Perfecting the art of tailor-made client service in company-bank relationships


The client servicing offered by banks to their corporate clients plays a pivotal role in the success of both parties. Technology can make this relationship element more efficient, but investing in the human side of the equation is equally vital.

Client servicing by banks – essentially the support offered to corporate treasury and finance functions – may not be as top-of-mind as innovative products and services but it is essential to a healthy client-bank relationship.

Patrick Pots, Leading Cash Management Advisor at Equinor, an international energy company headquartered in Norway, explains: “Client service is increasingly crucial to us. When we select a bank, we know that they can all provide account structures and automated payments, so client service is a real differentiator.”

Equinor’s treasury, including cash management and payments, is highly centralised. This enables a high-level of attention from the treasury team to the business at large. “We like this to be mirrored from the banking side,” adds Pots. “We want to have a centralised point of contact at the bank so we don’t need to call around in each country to find the relevant support.”

Peter Clemens, Head of Global Transaction Banking Belgium, Societe Generale, affirms that this particular client-servicing approach is a significant focus at his institution. 
As a bank, we try to mirror the set-up of the client,” Clemens explains. “For example, many of our nordic clients are very centralised, so we try to mirror that and provide one single contact for them to talk to. This means the client does not need to navigate all the different geographies in the scope of the relationship.”

For banks, client servicing is a broad topic covering much more than delivering cash management solutions. In any interaction with a bank, the company needs to be met with an efficient organisation that can surmount challenges and knows the business well enough to be proactive. 

Tom Pedersen, Chief Country Officer, Nordic Region, Societe Generale, elaborates: “Client servicing should make it easy for the corporates to access whatever solution they need within our bank.”

Hold on to the human touch 

Advances in technology have helped drive efficiencies in treasurers’ relationships with their banks. As corporates increasingly strive to become paperless organisations, banks are responding to this need. 

Clemens reveals: “We’ve gone paperless with Equinor – we exchange documents via a secure hub and with e-signatures, for example. Equinor likes that, but we also discuss issues directly. There are regular calls to follow up and ensure everything is going smoothly.”  As a bank, Societe Generale is increasingly investing in technology that supports its client-servicing operation, as Clemens highlights. 

“We have the [Swift] GPI technology, for example, which we put forward to all our clients so they can access it whenever they want,” he says. “We are increasingly sharing the tools we used to use internally with our clients to provide them with frictionless contact and information.”

One of the hotspots for friction in the corporate bank relationship is the KYC process, which can be complex and time-consuming. Combining technology with a focus on efficiency can enable banks to simplify this process for their corporate clients. 

“We capitalise on all the information we have from a client globally before asking them any questions or requesting documents,” explains Clemens. “We have a central upload approach where we establish the geographies that a corporate client is in, and then, on an annual basis, collect all the documents we need in one go.” 

Pots agrees that this approach helps treasurers navigate one of the most complex aspects of the corporate-bank relationship.

At the same time, technology is not a panacea for client servicing. Despite its advantages in this space, there is a danger that banks could fall into a situation where, to reduce costs, they fully embrace digitalisation to the detriment of client service’s human element. 

Pedersen emphasises: “The personalised touch is vital. If you give corporate clients access to a call centre, they will complain. If you give them access to an individual who knows them and will handle their issues, they like that, and the results are much better for everyone.”

For companies, the human touch is vital, but even more important is having a bank contact who knows their organisational set-up and has easy access to all the information that has been built up through the relationship’s history.

Clemens concurs: “Experience is essential here. The bank contact needs at least 10 to 15 years’ experience in cash management, so they know what the client really requires and how we can help them. That adds value.” 

That experience means that the bank is not only poised to react to a company’s concerns but the bank’s knowledge of the business means it can also be proactive in identifying where the corporate can find even greater efficiencies.

Pots agrees: “While it is helpful, we don’t want to see only problem-solving from our banks. They should also be proactive in the service they provide.”

Societe Generale offers client-service reviews every quarter that can be requested by corporate clients, providing an ongoing touchpoint between the parties.
Clemens reflects: “This is really valuable. We have the tools to prepare properly for these meetings and can immediately suggest improvements to the service and the structure of the solution to our clients.” 

Standing still is not an option

In recent years, Societe Generale has taken a big step forward by investing significantly in its infrastructure.
“Today, we invest several millions of euros yearly into the development and quality of our infrastructure,” Clemens affirms. “. Around the same time that I joined the bank, many others were brought in with good experience delivering service excellence. That’s what leads to success.” Investment is critical because, while many banking products are trending towards commoditisation, the opposite is true in cash management. 

Pedersen elaborates: “Because of the investment needed to make the technology available, the universe of banks that can really deliver top-tier cash management is becoming smaller.”

Investing in the tools and people that underpin the approach to client servicing is essential for banks, as standing still is not an option in cash management.Investing in personal connections is just as vital for the corporate bank relationship to flourish. As Pots reflects, he has a close relationship with Societe Generale, often calling his bank contacts and equally receiving their calls. 

You can explain much more in a five-minute call than a 20-page email,” Pots concludes. “It’s also good to meet face to face a couple of times a year to sit together, see what the issues are, and discuss new topics. The good relationship comes from both sides.