Telling the truth about SME life today

Regaining the initiative with your bank

So how do we get the upper hand and improve our deal” Unfortunately, there’s no "silver bullet", but there are some things that will really help.

Be realistic: Your bank looks at more than just your numbers when making a decision. One of the key things they try to assess is the quality of the people running the company. So have a strong business plan; address head-on the "what if" scenarios: loss of a key customer; competition from overseas; etc. The aim is credibility. Remember that your bank will be more likely to buy into your projections if it believes that you are being straightforward about the risks. Be both optimistic and realistic.

Surround yourself with good people: For example, use good (not necessarily big!) legal and accounting advisers.  Your bank will put stock in the company that you keep.

Communicate good news and bad: Surprising your bankers with news that could have been shared earlier erodes your credibility and is likely to make your bank more cautious, no matter what the numbers say. So be frank and candid if you have a problem that needs to be addressed. Just as importantly, if you’ve just landed a big new customer, share the good news with your bank. Set out your expectations: Remember, you are the customer. You may be the sort of small business who simply wants to be left alone. Or you may want regular visits and calls. Determine and communicate the frequency of contact you’d like from your banker, along with the kind of input you would find most helpful. And don’t be timid about saying what you want.

Get to know your relationship manager: Create a bond with your relationship manager – even though he may have hundreds of customers to look after. And it’s worth getting to know the people in your branch on a first-name basis. By cultivating these relationships, it can help you deal with situations that might otherwise become a headache. Choose a bank that really wants to work with smaller businesses: Pick a bank that is going to consider you a customer worth investing in. Make it your business to understand who the decision makers are and how you will be dealt with both in good times and if you hit snags. And don’t pay for bells and whistles that you simply do not need.

As with any other relationship, personal or professional, the more you put in the more you’re likely to get out. Remember, too, that this is not a one-way street; your bank has its own set of responsibilities to ensure it is exceeding your expectations and keeping you happy. And, as banks realise that maybe they’re not totally immune from the economic realities of life, this might be the perfect time to make your mark.

Jo Clarkson is the operations director of The Alternative Board

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