Every community bank would like local CPAs to recommend it to their clients. Yet some bankers find they are much more successful than others at getting this nod from accountants.
To find out what a bank can do to win CPA approval, I turned to Louis T. German, who has practiced in East Orange, N.J., and been a professor of accounting at Rutgers' graduate school for over 32 years.
"If you are dealing with a reputable CPA, treat him or her with respect and then be willing to bend a little," was Lou's immediate answer.
He means that if a solid accountant says this client is worthy and the bank should go a little further than the numbers would merit in accommodating him, trust the CPA.
Realize that he has his own reputation to defend and thus he is not going to go to bat for someone Who will not fulfill his obligations.
In this regard I remember hearing the president of a highly selective college say that the school had such regard for one high school principal in New Hampshire that they took a student from his school because the principal had written a two-word letter of recommendation: "Take him."
What else might help?
"Remember that relationships are a two-way street," adds Lou. "If you recommend an accountant's firm when you are dissatisfied with the service a customer is getting, and you want him to switch CPAs, naturally he will be more eager to recommend your bank when he has clients who are looking for a fresh relationship with a bank."
Mr. Nadler is a contributing. editor of American Banker and professor of finance at the Rutgers University Graduate School of Management.
How can the banker tell that the CPA is reliable before recommending him? Naturally, over time, this becomes obvious from the way the relationship grows. But as a start, Lou recommends that the bank make sure that any accounting firm it recommends is a member of the state and national CPA societies.
Not only do they require periodic peer review, but they. also demand that members take CPA credits of refresher and advancement courses annually. What else can a bank do? Show respect by having the tellers and platform people make a special effort to recognize the accountant when he comes in the bank. Everyone has an ego and likes that.
Be flexible in applying the rules when you can. This doesn't mean relaxing credit standards, but it does mean things like moderating service charges and going the extra mile to provide personal service.
German tells of the time he messed up and overdrew his account after about 15 years of perfect banking. The branch manager paid the check anyway and just laughed with him when he came in to apologize.
How about a seat on the bank's local advisory board?
Of course, there isn't room for all the lawyers and CPAs who deal with the bank. But Lou was on the board of his branch of Midlantic Bank, and he appreciated the honor and tried to reciprocate by steering business to the bankers he has met at the board meetings.
But there are a lot of other ways to court accounting firms that are not as formal as offering an advisory board seat.
Giving special attention to the credit card or mortgage requests of employees of the firm or of the CPA's clients makes the firm willing to place more business with the bank.
Curbing turnover of employees so the accountants can avoid having to tell their story to new people over and over again can help.
But Lou German does not just talk about ways the bank can help the CPA. He admits there is a lot that accountants can do to make bankers' lives easier too.
For example, he feels that a good CPA firm should advise its clients not to come to the bank with a stale statement or sloppy presentation. If necessary, wait until a new and better statement can be devised.
And Lou recognizes that the days when the local branch manager could make a loan to the clients of his local CPA firm are rapidly coming to an end.
Since the approvals are more likely to be made by loan specialists rather than the branch manager in banks of all sizes, this means that the presentation of a credit request has to be more formal -- the CPA can no longer be sloppy because of the review procedures that have been put into effect.
But the key remains the trite phrase "Trust me." The CPA knows that if he pushes the banks limits for one client and the loan goes sour, he will have a rough time ever after getting even good loans approved.
And to community bankers, who stress character over the other three C's of credit, this should be an understandable request from the accountants.
For all they are saying is that they want their character and reputation to play as much of a role in credit granting as do those of the borrower whom they represent.