April 7, 2010

Become Fundable? Interview with a Bank VP

Damon Kirchmeier

I had the pleasure of interviewing Christopher Liechty – VP of Communications for The Bank Of American Fork. So naturally I outlined an agglomeration (word of the day) of fundraising questions for the interview. However, I soon discovered that he’s not only a lending expert, but a respected marketer. He co-founded the marketing firm Meyer & Liechty and the International division of the U.S. graphic design Association AIGA. As a marketer myself, I couldn’t help but bag some marketing advice as well.

So this interview is equal parts marketing & funding advice.

What is Brand Experience Marketing?

Christopher: It’s the next evolution of marketing. The last evolution was ‘if I can get you to remember my name then I’m successful.’ Marketers made promises and then left the fulfilment to someone else. But that kind of thinking ended in remorse. Experiential marketing lines up promises with the experience. People enjoy their exprience, they tell their friends, and then they do your marketing for you. You just can’t get away with treating the customers poorly after the sale.


What advice do you have for marketing a small business?

Christopher: Define you audience narrowly; succeed in a smaller circle. That may be a particular psychographic or interest group (moms, business people, gamers, etc…). Try to define your audience as narrowly as possible and then go about taking care of them.
Our Bank [The Bank of American Fork] is looking for community builders, as opposed to people who don’t really care where they live.


What is your role as VP of Communications for the Bank of American Fork?

Christopher: I plan the full range of the Bank’s communications, from branding, marketing, advertising, and brand experience to product development, public relations, customer service, and internal communications; the total customer experience. We promise “Big city banking, small town service.” My job is to deliver on that.


What can a small business do to improve it’s fundability?

Christopher: Mostly it’s the numbers and the relationship. Having a good feeling for the person’s character has a big influence on approving a loan. Develop a good relationship with the loan officer. Help the loan officer get to know you.


What role does credit play in a small business loan?

Christopher: As a small business person it’s unlikely that your business is going to have enough collateral to support a loan. It’s really your personal finances that are going to back up the business loan. Your personal guarantee is a sure deal. Loan officers are going to ask for a personal guarantee no matter what.


So your personal credit score becomes very important?

Christopher: Actually, credit score is not a major factor. We do look at it, but it’s all about overhead and your ability to repay. So if your personal & business expenses are low and you have some equity in your house, those will be the main things that we look at. Even if your business is brand-new, if your overhead is low and you’ve got some equity then the bank can say, “Okay, I’m covered up to [blank] amount.” If the person seems like they’ve been careful with their expenses, are not living high on the hog, and has reasonable overhead, then they’ve got a good shot at funding. But if they’ve got a huge house payment, maxed out on a lot of credit cards, and got lots of overhead then it’s not likely they’ll get a loan.