While many small business owners today would like to switch financial institutions, they often wind up staying with their original provider to avoid the endless red tape.

However, Community Bank ($825 million, Washington, Pennsylvania) has designed a program called “Community Bank Concierge” that makes the process of switching easier for businesses.

Patrick G. O’Brien, Senior Executive Vice President, Chief Operating Officer, says that during recent visits with local merchants, owners complained about fee increases and a diminishing level of personal service coming from the larger financial institutions; however, they felt powerless to switch because they didn’t have the time or resources to go through the transition.

“Businesses would tell us how much they would prefer to do business with us, but the headache and lengthy process it takes to switch banks stops them,” says O’Brien.  “We found this especially prevalent when approaching municipalities and other businesses who were deeply involved with their big bank.”

In response, O’Brien and Senior Vice President Jennifer George met with cash management staff members and senior executives to develop a program that would eliminate that objection and become a gateway to a smooth switch to Community Bank.

“Our cash management and commercial loan officers are highly skilled at what they do, but handling the process of switching the client over to us is not their specialty,” says O’Brien.  “We needed a highly specialized team that understood the process of what it takes to make the switch, how to ask the right questions, and have the acumen and insight into making the transition a painless and easy process for our client.”

George adds that employees may not know all of the details involved in the banking relationship, or how and where the debits and credits are originated from.  “The trickiest part is bankers don’t often know what it’s like to sit on the other side of the desk, in the controller’s seat, or as the bookkeeper who has to track down these debits and credits,” she says.  “Oftentimes, you encounter the bookkeeper who was hired a few years ago, but the relationship was established with their bank long before that bookkeeper came on board.”

When it came time to assemble the concierge group, employee team members were selected based on personality, operational knowledge, and ability.

“We have 12 concierge employees and one team leader who guides the team with her enthusiasm, positivity, and deep level of knowledge,” says George.  “The idea is to bring the level of service you might find at Disney to our customers.”

O’Brien says concierge team members went through 40 hours of training to perfect and develop skills specific to the concierge service.  “We also equipped each concierge team member with an iPad so that while they are interviewing the client and fact-gathering, they can record and retain the information,” he says.

“The switch kit checklist is also pre-loaded onto the iPad to ensure no vital questions are missed.”

Plus, the bank developed letters and documents that the client can share with their former bank to hasten the switch.  “Every strategic move was designed to make switching easier,” says O’Brien.

Currently, the bank is promoting the program through outside calls.  “It’s also featured in our business newsletter and on our Website,” says O’Brien. “Brochures and other materials will eventually follow.”

George says that today when commercial loan officers or cash management officers meet with clients and encounter an objection to switch, a concierge team member is called upon.

“Now we have a solution when the client wants to switch,” she says.  “Although there is no true measureable amount of time saved, our team is removing a considerable amount of stress from the bookkeeper, who would have to track down every debit and information.  Moving a typical medium-sized checking account can take anywhere from six to 10 hours; we handle that part of the service instead of the client having to do it.”

O’Brien says the service shows tremendous promise in regards to new account acquisition.  “We only recently rolled out the program, but we have already moved a few clients over to the bank,” he says.  “Community banks have a tough time with organic growth through acquisition, so we see this tool as a pathway to breaking through this obstacle.”

Source:  Patrick G. O’Brien, Senior Executive Vice President, Chief Operating Officer; Jennifer George, Senior Vice President, Community Bank, Washington, PA; phone (724)223-8310; e-mail pobrien@communitybank.tv; jgeorge@communitybank.tv.