We All Sell the Same Thing—Money: Why Personal Banking Matters

We All Sell the Same Thing—Money: Why Personal Banking Matters
April 25 06:00 2017 Print This Article


The banking industry acts as a bridge for business owners to reach higher levels by providing loans, finances, and many more vital services. As the CEO of ConnectOne Bank, a top performing community bank, it’s my responsibility to make sure we listen to and provide our clients with what they need to grow their business. But as someone who previously sat on the other side of the table – the small business side – I understand that the process isn’t always a smooth one. I know firsthand how frustrating it can be to work with a bank that doesn’t provide proper guidance and doesn’t keep communication open between executives and clients. This personal insight and need to serve the community is ultimately what has shaped the business model and strategy at ConnectOne Bank.
The impetus to build a bank came from my background in building homes. Before I got into the banking business, I worked with my father in construction. I was practically born into the business; at age 10, I already knew how to mix cement and lay bricks. As my construction career progressed, I learned the importance of our business’ relationship with our bank, and how it served as the vehicle for financing our projects and enabling our growth. I made it a priority to foster a strong connection with the bank – however, that bank was eventually sold, and with it the relationships we worked so hard to build were gone. Although we were able to work adequately with the new bank and our company continued to profit, that personal thread between our finances and our business no longer existed. We were left with a void that needed to be filled.

The thought of starting my own bank was never a consideration until I went out and looked for a replacement. After an exhaustive search, I simply could not find a bank that provided the personal relationships and direct access to decision-makers that my business depended upon. I knew then that there was an unmet need in the market for small and medium-sized business owners looking for customized, relationship-oriented banking—and so I made a decision. I formed a team, raised $12 million in capital, and started a new community bank.

12 years later, ConnectOne is a $4.4 billion institution with 21 locations in New Jersey and New York. As we’ve grown, we’ve never lost sight of the values we were founded upon: Giving every client unparalleled access and attention, and providing the cutting-edge banking services they need to advance and succeed. But it doesn’t stop at the client level. We have committed to making this culture of accessibility and growth permeate throughout our institution, so it impacts and resonates with our employees, too.

ConnectOne’s focus on company culture engages employees at every level and provides significant opportunity for growth and career development. We appointed a Chief Culture and Experience Officer, for example, who has implemented initiatives that emphasize professional development and ensures that just like our clients, employees have a direct line of access to senior leadership. They know that our offices have glass walls for a reason – so everyone can see who is available, including myself. And while I maintain an open-door policy for employees and clients alike, I’ve found that as we’ve grown, the need for my personal attention has declined, as we operate in tandem as a well-oiled machine.

Reflecting on more than a decade of growth, I believe what has set ConnectOne apart has been our collective ability to think and act differently. Although I am the CEO of a bank, I don’t consider myself a banker—and I certainly don’t think like one. I’ve always said that “banking is the game of winning ties”—meaning that in other industries where you’re selling products, you can always come up with something that looks a little different or works a little better. In banking, we’re all selling the same thing: money.

To differentiate yourself in this industry, it’s vital to be able to put yourself on the other side of the table and understand what your clients and employees are experiencing on a personal level. That extra effort and empathy is needed to truly stand out among current and prospective clients and talent, and every decision must be made with these two audiences in mind.

That’s why in every meeting, we make sure to examine and assess decisions not just from management’s perspective, but from the viewpoint of our clients and staff as well. Because ultimately, the best way to make yourself stand out is to literally “stand out.” Remove yourself from the forefront of the conversation, and it’s easier to see if you’re providing the best experience and results to those who matter most.

Frank Sorrentino HeadshotFrank Sorrentino III is the Chairman and CEO of ConnectOne Bank (NASDAQ: CNOB), a top performing community bank in the nation according to SNL Financial, and a former board member of the American Bankers Association. Formerly North Jersey Community Bank (NJCB), ConnectOne was founded by Mr. Sorrentino and other Bergen County civic and business leaders to serve local residents and businesses by providing the highest level of personalized community banking services. As Chairman and CEO of ConnectOne, Mr. Sorrentino is responsible for its business development plan, serves as the community liaison, sits on the loan committee and serves as the bank’s spokesperson. Mr. Sorrentino has been instrumental in developing the bank’s branch and expansion strategy and oversees all marketing activities. In 2013, he led the rebrand of the company to ConnectOne Bank, coinciding with an initial public offering. In July 2014, ConnectOne completed a merger with Union Center National Bank. Mr. Sorrentino is a recognized commentator on economic forecasts and trends, banking, housing, and the lending environment, frequently appearing on Bloomberg Television, CNBC, and Fox Business News.