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Banking Coronavirus News Viewpoints

Viewpoint: Building a better relationship with your business banker amid a crisis

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Barney Hughes | PHOTO COURTESY OF M&T

By Barney Hughes

It only took 14 days for the initial round of funds for the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) to run out, with $1.1 billion of the $350 federal program’s funds going to Delaware businesses. But as we continue to abide by the state’s stay-at-home orders, many of the businesses that highlight the best in our neighborhoods are closed and suffering.

As we prepare for a likely second round of funding to be injected in the PPP, business bankers like ours are ready to resume processing outstanding applications and potentially accept new ones from customers that have yet to apply for the forgivable loans. The goal remains the same: Protect our customers’ businesses as best we can through this unprecedented crisis.

This situation has highlighted how important it is for small-business owners to have a strong relationship with their bankers. But getting to that point takes some work. It’s not as simple as opening an account with a bank in your neighborhood.

Here are five ways small-business owners can build a strong relationship with their bankers that they can rely on when times get tough:

  1. Build your relationship between transactions. We encourage our customers to connect with their business banker regularly – even when they don’t need banking support. I recommend meeting with your business banker twice a year to discuss your business’ recent successes and challenges. Doing so enables your banking team to become a true partner in your business – better setting you up for success.
  2. Connect your team of professionals. As a small-business owner, consider introducing your team of professional service providers to one another. Connect your business banker with your lawyer, CPA, insurance broker, and anyone else you deem important to your business, such as key employees. During uncertain times, it’s important for this team to be able to work together and share information to reach the best possible outcomes.
  3. Create a network with your banker. As with any relationship, it’s always beneficial to help each other when you can. Your business banker likely has a number of connections that can support your business. Ask them for recommendations and insights when needed. Likewise, you should feel comfortable introducing your connections to your banking partner, maybe even providing referrals when appropriate. Business owners who do so often have the strongest relationships with their banker.
  4. Move past “strictly business.” Trust me, your banker wants to foster a strong and genuine relationship with you. It’s not unusual for my colleagues to ask about their customers’ families, vacations, or important milestones coming up. Maybe you and your banker are both die-hard fans of the same sports team or enjoy the same hobbies. Engaging with your banker on an authentic, human level allows you to maintain a strong relationship through tough times.
  5. Get help identifying resources. Your business banker’s goals are aligned with yours. We want your business to succeed and are happy to support any way we can. In challenging times, ask your banker what other resources you might be able to take advantage of. For example, Delaware’s Hospitality Emergency Loan Program (HELP) provides financial relief to restaurants, bars, and other hospitality industry businesses. Your business banker can help you determine if your business qualifies for state and federal programs like this and support you in the application process.

It’s important to keep the lines of communication with your business banker as open as possible. In a crisis situation your banker needs information as quickly as possible.

You also want to know that your banker will work for you when you need it most. Following these five tips will help ensure your email or phone call gets answered – in good times and bad.

Barney Hughes is an M&T Bank’s administrative vice president and the business banking regional manager for Delaware and the Eastern Shore. He can be reached at [email protected].

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