Make the Banker Your Best Friend

Article by:
Kristen Harris
EO Columbus

As a business owner, I’ve always heard it’s important to build a great relationship with your banker. I never really understood what that meant until a year ago. As it turns out, the relationship with our banker was so good that we stopped banking with them.

At the time, we were a small-business bank customer set up with checking and savings accounts, plus a line of credit. Though we were a typical business client, our banker was far from typical. Her interest in our company and desire to help us succeed quickly made her a trusted advisor. No matter the situation, we always felt like she was acting in our best interest, as well as the best interest of the bank. It was a true win- win relationship!

And yet, like a lot of things in the financial sector, everything changed in 2009. Our business had been growing exponentially since our launch in 2005, and despite the economic downturn, we were stable. In fact, we needed to prepare for business to pick up due to our expanding industry. After crunching some numbers, we identified the need for a larger credit line that would allow for continued growth. Since our credit line was up for renewal anyway, it seemed like the perfect time to talk about an increase.

After getting all of our paperwork together, we sat down with our banker, confident that we would get our credit increase and start planning for an exciting future. We took our time showing her our plans, detailing how and why we expected growth, and where the credit line fit into those plans. Feeling our request was reasonable and appropriate, she began making our case within the bank. After her pitch to the higher-ups, she returned with some surprising news … the bank was not interested in increasing our line of credit.

I was shocked! We were running a successful business that was only going to get bigger, and that growth meant more customers, which meant more money for the bank. Unfortunately, the bank felt we were growing too quickly. They wanted to see our growth level off before they’d consider increasing our credit line. Leveling off, though, was not in our business plans; we were strongly focused on continuous and increased growth. The fact that our bank was not interested in helping us grow, or even seeing us grow, did not sit well with us. Understanding this, our banker recommended we look elsewhere; she even gave us a couple of referrals. Without that open and honest relationship, we may have never known the reasons why the bank turned us down, and we certainly wouldn’t have been pushed to approach other banks— most businesses don’t refer you to their competition.

With our banker’s guidance and support, we eventually found a new bank that was excited about our growth opportunities and interested in helping us reach our goals. When business started to pick up in late 2009, we needed that credit line more than ever. Without it, we would have probably lost a key client due to a change in their billing process; a loss I’m not sure our business could have withstood. Today, we’re working hard to build the same great relationship with our new banker. Why? Because we’ve seen firsthand how much of a difference a relationship can make when you’re planning for growth.

What did this banking experience teach me?

I Learned to:

  • Cultivate and maintain a strong relationship with our bank contact.
  • Meet regularly with my banker and keep them updated on our business.
  • Ensure our banker is our ally, and to contact them immediately with issues or concerns.
  • Let them help us work through a problem before it becomes a crisis.
  • Look for a new banking partner if it’s in the best interest of the business, no matter how hard it may be.

Kristen is the co-founder and owner of Portfolio Creative, a workforce innovation firm that was named the 326th fastest- growing company in the US by Inc. magazine in 2009. Portfolio Creative helps companies streamline and innovate their creative work to save time, energy and money. E-mail Kristen at [email protected].

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