17/08/2012

By Wilfred Emmanuel-Jones

Today my banking facility agreement arrived for signature. This brings to a close for another year, at least, weeks of anxiety regarding whether or not the bank manager will give me the facility that I need for my business.

This anxiety is brought about because I have heard so many stories about banks refusing to support small and medium sized businesses. In these difficult economic times length of service with a bank, proven track record and great business plan count for nothing. I have no doubt that I would be facing the same fate if it wasn’t for the fact that I am in the food business. Food is of course an essential for people.

Even though my bank manager is called a ‘Relationship Manager’ I don’t have a relationship with him. This isn’t because we don’t get on, but for all the years that I have been in business I have never had a relationship with any of my managers (and there have been many). To give them credit they do try. I can always tell when they have been on a new internal training course which is designed to get them to have more empathy with their customers, but it comes out as it was written in the text book. The only time their eyes light up is when you come down to the numbers. A ‘relationship’ is just too much hard work for them and it doesn’t come easy.

Today’s bankers are money men and that is where the problem lies in not giving small and medium sized business the funding they need. The boom times spawned a generation of money men who got off on the intricacy of the figures at the expense of relationships in banking. They don’t have any emotional intelligence, which is a vital ingredient for entrepreneurs. This intelligence is not something you can learn in university it is something you acquire. Some call it a gut feel for when something is right or wrong. For many important decisions in business always come down to that form of intelligence.

Now I believe that anyone can acquire that knowledge, which will not only help them in business but in all aspects of their lives. But to do that you need to have a love of people and be excited at discovering what makes them tick. If I wasn’t in business I would have loved to have been a psychologist. I really do enjoy discovering what lies beneath the surface. To discover that you have to give of yourself and be open. That openness could then lead to a relationship.

Healthy relationships are built on trust, openness, honesty, empathy and the knowledge that someone is there watching your back.

If the truth be told, most banks don’t have the time for their managers to be forming relationships with their customers, unless of course you are one of the big corporates spending millions. For the rest of us we are measured on the bottom line. Forecast future plans are met with suspicion.

The future of this country is going to depend on a lot more people deciding to do it on their own, forming their own businesses. In the early days of any business you are going to need a bank manager that has a good understanding of your business and value the importance of relationships.

The toxicity in our banks will not finally be washed out until there has been a major culture change. A crucial part of that will be to change the kind of people who become a bank manager, or in my case relationship manager.

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