By Jeff SzyperskiPerhaps not everyone reading this magazine believes that a dog is a man’s best friend. (I do, but I don’t want to upset cat people.) But I’d like to think we can all agree that banks are businesses’ most important ally.
Like many other community banks, 70 percent of my bank’s focus is small business. As I learned the ropes in banking, well before I became president, I served as a commercial lender. The very best commercial lenders become quasi-business advisers for their customers. Lenders know that customers often reach out for all sorts of advice, beyond their immediate banking concerns. Providing that connection and going above and beyond was, for me, the most enjoyable part of the job. I learned quickly that the more solutions I can deliver for my small business customers’ challenges, the stronger those relationships will become and the greater my customers’ success will be.
In other words, I learned that approaching our customers as a partner, invested in their growth and their future, helped us both succeed.
Boston-based Eastern Bank illustrates this partnering-for-success concept perfectly in the story about its pioneering digital loan platform for small businesses. Determined not to be left behind by fintech disruptors, Eastern became one itself, developing one of banking’s first proprietary digital small business loan products that provides fast, efficient service while also deepening customer relationships.
My own bank works to deepen our customer relationships by leveraging our specialty lines of business. For example, we are a merchant acquirer, providing card services for about 550 businesses within our footprint (and many more as a processor for independent sales organizations across the country). This is a great door opener for our commercial lenders. Similarly, we have a wealth management unit that enables us to help our small business customers with their own wealth management if and when they decide to sell their business.
While my bank does a lot in-house (our wealth management unit, for example, does its own money management, and does not outsource investment selection), there are many times when we must work closely with partners to achieve our goals and to help our customers achieve theirs.
You can find examples of such partnerships throughout the May/June issue of the ABA Banking Journal. One is the story of how one bank’s savvy product team partnered with a vendor to improve on a simple deposit process, saving its business customers time and providing them with richer data insights. And another story shows how small and mid-size banks can successfully venture into trade finance, providing needed and often complicated services for smaller businesses, for example, by working with larger banks and the Export-Import Bank.
Most banks are dependent on other providers to deliver many of their services – which is why ABA has a group devoted to researching industry providers and endorsing solutions that meet bankers’ needs (as listed on aba.com/Endorsed). It is also why the American Bankers Association has prioritized working alongside core processing providers – and even directly invested in Finxact, a new, open core banking platform – to ensure that banks of all sizes can continue to deliver innovations that respond to customer demands.
These partnerships help ABA deliver on the same promise that banks make to their customers; they help us all succeed. And in the process of helping your bank remain your customers’ most important ally, we aim to be yours.