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VIEWPOINT: 5 Ways a Community Bank Can Lend a Hand to a Small Business

By Heather Mullhall

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As one of the largest investments people can make in their financial lifetime, operating a small business can be equal parts exhilarating and daunting. Fortunately, there are resources available to help small-business owners navigate the process of securing financial support. 

In fact, once you start looking for these resources, you’ll find that they are almost everywhere — offered by banks large and small, and financial firms far and wide. Choosing the right resources for your situation can make your loan experience smoother, though there are some inherent benefits to working with a community bank, particularly for small-business owners. 

Here are five ways that community banks are well-equipped to help small businesses:

1. A holistic view. Most community banks can take an expanded look at a business owner’s qualifications beyond traditional credit history. Because community banks provide a more personal approach, they can take the time to learn the whole story and be a partner to you and your small business. Their loan officers are usually locals who live and work in the same community you do.

2. Personalized assistance. While most community banks use technology to their advantage — such as online application portals for the tech-savvy business owner who wants independence — smaller institutions can also walk a first-time small business owner through the process with more direct contact and an individualized approach. The best banks use a combination of technology and face-to-face contact — meaning you can expect more personal communication with your bank and hopefully less frustration. 

3. Long-term relationships. There is a unique opportunity to build a lasting relationship when banking professionals live, work, and play in the same community as their customers. Community banks see the business-loan process as just one step in a series of financial milestones a small business might encounter in its operations. Most community banking professionals want to be a resource to lean on for years to come and view lending not just as a transaction, but also as a chance to develop a long-term partnership, with someone in their own community

4. Educational opportunities. Part of being well-prepared as a small-business owner is being well-informed. Community banks offer workshops and educational newsletters to educate the public on available programs and services. Information sessions provide business owners with invaluable tools and information for navigating economic changes and risks, such as fraud. Most seminars also allow for question-and-answer sessions and allow business owners to meet the professionals they’ll be working with — so, there’s a relationship from the start.

5. Specialized programs. Community banks become your partner as you build your business, and they understand that sometimes time is of the essence in reacting to an opportunity, or quickly moving forward with a time-sensitive plan. Community banks can offer a streamlined online application to help business owners secure funding and make decisions quickly. Community bankers make it a priority to understand your individual business, allowing them to provide fast, local decision-making to fund business costs when opportunities arise.

Owning a business is more than just a financial venture — it’s also an investment in a community, which makes community banks exceptionally well-suited to guide business owners on their journeys and ensure the process is accessible, secure, and achievable for all.       


Heather Mullhall is AVP and business-development officer at Tompkins Community Bank.