. It could be banking issues such as how to best manage your cash or what kind of debt works for your business, or possibly an overall solution process. It also could be something as mundane as finding a solution to the problem of you not liking your CPA or attorney. There have been horror stories about the CFO of a company making 30 phone calls to find a new CPA, taking a lot of time to find answers that a bank should be able to provide in terms of what their Rolodex holds.

If a bank is really providing a good level of service, those things should inherently be part of what they offer to its customers. The supposition is that the bank has been doing this for a long time and has built up a substantial list of contacts, so why should it not share that with its customers?

The bottom line is this: What a company should be looking for in a bank, as well as in any other service being provided to it, is what they bring to the table beyond the array of services that one would assume are standard.

If credit decisions are based on numbers, why would a good banking relationship matter?

The banker’s job is to tell the client ‘yes;’  ‘not yet, and here’s how to make it a yes;’ or ‘here’s somebody who can help you where you are today.’ Those are really the only three acceptable answers that a banker should be providing to his or her clients.

The role of a bank should be to solve issues for its clients that go well beyond just managing deposits and credits. Banks should really be a resource for a company to have at any stage of its life because each phase has a different set of needs. A truly good bank provides for those needs, even if that means telling a business owner something he or she doesn’t want to hear.
Ed Lambert is senior vice president, market manager, Technology Banking Group at Bridge Bank. Reach him at (650) 462-8501.

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