A good plan by the entrepreneur deserves a good advice from the bank
‘How do I do that?’ ‘What should I pay attention to?’ Starting a company, doing business internationally, receiving money from customers or investing are all things that bring up questions for entrepreneurs. They expect to receive the appropriate advice from Rabobank. The bank's approach to giving advice in the Netherlands is changing in step with the business clients and the market.
In the Netherlands, 800,000 entrepreneurs and businesses are clients of Rabobank, ranging from self-employed persons without personnel to large-scale industrial companies who export their products to numerous different countries. As different as these companies may be, what they have in common is that they receive payments from their own customers, and pay their suppliers themselves. Another similarity: they have to manage risks. And most entrepreneurs need capital to be able to carry out their business activities.
There are moments when entrepreneurs have to take special steps, and expect their bank to provide them with advice, information, a critical perspective. When they start a company, for example, which happens 150,000 times every year in the Netherlands. Or when entrepreneurs are taking their first steps across the border and spending a lot of time away from home in order to be able to enter growth markets. But there is also a need for advice when entrepreneurs are thinking about innovation, expansion, business succession or a change of direction for their enterprise. Is the route they have thought of a promising one? And how can capital be organised for it? However different the queries may be, ultimately, the client wants to ‘experience the advice as added value, advice that helps them on their way’, says Rick van Lohuizen, Mid Corporates Market Manager at Rabobank.
What added value can Rabobank offer to business clients through the information it provides? Van Lohuizen: ‘Clients expect us to be an effective expert advisor for financial services. They also expect us to have a thorough understanding of their business and sector, without undermining their autonomy. Because our presence in the Netherlands is very finely-meshed, we know the client and their context. This enables us to understand their ambitions.’ That also applies to entrepreneurs who are looking to do business abroad. They can turn to 18 international desks which are active in 36 different countries, with employees that speak Dutch. Van Lohuizen: ‘They know the Dutch context, so they know where the client is coming from, but they also know the countries which the client wants to do business in.’ This ranges from payment methods to legislation and regulations as well as relevant networks for the client.
‘Because our presence in the Netherlands is very finely-meshed, we know the client and their context. This enables us to understand their ambitions.’
New approach to advice
Advice is not only about the content, but also about the way it is given. ‘Being able to empathise with the client is hugely important here. And that is also about a format which suits the customer's needs’, says Van Lohuizen. In many cases, that can be online, but it could also be a personal conversation or a knowledge meeting with fellow entrepreneurs, or a combination of online and offline.
Network contacts for starting entrepreneurs
A good example of online advice that is still personal is the range of advice options for start-ups. Starting entrepreneurs often have a host of questions, and they are predominantly using the Internet to find their bearings. From making a business plan and attracting capital to setting an hourly rate. With over 120,000 unique visitors per month, the website ikgastarten.nl (‘creating a start-up’), initiated by Rabobank, is the largest advice hub for start-ups in the Netherlands. In addition to the website, local Rabobanks are organising meetings, from surgeries for start-ups to start-up cafés and reunions. Van Lohuizen: ‘Many entrepreneurs are initially drawn to these events because there is an interesting speaker, but they end up leaving with valuable network contacts.’
Applying online and discussing things in person
Applications for business financing of up to a million euros for existing business clients are another example of something that can be done online, while still remaining personal. As of July 2014, it is possible to do this online. Van Lohuizen: ‘The client submits the necessary information for the application online. This means they can get clarity more quickly. Based on the details that have been entered, the account manager can prepare for the conversation in advance, at which the client can then be informed as to whether financing can be made available straight away.’ So far, more than 1,300 Dutch business clients have had an advice consultation regarding business financing with their local Rabobank after supplying the required information online.
This has got everything to do with the different approach to capital and financing that is now being pursued. Van Lohuizen: ‘Doing business is riskier than it was in the past. To cope with any setbacks and be able to seize opportunities, entrepreneurs need to have sufficient resilience, possibly supplemented by other forms of financing. As a bank, we want more and more to position ourselves as a financial coordinator. Together with the client, we look at their aspirations and their capital requirements. We want to help every entrepreneur with a good plan to find a financial solution. That does not always have to be bank financing. It may well involve connecting clients that need money for a good plan with parties that are willing to make part of that capital available. Helping the client in this way is a whole new challenge.’
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