Business owners have been through the wringer for 18 months and the challenges keep coming—from labor shortages to supply chain issues to hybrid work models.
As we continue to navigate these choppy waters heading into the fall, business owners have questions – and your commercial banker has answers. Here are nine questions to get the conversation started:
1. What can I do about kinks in the supply chain?
Between the massive chip shortage, raw material shortages and distribution challenges like cargo ships waiting to dock off the coast of California, supply chain issues are plaguing almost every industry.
Ask your banker to help you think through all of your options, suggests Bruce Guest, regional commercial banking manager at BOK Financial®. “Because we work with a variety of customers, we may be able to connect you with a different supplier or source for your raw materials.”
In addition, your banking institution may have access to other resources, like a foreign exchange desk. If you are sourcing materials internationally, you may save money by working in the local currency of those suppliers.
2. I’m worried about inflation? Should I be?
Industry experts are preaching that the current inflationary situation is temporary, but businesses are feeling the pinch. “The topic of inflation comes up in almost every client conversation,” said Wyatt Dickson, regional commercial banking manager at BOK Financial. “Inflation is having a real impact across the board, not only on the cost of goods and services, but also from a wage perspective.”
Between the rising prices and supply chain backlog, companies are having to adjust. “These issues are creating pricing challenges for all areas of the economy,” he said.
3. My customers’ needs are changing? How do I adjust?
The pandemic has changed customer expectations—and business costs. For example, curbside pick-up and the demand for delivery services have compelled many businesses to cover this expense and shift the way they do business.
With insights into multiple industries, your commercial banker is in a great position to spot trends in consumer demand. “As costs continue to rise—from employees to raw materials—businesses will have to consider how much of that added cost they can pass on to customers,” Guest said. Or, he added, if they can pass it on at all.
4. What’s going on with the labor market?
Retaining employees is on everyone’s mind. With 10.1 million job openings as of June 30, businesses are struggling to find the right employees.
“Sometimes it’s nice to just have someone to commiserate with,” Guest said. “I’m talking with every single client about challenges around talent.”
One resource your banker can offer is to connect you with leaders in like-sized companies to compare best practices or approaches to meet the challenge.
5. What should I be doing to keep my good people?
“BOK Financial is facing the same challenges our clients are,” Guest said. “We’re assessing the situation as we bring people back into the office and believe we’re better when we’re together in person, but that situation is different for every company.”
Dickson added that companies can learn from one another and be resourceful. “Between flexible schedules, hiring people and training them into positions, or innovative recruiting tactics, business leaders are getting creative to stay competitive.”
In addition, BOK Financial has prepared a resource, Labor Pains: Recruiting and Retaining Talent, to help businesses consider areas of opportunity and ways to attract and retain good employees.
6. How can I find the right clients and suppliers right now?
Hard times are when your strong relationships come into play, Guest said. “Lean on your local bank, your CPA firm, your lawyers to connect you with others in their networks.”
Beyond networking to find the right clients, he recommends being especially attentive to your suppliers. “Any time you make a change, which might be necessary with the supply chain challenges, be sure to vet their quality, on-time-delivery stats and other metrics to ensure they are the right partner for you.”
7. Is now a good time to consider buying new equipment or even expanding?
Many companies are coming through the pandemic with solid cash balances and are looking to make significant investments.
“With the challenges around supply chain and equipment delays, it’s a good time to look at the big picture and how those issues might impact your expansion plans,” Guest said. “Once you decide to move forward, it’s worth considering if you want to use the cash you’ve saved during the downturn or possibly finance those upgrades to take advantage of lower interest rates.”
Dickson added that investing or expanding is really an individual company decision. “While many of our clients have significant cash balances and there are pockets of optimism with opportunities for expansion, many are taking a ‘wait and see’ approach before getting too aggressive for the rest of this year.”
8. How can you help me outside of traditional banking products?
Guest encourages companies to dig deeper and seek out information around topics like retaining talent. He suggests considering ways to cut costs and beef up benefits for employees. Is your property and casualty insurance at the best possible premium? Are you offering a quality 401(k) and employee benefits program? Have you considered how you’ll exit the business when it’s time?
“Your banker needs to have business acumen,” he said. “Your banker should be challenging you regularly. If not, they aren’t adding value to your relationship.”
9. What’s coming next?
“Companies are going to have to continue to be willing to pivot—and quickly,” Guest said. “Your ability to react and address supply chain issues is critical. Between reviewing and updating contracts to raising prices when necessary but not letting your costs get out of control, it is a balancing act.”
Most important, Dickson added, is to use your banker as a barometer. It’s the banker’s job to pay attention to topics like inflation, the Delta variant situation with the pandemic and the state of business optimism as we head into the fall and winter.