When I went back to college in my mid-20’s, a mature student by definition, it was because I found a course and career path that would allow me to bridge my passion for agriculture & farming with my finance minded brain. My goal, as my friends and family will attest, was to be the kind of ag-banker that was a partner, not a foe, of the farmer. My view at that time, which was a time that we were in the depths of a very real farm crisis at the end of the 1990’s, was that farmers “generally” had a poor view of bankers. I aimed to change that perception.
Now as a management advisor, I still aim to bridge that gap. I invest myself into building good relationships with bankers so as to have a list of qualified partners whom I can refer in to my clients for financing requirements. Here are the top 3 points to remember when considering a new bank relationship.
1. Perfection is Not Required on the First Date
The initial meeting is a first date. Think about it: you’ve met someone you’re interested, you’ve had an interesting conversation that identifies some common interests, and you eagerly and excitedly agree to go on a date. On that first date, it’s a lot of “what do you do for fun?” and “what kind of music do you like?” If you’re really getting into it, you might discuss your date’s political views! You aren’t deciding on the first date if you will or will not marry this person; you’re just hoping to learn enough about him/her to decide if you want a second date.
The initial meeting with a new prospective banker is a first date. You’re getting to know each other. The banker wants to know how your farm is doing financially, how you manage & make decisions, and what you vision is of the future. You want to know how the banker manages his/her client relationships, how the bank would deal with a farm like yours, and how everyone would expect to work together should you take your relationship “to the next level.” On a first date, no one expects perfection. Each person on a first date easily overlooks the little nuances that may, or may not, become an issue later on. No one needs to be perfect on a first date with a banker.
2. Be Aware of Where You Are At, Where You Have Been, and Where You Are Going
The greatest risk to derailing any chance of a second date is for you, as the borrower, to not have an adequate grasp on the effects to your business from past issues & business decisions. Bankers appreciate accountability when it comes to “what happened” in the past. Own your choices, both the good one and bad ones. Describe what you are doing to rectify your poor decisions from the past and what you are doing to ensure those same choices aren’t repeated. Have an idea (at least) of a vision for what you want your business to look like in 5 years, recognize what it will take to get there, and understand what you need to do in the near term to take positive steps towards that vision.
3. A “Partnership” Mindset
While taking your relationship with your banker to the next level has been described by some as a “marriage, I agree in figurative terms only. Your relationship with your lender is a partnership, however, and proactive & productive efforts must be initiated by both parties.
While I believe that your banker relationship is akin to marriage figuratively, I do believe that it is a partnership literally. In almost every presentation I’ve made through the winter and spring, I have described the partnership as follows:
“If you have a Debt to Net Worth figure of 1:1, that means your debts are level with your net worth. At that point your creditors have equal skin in the game as yo do; your lender’s ‘investment’ in your business is par with yours. You have a 50/50 partner.”
There are many farms with Debt to Net Worth figures that are 1:1 or higher. Where do you stack up? Do you have a “partner” by the definition of equal investment in your farm? It is only decent and respectful for both parties to behave in the relationship like a partnership.
What is your mindset with it comes to your relationship with your lender? Is it friend or foe? Necessary evil or business partner?
How prepared are you, as the CEO of your company, to discuss your current situation and share your vision of your farm?
Are you excited for a dance or two on a first date, or are you expecting your date to be on bended knee by the end of the interaction?
From The Home Quarter
This is penned in large from the message that my old boss from my banking days used to lean on: early interactions between bankers and borrowers are like courtships; everyone spends time getting to know the other(s) and jostling for position to make the best impression. It takes time to build a trusting relationship, and like any first date, if either party pushes too hard too soon for too much, a second date is unlikely.