The fortune cookie I opened recently read: “A banker is someone who lends you an umbrella when the sun is shining.” I think it was meant in a tongue-in-cheek way, but I choose to take a different perspective. In this unprecedented time fighting the COVID-19 virus on all fronts, I’m grateful for bankers who are ready and willing to help—rain or shine.
For a business owner, having strong banking relationships is a lot like great insurance coverage or sound legal counsel on call. Entrepreneurs don’t always need everything banks, lawyers and insurance agents have to offer. But without those “umbrellas” readily at hand, a quick change in the weather could turn disastrous.
Here are five ways to ensure your customers (and prospects) see you as an all-weather financial friend now and in the future.
1. Inform and proactively help on SBA loans and grants
During this especially difficult time precipitated by the coronavirus, some businesses are finding themselves needing your financial resources more than ever. Do your customers or prospects need gap funding, some extended terms, or forgiveness on interest or late fees?
Uncertainty is everywhere. Some of your customers may be hanging on by their fingernails. Be proactive and reach out. The sooner you can help, the better the possible outcome for everyone.
2. In these upside-down times, other customers are finding vast opportunity.
They’re healthy and ready to grow. Low rates and more businesses, buildings and inventory for sale at attractive prices could mean these customers are ready to invest in an expansion they might not have previously considered.
If you’re asking good questions and offering counsel, you can help them make these growth dreams a reality.
Time is short and you’re probably very busy. Since you can’t meet in person, a mix of phone calls, emails and social media outreach can help you maximize these customer interactions.
3. Signal your support of business customers by purchasing from them.
One bank I admire is supporting its restaurant customers by ordering takeout and having lunches delivered to essential businesses for their employees to enjoy. Since many essential businesses like emergency personnel, health care workers and others are under tremendous pressure, this is a feel-good activity that helps everyone. These efforts have been celebrated in the local media and shared on social media. They boost attention and sales for the small businesses and demonstrates the bank’s commitment to customer success.
Look at your business customer portfolio and creatively consider who you can support. Purchase gift cards now that you can use for the future, as holiday gift-giving to suppliers and other customers, and as rewards and incentives for employees.
4. Demonstrate your leadership and inspire others to join you.
Another institution is encouraging donations to local nonprofits by matching community donations dollar-for-dollar up to a certain limit. They have a big push on paid and organic social media that’s getting high engagement and sharing from multiple people: the nonprofit, its board members and supporters, and many others in the community. A majority of nonprofits are especially hurting now, so this is win-win-win. It’s feel-good and doing good.
You have a large customer base. It’s easy to help amplify the messages of local businesses and nonprofits in need by sharing their stories through your paid, owned and earned media.
when things settle down
5. Make it standard practice to offer a regular business relationship checkup.
Talk about how things are going and help forecast coming needs. You can do this for both customers and prospects with slightly different versions of a checklist/worksheet.
Sit down together (these days, of course, that means connect via video or phone) and talk. If you ask, you may find that there’s a building or major equipment purchase on the horizon … or some other big news. Discussions like this will help you offer expertise and solutions before your customers start shopping and talking with other funders. They’ll perceive you as an expert resource, not a commodity.
rain or shine
The sun will come out tomorrow. Taking proactive steps to observe, listen and advise will ensure your institution will weather this storm with the positive reputation that lasts. And you’ll have long-term, profitable relationships rain or shine.
This article was first published in the American Bankers Association Journal on April 7, 2020.