Emotions at the kitchen table and the boardroom

Any meetings in which financial problems are discussed are bound to be stressful for the parties involved and have been known to get emotional at times. Special Asset Management – which regularly meets clients both at the proverbial kitchen table and in the boardroom – has found this to be true regardless of the setting.

The stereotype shows, these meetings are scenes in which callous bankers rattle off a list of rules to the hapless client, only to leave them out in the cold afterwards. So just how accurate is this picture at Rabobank? 'That's not how it’s done at all. Sure, we are sometimes forced to take a tough stand with clients during these meetings and call a spade a spade, but we are always straight with them and always show respect for them and their business no matter what. It is our job to brief them on the situation and explain all the intricacies involved, but we are not robots by any means.'

Empathising with clients

Winnemuller does agree with clients' gripes, however, that bank employees could sometimes make more of an effort to put themselves in the client's shoes. 'Clients should be able to air their emotions freely, and our people, in turn, should show empathy when they do. Many clients are embarrassed to talk about their financial trouble, and we are absolutely doing our best to become more sensitive to their situation. This requires patience, empathetic ability and a certain degree of flexibility on the part of our account managers in terms of how they choose to approach clients.'

Doctor or butcher?

Some clients find the term 'special asset management' somewhat ominous-sounding, even imagining they are being led to a slaughterhouse of some sort. As the department's Team Leader, Bert Winnemuller, puts it: 'We prefer to think of ourselves as company doctors. And, fair enough, we do manage to nurse 67 percent of our clients back to financial health in the current climate. But we absolutely intend to keep honing our communication skills, as that is one area where we do need to do better. And we will continue to consult our clients for feedback, particularly at the end of the special asset management process, as we have found the insights gleaned from those meetings to be very valuable.'