I'm firmly convinced many credit unions can increase their visibility and credibility as a business services provider and grow their business member relationships by changing how they approach potential business owner-members. And, the opportunities may never be better than they are in today's economic climate.
In our situation, we had devoted significant talent and resources over the years and built a strong presence in terms of business services. Yet, we continued to hear, 'I didn't know you did that,' from many prospective business members. In fact, many of these individuals had been longtime members, with numerous personal accounts or loans. But, they thought we only provided consumer loans, credit cards, and savings and checking accounts. We weren't even on their radar for business loans or deposit accounts.
We asked, "Why?" and, "What can we do to change this?"
Sure, it takes some time to change people's perceptions of you and build their awareness. However, several years ago, we came to the conclusion that a small strategic change would have a significant impact in helping us grow and increase our business relationships.
This change started by building on some basic facts. First, prospective business members are more likely to work with the member center staff and managers than with the business services area.
Second, our branch managers were already actively involved in many business groups and activities in their local areas, like the Chamber of Commerce, the Rotary Club and others. So, we simply looked for new ways to cultivate those opportunities available at the branches.
We shifted our emphasis to business savings, business checking and sweep accounts as key starting points for establishing relationships with businesses. And, we moved to a broader, team approach for business services, with branch managers partnering with our business services officers and staff.
In many respects, local branch managers are now part of the face of our business services department, especially for business deposit accounts. Branch managers target and visit prospective business members in their areas. They're also involved in soliciting and opening new business deposit accounts. Managers set annual branch goals for business contacts and accounts opened. And, they stay involved once the business relationship is established. Member center staff is also part of the team process and is experienced in serving business deposit accounts and transactions.
This change has proven to be a great way to build the prospect pipeline, for both business deposits and loans, and it has helped us grow.
Essentially, we've taken the same approach that works in building individual member relationships and applied it to business members: We use deposit services and accounts as the foundation for building long-term relationships.
We've always provided one-on-one service to business members, just as we do for individuals. Our target for prospective business owner-members hasn't changed. We focus on businesses we call "tweener" accounts, where our capabilities and strengths allow us to outdo local or regional banks and outbid larger commercial banks.
The biggest hurdle we still face in growing business services is the same one every credit union deals with: getting invited to the table when a business is considering a change. Involving local branch managers and focusing on business deposit account services has helped us get in many more doors.
When given the chance to talk with business owners, we're able to show them we can do a really good job of serving their business needs. They walk away impressed with what we offer. And many times, they choose us. In fact, we continue to have business clients tell us that we understand their business better and work more closely with them than other financial institutions do.
The simple reality is credit unions serve members, and some of those members own businesses.
Many credit unions are extremely well-positioned to serve these members' business needs and do it better than competitors. And, numerous small- and medium-sized business owners are searching for a better financial value, but they aren't aware credit unions provide them.
I encourage you to reevaluate your strategy, reexamine the strengths and benefits you can offer a business owner, and then consider changing the way your credit union approaches prospective business owner-members.
Using a team approach to business development and business deposit services as a starting point can go a long way in helping you build and establish long-term relationships with these business member-owners. It's worked well for us. I'm convinced it can work well for other credit unions, too.