Many banks are expanding the role of their retail teams in calling on small businesses to compensate for reduced fee revenue and to more efficiently reach and service small businesses. Since small business owners also have personal banking needs, retail branches can be an efficient way to service both personal and business needs. At the American Banker 2014 Small Business Banking Conference, one bank executive stated, "Everyone in retail knows business is the strategy and that we will gain consumers through business, rather than business through consumers."
The challenge for banks is how to give branch managers and other retail team members the confidence and knowledge to effectively call on small business owners. Their comfort zone is typically consumer needs and products, while most lack experience in dealing with business owners. Branch managers are also occupied dealing with existing customers, which makes it difficult for them to engage in extensive training on the needs of small businesses.
This challenge is compounded by the fact that small business owners want, and often expect, their banker to understand their business and offer solutions to their needs. According to studies by Barlow Research, 70% of business owners want a banker who "understands their specific needs." Owners are seeking advice and expertise from bankers, rather than just a transaction and product orientation.
In response to this challenge, both small and large banks are investing in business intelligence tools to help their retail teams quickly learn the needs of small businesses. This is a trend we expect to accelerate in 2015. According to Guy Johnston, Retail Sales Manager at City National Bank, "Retail bankers need business intelligence tools now more than ever; for effective outreach, efficient call planning and networking. They simply cannot devote hours a week to adequately prepare given their other responsibilities. Without the ability to bridge the gap between their financial knowledge and their customers' business issues, retail bankers' calls and conversations can sound too "banky"; and let's face it, that's the last thing business owners want to hear about."
Some banks are expanding tools used by business bankers to their retail teams, while other banks are investing in new tools designed to address the needs of branch managers. These business intelligence tools include industry intelligence for call preparation, local business lists, local economic updates, and business-oriented news services. Banks are also investing in sales training that incorporates how to use business intelligence tools for call preparation.
Banner Bank is an example of a bank that has implemented industry intelligence tools for its retail bankers and the results have been very positive. As one branch manager observed, "To be an expert on every industry we come in contact with is next to impossible. To have innate knowledge of every company we bank or want to bank is unattainable. So to have a tool that can give you that insight on prospects and clients has been a game changer for me. It's definitely raised my business IQ." Another branch manager stated, "The tool has allowed me to quickly become an expert in any industry. Understanding current and past trends, as well as pain points, allows me to speak the same language as my prospects, instantly deepening the relationship."
The stakes for banks in addressing the needs of small business owners are high. A recent survey of small businesses by the Aite Group found that 23% of businesses with $5-10 million in sales and 17% of businesses with $1-5 million in sales "probably will" or "definitely will" switch to a new financial institution within the next two years. Banks who arm their retail teams with the right tools can see this as an opportunity, while those who don't face a threat.
Bobby Martin, President and co-founder of Vertical IQ, also co-founded and served as President of First Research, a leader in sales intelligence. In 2007, First Research was sold to D&B Corporation. Before founding First Research with Ingo Winzer in 1998, Bobby spent more than six years with Bank of America managing a large commercial banking pool of customers in Wilmington, North Carolina. Bobby graduated Magna cum Laude, earning his Economics and Banking degree from Appalachian State University in Boone, North Carolina, and serves as Vice Chairman for the Center for Entrepreneurship at the university. Bobby is writing a book about entrepreneurship in his spare time.