Magazine article American Banker

Account Officers Must Make Banks Work for Businesses

Magazine article American Banker

Account Officers Must Make Banks Work for Businesses

Article excerpt

Account Officers Must Make Banks Work for Businesses

Tailoring a bank's service capability to the customer's needs offers account officers an opportunity to orchestrate the bank's technical and processing capabilities to achieve specific goals. Although critically important, this role often is underplayed or even overlooked entirely. As one senior manager observed: "Few junior officers realize they have the power to "run the bank' on their customers' behalf. When they do, there's no limit to what they can accomplish.'

Why would account officers want to "run the bank'? The restructuring of the financial services industry in general and banking in particular has brought about a shift of marketing focus to include a wide range of fee-based financial services. Banking observers report that the more sophisticated account officers now ask, "What service can I perform?' rather than the traditional, "How much can I lend?' when setting revenue targets.

This strategic shift is having a decided impact on the sales tactics employed by account officers, some of whom still believe that personal charm is the key to sales success and, hence, to career advancement. Their belief is a holdover from earlier times, when corporate customers were in the market primarily for credit. Because the "sale' involved a fungible commodity-- money--personal charm was sometimes the deciding factor.

Times have changed. Many large corporate customers now go directly into the money market to obtain the capital they need, and innovative bankers are looking beyond their customers' working capital needs for financial opportunities emerging in other areas. It may be the company's cash management practices, or the financing related to their buying and selling patterns. Creative bankers are looking for opportunities to improve their customers' business practices in such a way that they significantly help the customers achieve their overall business goals-- not just financing, but improving a company's liquidity position or return on cash.

Market research suggests that the bank's customers welcome the change in emphasis. For example, of 30 senior corporate financial officers asked to identify their criteria for selecting a new bank, roughly 40% named "the offering of a new or imaginative solution to a specific problem.' In a fast-changing marketplace, one of the account officer's primary tasks is to bridge the gap between a customer's needs or goals and the bank's processing capability.

The ability to design creative linkages requires a keen understanding of both customer and bank processes-- and an understanding of some basic concepts in developing and providing useful services.

A service is a problem-solving tool in the sense that it is either something you cannot do for yourself or something you do not want to do for yourself. Whereas a shoe shine is something you may choose not to do for yourself, and a checking account provides a capability you cannot provide for yourself, both services solve problems for you.

A service follows its own logic, based on the rules, regulations, laws, and/or technical rationale that govern it. It is important not to confuse business services with personal services: Business services are dictated by business needs, not personal whim.

A service is a process that often involves more than one person in its production and, not infrequently, requires the consumer to perform one or more steps. The customer not only applies for a service but may also participate actively in its ongoing production. The customer's ability, for example, to format a money transfer instruction correctly may be a critical element affecting the quality of money transfer service a bank can provide.

A service occupies a place in time and space only when it is being rendered. A service cannot be stored on a shelf, transported, or warehoused. The intangibility of a service creates a vacuum that the consumer seeks to fill with surrogates for the service itself; that is, physical evidence of service quality and reliability. …

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