Retirement programs have become a popular way to develop relationships with small businesses. But Keycorp learned that even the most carefully crafted 401(k) plan may not be what small business owners are looking for.

"We thought the costs for their 401(k) plan were too high for most small businesses," said Robert Wigton, a member of the Cleveland-based bank's Small Business Advisory Board.

Mr. Wigton, the owner of Lou's Car Care Center in Mentor, Ohio, said he and others on the board persuaded the bank to strip out some of the 'bells and whistles' to make the program more affordable.

Even then, the bank realized it needed more than a well-priced product. Sandy Maltby, head of the small business services division and a senior vice president with Keycorp, said owners need to understand retirement planning.

In many cases, this involves advising companies on options from an outright sale to an employee stock ownership plan.

They also needed to know how to value their companies when making a sale or how to prepare for management succession.

Equally important, they needed to know how to invest the money they receive from a sale so their retirement is financially secure.

"They look at retirement as being much broader than simply needing a 401(k)," said Ms. Maltby. "It's the value-added, consultative selling that keeps the customer there."

With guidance from its Small Business Advisory Board, Keycorp is looking into counseling owners of small companies on these various options.

And with a large share of owners nearing retirement, the importance of understanding what retirement means will become increasingly important.

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