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Small business owners need a bank or credit union partner. In major metropolitan areas, where you have many financial institutions to choose from, the process of picking one can feel overwhelming. In smaller cities, where your options are more limited, identifying the best bank for your business can feel frustrating. However, you must choose a bank. We all know what an aggravation it is to change banks so you’d prefer to pick one you can remain with for several years.
Shelly, the owner of a small confection company, complained about her banker: “He’s always friendly and responsive to my questions, but he changes the subject when I want to discuss a loan for business expansion.” This occurred a few times and seemed odd since her business is doing well and she considers herself a “good customer” of the bank. She asked a few members of her Rotary Club if they knew why this subject-change was happening and discovered her bank has an unwritten policy to never lend money to a food related business. This is information she should have known before selecting a bank.
A friend, who works as an outsourced chief financial officer for start-ups, told me he’s realized most of his clients see banks as generic products and think one is the same as another. Banks differ extensively. You want to find the perfect one for your company.
Consider these points when choosing a small business bank:
Does the Bank or Credit Union Provide the Services You Need?
Make a list of every requirement for your business.
Merchant card account
Commercial credit cards
Small Business Administration loans
Other business loans
You can find business services on bank websites. Check off your list for each bank you’re considering. This will narrow your perspective candidates. Also, evaluate credit unions, which often offer business banking services although they don’t always post the information on their websites. Call larger credit unions in your area to ask about business services. Sometimes their fees are far lower than banks.
Compare Fees for Each Service
After narrowing the number of banks by services offered, set appointments to meet with an officer who handles small business accounts at each bank you’re interested in. Business banking charges differ from personal account costs. It is critical for you to be realistic about the size and frequency of your deposits. If you’ll deposit hundreds of checks each month, you don’t want to pay a deposit charge for every check. Do you need to accept or send numerous wire transfers? During an accounting audit, a small import-export firm discovered their bank was charging $40.00 for every wire transfer. These charges added up to thousands of dollars during a year. The bank refused to reduce the fee. They found a new bank, which does not charge for wire transfers or many other services they paid for previously.
Banks charge various percentages for merchant credit card services. If most customers will charge their purchases, a difference of one or two percent can add up to a significant sum of money over time, or if you’re selling large ticket items.
You want your bank to customize a package of services to meet your individual needs. Take the time to add up all potential monthly fees. As one entrepreneur told me, “Last year, my bank fees added up to the exact amount of money I needed to show an acceptable profit. I changed banks.”
Plan for the Future
While you assess services and fees for your business today, also think about your plans over the next five years. Make a list of services you anticipate needing. If you can establish a relationship with a bank or credit union, which will provide your business with options you’ll need in the years ahead, a partner-banker can be an extraordinary asset for your enterprise as you grow.
Look for Compatibility
Ask other entrepreneurs about their experiences with financial institutions you’re considering. In addition to meeting your business needs, to build a partnership with your bank or credit union you need to experience rapport with your banker. During my career, I’ve lived in several cities. As a result, I’ve opened bank accounts in various locations. Some banks felt welcoming and comfortable when I walked in the door while others seemed cold and unfriendly. We’re all attracted to different attributes in people. Pick a bank or credit union where you feel at ease and welcome, where employees are happy to see you and to conduct business with you.
Your banker can be one of your strongest allies. Many community banks, smaller regional banks, and credit unions have continued to loan money to small businesses throughout the current credit crisis. Take the time you need to carefully consider your requirements, options, solutions, and emotional comfort. Forge a relationship with your bank or credit union, which will help you achieve your goals.