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Where do you keep your money?

    Whether you’re getting ready to start a business or have had one for several years - if it’s a small operation or a large company - you need a financial partner.
    There are several types of institutions that offer services for businesses. But which one do you use? Where should you keep your money?
    The main difference between providers, they say, is customer service.
    “Most banks are realizing that what people want most is a relationship, not a transaction,” says Sheila Sieradzki, VP Business Banking; Commercial Lender at Centier Bank’s new location on County Road 17.
    A few years ago, she says, the strategy for many banks centered on products and the number of accounts or loans opened.
    “Now, even in the big bank environment, they are realizing that it costs a fortune to bring people on and let the attrition take over,” she says. “The way to fully service your client is to become their trusted advisor and be able to provide guidance for all of their financial matters including lending, saving and investing.  A single point of contact is always easiest for the customer so it’s our jobs as bankers to gather the right team to take care of the customer’s needs and to be accessible.”
    “If your service levels aren’t off the charts, you’re not even in the race,” she says.
    “There are no more banker’s hours,” says Sieradzki. “Business owners don’t shut down at 5 o’clock. And even if their plant does, their brain doesn’t. So, they have to be able to get quick answers. At night is when they’re strategizing and thinking of their next move and they may need your advice.”
    When a business owner needs a line of credit, needs to buy a building and there are deadlines associated with that - the process is key. 
    “How long is it going to take to get underwriting? And then, is the decision really, truly local?” asks Sieradzki. “If the decision is made in Fort Wayne or Cleveland, Ohio, then is it really a local decision? And is it timely?”
    The third element of customer service is trust, she says.
    “It really boils down to this: I’m the one saying I need your financial statements. Not only do I need them. Let’s review them. And if there’s a hiccup, a bad quarter, are you dealing with the kind of bank that will say, ‘I’m calling in the note – there’s no negotiating – no talking through this.’” she asks. “Or am I the kind of bank that says ‘let’s work through this together and get back on track?’”Working together to strengthen the company’s bottom line is why we’re here.”

Sheila Sieradzdki and Jim Pinarski at Centier.
 
    A local presence, a high level of personalized service and commitment to our clients is the foundation Indiana Trust and Investment Company builds on according to Judy Weicht, investment officer at the firm. Unlike banks or credit unions, Indiana Trust is an independent, single-purpose financial institution. 
    “We provide objective, unbiased advice to individuals, charitable foundations, and businesses,”  she says of the employee-owned company. “Being a stake holder brings a higher level of commitment to our clients and the communities we serve.”

Judy Weicht
 
    Another service provided by Indiana Trust is serving as Fiduciary for businesses offering employee benefit plans; 401(k) plans, profit-sharing plans, money purchase pension plans, defined benefit pension plans, simplified employee pension plans and SIMPLE IRA plans. 
    “By serving as Fiduciary we remove the liability from the business owner. We ensure our clients’ employee benefit plans are administered to the highest standards and comply with ERISA,” says Weicht.
    The Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 (ERISA) is a federal law that sets standards for most voluntarily established pension and health plans in private industry to provide protection for individuals in these plans. 
Weicht bases Indiana Trust’s success on accessibility. 
    “We pride ourselves in face to face contact and being present and involved in our communities. Indiana Trust has been in business for 26 years with locations in Mishawaka and Muncie,” she says. “In 2011 we opened our Elkhart office and it has been great for business and very well received. For me it has been great, I live here, volunteer here and love being in Elkhart.”
 
    Vice President of Business Services at INOVA Federal Credit Union, Thomas Smith agrees that service and accessibility should help businesses determine who they choose to be their financial partners. 
    “I tell my clients to call or text me anytime – after hours, weekends. I’ll even talk to someone while I’m on vacation depending on the situation,” says Smith. “Maybe they are just thinking of something like an electronics service, an expansion of their business, maybe the type of financing they’re looking for. Not every borrower is aware of all the financing options, and they need to reach out and get some answers.”
    Smith says that business owners locally are still discovering that credit unions can provide the same kind of services found at traditional banks.
    “More and more business owners are discovering the benefits of federal credit unions,” says Smith. “INOVA pays dividends on business checking balances and unlike banks, has no prepayment penalties on commercial loans. This can provide substantial savings if the business owner decides to refinance or modify their loans in subsequent years.”
     INOVA can also participate with other credit unions, expanding their ability and resources to meet the business owner’s increasing loan needs.
    Smith points out that INOVA has nine branches which are also part of a nationwide shared branching network that allows members access to 4,000 service centers and 35,000 ATMs. That’s accessibility, says Smith. 
    “Businesses and individuals who are our members are also our owners - all part of a non-profit financial cooperative. So, service is tantamount to our survival,” he says. “Banks have customers and make money for shareholders. Credit unions have members, who are also our owners.”
    The most important consideration for choosing a financial partner is customer service: accessibility and trust. 
     So, now, where will you keep your money?

Debbie Gordon and Tom Smith at INOVA.
 
    For a complete list of 36 member banks, 19 credit unions, and dozens of financial advisors and investment companies visit Elkhart.org and go to the business directory.


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