Build a Professional Relationship with Your Banker

by Thursday Bram · 7 comments

When I walk into my bank, whether I’m making a deposit or there to actually speak with a banker, I see several people I can talk to by name. Growing up, I thought that was the case with everyone: my parents and my grandparents know all of their bankers by name and even something as simple as filling out a deposit slip is accompanied by asking about one another’s kids and other catching up. That sort of relationship can make a difference in your personal finances in any number of ways.

I’ve seen it play out numerous ways: My grandfather is in real estate and has taken out any number of loans from his bank. He typically pays them back very quickly, to the point that he’s built a reputation for it beyond his credit score. So when he had a deal that he needed to move quickly on, his bank was willing to expedite a loan to the point that they had him sign a boiler-plate form, cut him a check and told him to come back after the deal was done to finish the rest of the paperwork.

It’s unlikely that you’ll be in need of a similar loan on any given day, but building a long-term relationship with your bank — and individual bankers in particular — can pay off equally well. A personal connection can make a difference in the interest rate on a mortgage or enable your banker to recommend better account choices for a business. The possibilities are endless, but how do you actually build that relationship?

Pick a Banker You Can Be Friends With

While the standard rates at a bank are usually a deciding factor on where you deposit your money, it’s worth getting a feel for the sort of people who work there before opening an account. There are always opportunities for better deals available to loyal companies if you’ve been with a bank for a while, but establishing a professional relationship with an individual or an institution that you can’t enjoy doing business with is hard to fix.

If you know that the corporate level of a particular bank is going to turn you off of working with the individuals at your local branches, it’s likely to be worth while going to another bank, even if it means that the costs of having an account are a little higher. Consider the fact that a bank that is difficult to work with will cost you your valuable time — and it’s entirely possible that those lower apparent costs are supported by higher fees or poorer service.

There’s a certain sense that it’s harder to find people to connect with in big banks, but, if you’re willing to commit yourself to mostly going to one branch and going inside (rather than through the drive-thru or the ATM) fairly regularly, you can build connections even at the biggest institutions.

Think About Your Long-Term Needs

On average, most of us only interact with the tellers when we go into the bank. But while tellers can do helpful things like waive fees, they don’t do a lot more than manage how money goes in and out of your account. If you’re going to need a mortgage or loan down the road — maybe opening a new business or buying a house is in your future, it’s worthwhile to make a connection with the other folks at your bank.

Such a relationship can start the day you open a new account. Talking about your future plans during the paperwork can give you insights on what you may need to consider for your future banking needs, as well as discuss what financial products at the bank will best serve you. Of course, you can always come back and ask a banker questions later — but getting a good idea of what kind of help you can get at the bank is a good way to start building a professional relationship. It can provide an easy starting point for someone who’s shy or otherwise not sure how to get the ball rolling.

It’s also important to keep building on that connection — while you may not be best friends with your banker, you want to be recognizable as a loyal customer. The worst situation you could face is going to your bank to ask for some help and have the person on the other side of the desk ask if you are a customer.

It’s Got to Be Personal

In this day and age, actually going into the bank is becoming a rare occurrence. You can handle your bank account online, at an ATM or through a drive-thru, without needing to interact with real people. Furthermore, banks encourage us to do as much electronically as possible — it’s cheaper for them if they don’t have to keep as many tellers and bankers on staff. But that personal interaction can be very useful. We’re always predisposed to be more willing to risk money on someone we feel we know and we like giving better deals to people who we see as friends. The same holds true for bankers.

Building a personal connection may not be particularly convenient, but it can be worthwhile. Getting a teller you know to fix a mistake on your account can take a matter of minutes — doing it over the phone can mean fifteen minutes on the line before you even get to talk to a real person. When you get into considerations like the fact that you may be able to get a lower interest rate on a mortgage when you go to the banker you know than when you type in numbers in an online form, the financial considerations can add up quickly. It’s almost always worth the effort.

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  • James says:

    I strongly believe in establishing and maintaining a friendly rapport with the people at my local branch. In addition to chatting with the tellers I will also stop by the loan officer’s desk or the branch manager to say hi, share a joke, and see how they are doing. About once a month I will bring a box of donuts with me for the staff to enjoy.

    Has it paid off? You better believe it! Several decades ago I was banking with Wells Fargo and discovered that, through an error, I wasn’t going to receive my monthly pay check. I immediately went to my branch and explained the situation and asked for a small loan to cover my expenses until my pay was straightened out. Since I had been depositing the same amount every month for over a year, the branch manager advanced me an amount equal to my pay check and did not charge me any interest on it.

    Several years ago I transferred $1,000 out of my checking account with Merchants & Farmers Bank and forgot to record the transaction. A few weeks later I received an NSF notice from the bank. I angrily called the bank stating I couldn’t possibly be overdrawn. While I was driving to the bank I remembered that withdrawal. As soon as I arrived at the bank I apologized to the branch manager and asked to apologize, in his presence, to the teller I had called earlier. When I received my bank statement later that month I discovered that they had reversed the NSF fees even though I had not asked for that.

  • David says:

    Agreed. I have a banking relationship with a smaller, regional bank in a state 2,500 miles from where I live, but close to my kids. If I need something in between visits, I can e-mail or call them and ask for a real person that I know. I have a banking non-relationship with one of the major players and it is nowhere near as satisfying, but serves my needs closer to home. I tried to build up the relationship with the bigger bank, but they kept switching staff and it could not be brought to fruition due to their activities. While I am not a “big-bank-hater”, as the economic troubles today can be blamed on multiple parties, I do really see the benefits of a smaller regional bank, as long as it has the capacity to provide the infrastructure needed to be a good partner.

  • Bryan says:

    As a banker myself, I can appreciate your article very much. Building a relationship with bankers (note the plural) isn’t important for wealthy people. Even people who are struggling to make ends meet can benefit too, maybe more so. Overdraft fees, monthly service fees, rate reductions, phone call warning about low balances, promos, etc. are some of the things a personal relationship can help with. For small business owners, the relationship is even more important.

  • Building a professional relationship with your banker will definitely give you an advantage a lot on the bank services. I remember when I applied for a loan on a bank; it started my relationship with the Bank Manager. He be calling me if there is a problem with my loan or there is a certain good investment is in the offing even before the bank announce it. We eventually became friends and till now giving me advices on financial matters.

  • Doug Warshauer says:

    I think this is tremendously good advice. People tend to focus on the parts of banking that don’t add up to much: i.e. cutting your fees a couple bucks a month or increasing your interest rate a fraction of a point. Having a good relationship that can get you a loan you otherwise couldn’t get to fund a business venture or to reduce your interest rate on your mortgage is much more worthwhile in the long run.

  • Cd Phi says:

    Ahh. This is definitely one of those instances where you should take the time out to build a relationship with that person because you’ll be seeing them a lot. I’ve experienced this myself when I forgot to pay for something and got hit with a late fee not surprisingly. Luckily my banker knew who I was and she was able to help me waive that fee. Didn’t have to deal with higher management or anything.

  • Jenna says:

    Interesting post. I never know any of my bankers. I opened an account in high school, went out of state for college and now just go to the closest ATM or hop online. Never thought of actually developing a relationship with my bank…

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