13 Steps to Protect Yourself from Your Bank

The success of your business is critically dependent on how well you negotiate and manage your financial partners. Banks, investors, credit cards and financial services companies work for you. Therefore, you need to be sure you are working together, understand the plans of each and have the best idea of what and how things will happen when times get tough.

It is very simply like dating, and you need to be acutely aware of how words, actions and contracts meld together to form a base for your business structure to build on.

1. Ask for resume of your loan officer and if a small community bank the resume(s) or work history of the principals. Banks have one of the fastest turn over rates and as the industry continues to consolidate, so people are moving fast. It's not always the bad ones that move on, there are actually good folks that get snapped up by the private sector. Know how often they move, and where to and where from. And, ultimately, if you can go with, assuming the relationship is good.

2. Ask to meet 2 to 3 levels up. Loan officer's boss, senior vice president of commercial lending and again, in small community banks, a principal. If your bank contact shows up missing, you have a critical issue that you most likely don't have the time to deal with now.

3. Ask for references of businesses within you range loan, and/or business type. If they won't give you the other companies' name, ask them to have their clients call you. Make sure they are similar in size, industry and financial requirements. Be prepared to ask tough and pointed questions to uncover the real types of people you are dealing with to determine what it will be like beyond the honeymoon stage.

4. Ask for their standings in state and federal regulator groups including FDIC. Be aware that in many cases it is against regulations for bank employees to tell you they are in trouble. Get the history and then follow up on the FDIC website and state banking authorities. These groups may ultimately decide what the bank can and can't do with account.

5. Ask what happens when times get tough. Blow up the bomb, talk about the worst case scenarios and get the reaction of how your bank will handle a takeover, regulatory change, or a late payment.

6. Request the financial intuitions' long term plans. Sell. Merger. Growth. The bank wants to know your long term plans and how they can be part of it. Shouldn't you know what they are planning on doing? If they are going to buy up other banks, or be bought? What happens to your great (or mediocre) bank relationship? Ask often and frequently where the banks see themselves going in the community and within their industry.

7. Draw up a close-out plan if you want to direct the process. If you hold special permits or plan to be involved with your company to the bitter end, figure out how that will be handled. Discuss and get agreements with your financial partners.

8. Invite Board of Directors to your business. Not only are they powerful allies with your bank they are often influential in the community. The more you develop the relationship, they more they can be aware and helpful in moving your business forward, in and outside the bank.

9. Sign any amendments to loan security agreements at the same time you enter into a loan relationship. Neither should be determined to be of more importance if you are going to create an equal and balance long term relationship. Nothing should be an additional or an oversight but one complete and equally negotiated agreement.

10. Request quarterly reports on changes within the bank. Read them and ask questions about what they mean to you and your business relationship.

11. Demand annual updates on areas that blend your business and your business services. Are they adding services to benefit you or cutting areas that will be vital to the growth, profitability and success of your business.

12. Recap all meetings and phone conversations in writing and copy supervisors in your company and at the bank. When times are good, you want every one to know it. And when you need help or relationship begin to gradually, or like a sudden summer storm, explode, you want your communication and your plans to be exacting, detailed and with a concise trail.

13. Continue to meet with other institutions and don't consolidate your business.

Margaret E. J. Broderick has an undergraduate in communications and an MBA in Strategic Marketing and Management. Her last company was a two-time Ernst and Young Entrepreneur of the Year Finalist. She is the author of Passion v. Arrogance: A Dana and Goliath Story of Wine Women & Wine, and continues to tour the country to educate audiences. She can be reached at http://www.passionpowerpress.com, or books@aol.com">passionbooks@aol.com

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