The twin challenges of a global pandemic and an unprecedented economic downturn are causing business owners to think differently about a lot of things, including their bankers.
And they should. Beyond their expertise on credit structures or treasury management, your commercial banker has insights and advice on your business and industry. Here are seven questions to get you started:
1. What are other businesses doing right now?
"We work with a lot of different companies and we're invested in helping all of our clients succeed, so bankers have a unique perspective," said Martin Brown, a commercial finance director with BOK Financial® in Dallas. "I talk with my clients about how companies are accelerating cash collection or even how they're approaching insurance coverage. Successful companies are getting creative in adapting to current challenges, and we're sharing those perspectives."
2. How is the pandemic affecting my supply chain?
Banks and bankers often have in-depth knowledge about industries and business sectors; it's part of their approach to managing credit risk. By understanding where supply disruptions may occur, your banker can anticipate the impact on your business and talk through alternatives.
3. How are customers' needs changing?
According to CNBC, online sales of pants dropped 13% in March while pajama sales surged by 143% in April. Some trends that began out of fear or necessity—personal exercise equipment, home improvement, recreational equipment and anything related to baking—may continue when the pandemic is no longer a threat. Businesses want to understand how the current crisis will reshape customer expectations and how those changes might prompt them to change or update their business model. With insights in multiple industries, commercial bankers may be able to connect the dots as trends begin to take shape.
4. How can I find the right clients and suppliers right now?
"My clients are being more selective about who they're doing business with and are placing more emphasis on doing business locally right now," said Kelley Deal, a commercial banker with BOK Financial in Phoenix. "I've reached out to my local contacts to create forums to pass business back and forth, which is good for all involved."
5. How are your teams staying connected?
"I talk with my clients about employee engagement right now because a disconnected employee is easier to recruit," explained Greg Atkinson, a commercial banker with BOK Financial in Denver. "With so many employees working from home, business owners can't rely on those casual water cooler conversations to see if an employee is checking out. And the loss of key staff puts tremendous pressure on businesses that are already under stress."
Those personal connections are especially important for business owners who may be especially hard hit by the pandemic's mental and emotional toll. "The first question I ask my clients is how they're doing," said Atkinson. "I've worked with many of my clients for years—if not decades—and I understand the risk of always putting the needs of your business, employees and clients before your own."
6. How is your bank doing?
While the current economic uncertainty may be causing flashbacks to the 2008 financial collapse, a repeat is unlikely. In testimony to the U.S. Senate in May, Federal Reserve Vice Chair Randal Quarles stated "… banking organizations are well-positioned to serve as a source of strength, not strain, in the current crisis." Understanding a bank's capital levels as well as its credit ratings allows you to address those concerns.
7. What's coming next?
Bankers are in a unique position to understand a company's financials pre-, during and post-COVID. The level of insight that goes into underwriting a loan can also open the door to honest discussions about what might come next.
"I have some clients who are really struggling right now and others who are doing okay now but are anticipating real challenges in the fourth quarter and early next year," said Deal. "I tell them to keep sharing both good and bad news with me. Your bank can be a better partner through these challenging times if we keep the conversations going."