Tired of their stodgy reputation, bankers are ready to loosen up.
It seems everyone has this perception of bankers as buttoned-up,
pinstriped, by-the-book people . . .
except, of course, bankers themselves. But according to a recent study, bankers seem to have finally taken a good, hard look in the mirror and pronounced themselves ready to change.
A Hay Group survey of representatives from major banking organizations nationwide found that bankers are seeking a virtual turnaround in priorities. The survey split current and desired priorities into a seven-tier scale. When asked what type of employee behavior they'd like to encourage, bankers ranked seven of the top 12 current priorities into the bottom half of the scale. Meanwhile, the kinds of priorities small-business owners have been praying for-such as "maximizing customer satisfaction" and "being flexible and adaptive in thinking and approach"-moved up from their current status of second and fifth levels, respectively, into the first and second levels of desired goals.
"It seems the characteristics bankers want to de-emphasize are, by and large, internally focused and bureaucratic in nature. And when they talk about what they want to evolve into, those are customer- and market-oriented factors," observes David B. Bundren, associate director for corporate and small-business banking with the American Bankers Association. "What we're seeing is a fundamental shift, a continuing evolution of banking into a much more sales- and marketing-oriented industry."
What's sweetening the traditionally sour relationship between banks and small-business owners? "Right now the banking industry is in tremendous good health financially, earning record levels of profitability over the past couple of years," says Bundren. "Now banks are asset-hungry. They have a lot of liquidity and want to use their profits efficiently by making loans."
Competition from insurance companies, investment banks and credit unions also plays a part. "Bankers realize they can't just be fat and happy anymore," says Bundren.
Yet whether this change of heart results in a change of action will come down to the individuals running the banks. "It depends on the senior managers and the officers making decisions at each institution," Bundren says. "To the extent that these parties are innovative and forward-thinking, you can get quick changes. To the extent that they are stuck in the 15-year-old mold of being conservative and bureaucratic, it's a bit more problematic."
All things considered, could your banker be your new best friend? "Banks are trying to emphasize small-business lending, and small businesses are generally doing well," says Bundren. "The tension has been eased." -Janean Chun