How to find right fit with your banker

“They don’t understand me or my business.”

In all my years of banking, this comment is the most common feedback I hear when speaking with small-business owners. It represents a failure to communicate effectively and deliver a sense of care. It may also mean that the “fit” from one organization to another or one person to another is just not right.

The situation is always more complex than a lack of understanding. It’s emotional. Although banks are established to provide capital and depository services to help businesses grow and prosper, there are real humans behind bank technology.

Banks can review and support the human side of banking through at least four areas: the overall culture and experience, the decision process beyond loans and deposit data, being a connector and doing what you promise.

When customers are looking for the right fit with a bank, they can evaluate their experience in these subtle ways. After all, it’s the little things that make a big difference in your company’s future growth and financial health.

Let’s look at these four areas from the perspective of customers getting fit with a chosen bank.

Does it feel right?

When you log in online, call a banker or walk into a physical bank, the experience should feel seamless and comfortable. Banks are challenged to align their online presence and tools with the same level of service customers receive in person — and vice versa. Sometimes a bank feels too big for a customer while other customers like the security of a larger institution.

When reviewing banks for cultural fit, ask yourself if  your particular banking needs are served well by the combination of technology and in-person contacts available. Do their corporate values align with yours? Are you their target client, or are you an outlier for some reason?

Do you know more than one person who will be servicing your relationship? If something doesn’t feel right, ask the banker if it can be changed or not. The response will give you an indication of future experiences.

Do they really know me?

Each customer has a different tolerance for risk — and an entrepreneur’s risk tolerance is dramatically different than a banker’s. Banks are highly regulated and must comply with many legal and governmental rules around underwriting and lending.

However, a banker has discretion to evaluate a customer beyond the numbers by assessing character (yes that does still matter), experience and reputation.

When a banking model is too conservative for this additional evaluation to be considered in the underwriting process, it can limit relationship-building as well as opportunities on both sides.

Some customers will be deemed too risky, but the majority of customers should expect to be evaluated based on numbers as well as their character and history of responsible financial management.

Do I like them?

A lot of relationships come down to personality fit. For whatever reason, some bankers seem to “get” you while others just can’t relate. You can test this with an in-person visit.

Talk through experiences you have had with other bankers. Ask this banker how he or she would handle a similar situation. Talk about your style of banking and your expectations for communication.

Look around the banker’s office. Do the surroundings express a person who matches your values and personality? Does your banker have influence over decisions or is this person one cog in the wheel?

After your visit, does the banker follow up with additional information?  Did you feel heard and understood?  Will this person deliver bad news as quickly as good news?   What does your gut as well as your logic tell you about the experience?

Will they advocate for me?

When critical needs come up or things go wrong, one of the first calls may be to your banker. As a customer, do you feel confident about this type of call or does it fill you with dread?

Customers want a banker who will walk them through a process that leads to a solution — not stall or stonewall. Nobody wants a long ‘maybe’ or a long ‘no.’

Ask your potential banker about troubling customer situations and how that person or the team handled them. It could be a broken loan covenant, for example, or problems with cash flow or some unexpected issue.

A banker can’t solve every problem, but the approach to the problem and a willingness to talk through solutions should be the minimum expectation. Beyond that, a banker that stands by you to work through tough situations may be just the banker to help you grow and excel.


Dave Faust

Executive Vice President