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    Building a Successful Business: Bank with Experts

    WendyRoss-01By Wendy Ross

    Young businesses, large and small, are flourishing in the Bay Area. Those that are highly successful have the assistance of trusted advisors, including accountants and lawyers. The most successful of all, however, are those that have a good bank and a knowledgeable banker by their side. A strong banking relationship means having the tools to meet day-to-day needs, and the guidance and resources necessary to grow and scale when the timing and conditions are right.

    How does a business select the bank and banker best suited to meet banking needs? Here are several questions to ask every bank and banker:

    Does the bank have expertise in banking businesses like mine?

    All businesses are not the same. Young, growing businesses have particular needs. Different industries have different requirements and different growth cycles. Does the bank have experience with other businesses in my field? What are some examples of how the bank has handled a common issue in this industry, or has been creative when dealing with a complex situation?

    Will my business have a single, experienced point-of-contact throughout its relationship with the bank?

    It is extraordinarily helpful to have one person to work with who, over time, has developed a thorough understanding of the business and its owner(s). This consistent one-on-one interaction is what builds a banking “relationship.” As the banker learns more, she or he can help assess growth options, determine debt capacity, customize services, and offer solutions suited to the company’s position in the business cycle. A business can compete more effectively, and grow more efficiently, with a banker as a partner and a bank that is agile by its side. At the same time, it is important to know others within the bank, ideally someone in senior management or at a decision-making level. This helps when your main contact is on vacation, retires or leaves the bank for some other reason. You don’t want to have to start over with your financial institution.

    Does the bank make its decisions locally?

    All banks will take a business’s financials and creditworthiness into consideration when making lending decisions. A bank that makes local decisions understands the local market and is able to consider a business owner’s reputation and character within the community as well. This can be a big differentiator for a business that may not fit into a certain “box.” Banks with local decision makers are also able to create quick turnarounds, as they have a strong knowledge of industries in their specific marketplace.

    Does the bank have a full range of services to help my business succeed and grow?

    As a business grows, banking needs evolve. Does the business need new equipment or the funds to build out new space? Has the business grown large enough to consider buying a building, or would a remodel be sufficient? When it comes time to expand, will the banker anticipate needs and offer a range of services and products to make it happen? Ask the banker for examples of businesses she or he has helped to grow.

    How does the bank employ technology to streamline services?

    Technologies such as remote deposit, online access, and mobile banking apps enable a business to handle its banking needs anywhere, at any time. Don’t you want your bank to work 24/7—alongside you?

    Your banker and your bank should work for you, and with you. Think of them as members of your team, and select them with as much consideration as you would any valued partner.

    Wendy Ross is the President of Bank of San Francisco. She has more than 35 years of international, commercial, and private banking experience. Ross is a 2002 graduate of Leadership San Francisco and is a board member for numerous Bay Area organizations.