Fortunately for one writer, truth-in-labeling laws do not apply to commentaries appearing in newspapers. A recent column promising to reveal "How to Double Your Small-Business Profits," (by James McCormick, page 18, Nov. 15) presents a generic six-step program for doubling profits that can be applied to almost any banking business.
Unfortunately, the column fails to address issues unique to the small- business banking effort.
The column recommends a program of profitable customer origination, cross-selling, customer retention, reducing the number of unprofitable customers, linking products and service to revenues generated by different customers, and targeted prospecting.
The concepts are valid and have been promoted by many writers and consultants, including yours truly. Each is critical for success in virtually every banking business.
But managers know what they need to do. Their challenge is in determining how best to work within the banking organization to accomplish those goals.
Small-business banking managers are struggling to overcome the organizational and compensation roadblocks that prevent internal cooperation.
One senior executive told me that though he had "responsibility" for small business, his success depended upon the actions of branch personnel, private bankers, internal benefits experts, and others, none of whom reported to him. His responsibility and authority do not match up, nor are they likely to in the future.
Another banker recently told me that there were five groups in his bank that were lending money to small businesses.
How can a bank corral all the energy and information focused on this market in order to maximize profits? The banks and nonbank financial services companies that have succeeded in applying the program above have done so by creating a culture reinforced by cooperation and compensation. They have also reevaluated the role of the branch manager.
Change requires top management support. A bank needs leaders who insist on internal cooperation and focus their efforts on breaking down the "product silos."
Most bank managers fail to address this fundamental issue, to avoid the need for unpleasant confrontations. But to create a climate of internal cooperation and customer focus, top executives may have to insert themselves into the change process.
Twenty-person committees will not succeed in creating organizational change. In fact, too often the existence of large steering committees signals an unwillingness by managers to do what they are paid to do: make decisions and lead.
In small-business banking as in other areas, the search for consensus may have to yield to the need for leadership.
Compensation must reflect strategy. Why are firms like Merrill Lynch, Finova, and Green Tree able to originate cost-effectively, cross-sell successfully, and retain priority accounts? Their culture is supported and reinforced by a compensation system designed to encourage sales personnel to determine what the customer needs and, then, reach across the organization to create the best solution for the customer.
The best sales organizations allow for performance-based compensation that may be multiples of the base. Further, marketers either perform or are removed.
Finally, branch goals must be changed. Branch managers are being pulled in multiple directions. Unless their jobs are redesigned, expecting them to lead or even participate substantially in a small-business selling effort is simply unrealistic.
And though more small businesses will migrate away from the branch, for the foreseeable future branches will remain important for most banks servicing small businesses.
Too many bank managers dictate goals for the branches without changing the infrastructure and compensation system to make those goals obtainable. If, as the writer tells us, 40% of retail profits are derived from small- business activities, then at least a commensurate portion of incentive compensation should be tied to developing such business for the bank. But this is rarely the case.
So profits in small business banking can indeed be doubled, and banks that adopt the program in the earlier column will be well on their way to doing so. But managements unwilling to fundamentally change their organizations to achieve these goals will be left with the hollow sound of rehashed truisms ringing in their ears.
Mr. Wendel is president of New York-based Financial Institutions Consulting.