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North Bay Business Journal

Monday, August 4, 2014, 5:30 am

Five questions to get the most from your bank

By Tom Duryea

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    A company’s bank is one of its most vital business partners. A bank is responsible for providing the means to house and increase operating accounts and structure loan programs and other financial services to maximize business growth and success.

    While it’s easy to “deposit and forget about it” or continue to pay down that monthly loan, companies (and individuals, too) should routinely assess their bank’s service and products and how they fit within the business’ culture and values. With constantly changing technology, new products and the evolution of banking needs, companies may miss beneficial tools and considerations without an assessment. Companies should ask themselves the following five questions to ensure they’re engaged with the right partner.

    Is my bank providing me with the best customer experience?

    First and foremost, it’s important that you partner with a proactive bank – one that works to earn your trust and accounts without you having to ask. Your bank should not only provide you with basic resources, but should also suggest ways in which to best handle your assets in your specific situation. Banks should be available regularly and promptly to answer questions and offer the best solutions. A good business bank will give you direct access to its senior staff to bring ideas for your business’ operational improvement, ensuring you have a personalized banking experience. And, always, your bank should be responsive to fulfilling your needs with quick turnaround and exhibit a courteous “can do” attitude.

    In addition, feedback is essential. Your banking experience should be about your needs, and your feedback often shapes the service you receive. Your bank should continue to earn your business, regardless of how long you’ve had the relationship.

    Am I up to date on my bank’s latest technological advancements and products?

    Your bank should continuously be updating its user technology, and it’s important for you to be aware of new advancements, both at your bank and other banks. Many times, customers are not made aware of features that could make their banking experience more convenient, especially since banking can often be done remotely.

    For example, mobile banking has become a standard offering, allowing customers to make transfers, deposit checks and pay bills from their cell phones. Banking “text message alerts” are also common features and can help you to stay informed about your balance at all times and prevent over drafts.

    Does my bank offer competitive fees and rates?

    Banks should offer tailored deposit and loan products and programs based solely on your company’s needs. Fees and rates can also be tailored to fit your banking relationship, generally providing better value based on the extent to which you do business with your bank. Standard industry services, like online banking and mobile deposit, should not come at a cost.

    Some banks are in the practice of increasing fees without clear explanation, or they aren’t proactive when there is a more cost-effective option for your account structure. Be sure your bank communicates changes, updates and new options.

    Also, little benefits go a long way. For example, does your bank cash your employees’ checks free of charge? Employees shouldn’t have to sacrifice their wages to cash their own paychecks.

    Is my bank supportive of my community?

    North Bay companies, especially with a workforce also residing locally, should consider partnering with a bank that aligns with your business and community values. Banks should regularly donate to local nonprofits, participate in events and create programs and partnerships with other businesses for the benefit of the community and charitable causes.

    With this focus on support, it’s important to know community banks, unlike credit unions, pay income taxes – 41.2% of income – that fund important community needs. In 2013 alone, Sonoma County-based community banks paid almost $14 million in income taxes; 10.8 percent of that (more than $1.5 million) goes to the state of California, of which 50 percent  benefits California’s public schools, community colleges and public university systems, and 29 percent of income tax ($4 million) goes to support a range of health and human services assisting low-income children, families, seniors and people with disabilities.

    Does my bank provide “add-on value”?

    Banks can offer more than just banking, especially a local community bank, such as co-advertising and facilitating business connections. There may be opportunities to co-sponsor or partner with your bank to achieve the highest possible visibility for your company, or perhaps the bank has another customer to which you want an introduction. Banks can also invite you to join them at community or educational events they are already sponsoring to provide you the opportunity to make connections or gain information that normally would have come at a cost to you.

    Through its many business relationships, bank employees have their finger on the pulse of the latest trends and resources that may be just a question away from you gaining helpful institutional knowledge for your business. Building a strong relationship with your bank helps you to best know whom to contact when you have a business or finance question.

    A banking experience and relationship can and should go a long way. Businesses should never let their bank stop working for them. Banking customers who are most proactive and informed in their banking relationships receive the most value from their bank and for their company.

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    Tom Duryea is president and CEO of Summit State Bank, a local Sonoma County-based community bank committed to serving its customers and community with the highest standards.

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