How to Win the Banking Business of Millennial Entrepreneurs

Connections, mentoring, incubators and other innovative services extend the typical offerings of financial institutions. They elevate brands and set them far ahead of competitors who are still selling “fast, local loan decisions” and other standard products.

The Millennial business owner market is growing, and many feel their banks only partially fulfill their needs. Unfortunately, many bank marketers still fall back on promoting mobile banking, checking and loans and leave it there.

But Millennials need more than the standard banking services. They need bankers who understand their business journey, who know what keeps them up at night and who find ways to make themselves and their institutions indispensable. Bankers who ask, listen and respond with innovative offerings will win long-term loyalty.

Banktastic conducted focus group conversations with some Millennial small business owners from our National Millennial Advisory Board to hear about their banking relationships, their attitudes and what else they need to be successful.

A number of key themes emerged, but a desire for incubators and connections with the community and investors was a surprising point of discussion that went deep.

The Surprising Things Millennial Business Owners Asked For

Here’s more of what Millennial business owners said:

Support incubators or accelerators
“Being an entrepreneur and having that ability to be efficient and learn on the fly from other people in the weeds with you would be really useful. For banks to have incubator or accelerator programs to allow small businesses to apply for or be accepted in would be amazing.”

Help me meet potential investors
“Have some sort of list of partnerships or people — small investment firms or potential private investors — you could pitch your company to, and if they like it, they could support it. That would be helpful.”

Introduce business people to each other
“[Bankers] could make introductions to others within the business community, outside of chambers and things like that. And you know that someone’s also already using that bank, so you’re trusting the same people already … those kinds of connections would be very helpful for banks to do. That would be going above and beyond, in my opinion.”

Below are details of how two financial institutions went beyond the usual for small business entrepreneurs.

Read more: What Millennial & Gen Z Business Owners Want from Banks

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Envista Credit Union: Connecting Women Entrepreneurs

Envista Credit Union in Topeka, Kansas, has developed a monthly small group series for Women Business Owners. Envista offers several dates and times each month and hosts small group lunches for its members and other women business owners. There’s no program — just an opportunity for the participants to get to know each other, share what they’re working on, build connections for advice and take the opportunity to promote their companies.

Success Factor:

Small gatherings of entrepreneurs, hosted by their banking provider, tend to draw people out and build trust more than larger groups.

Tara Dimick, Chief Business Development Officer at Envista, says that their first attempts at creating networking and connections for women small business owners consisted of hosting larger groups, but the conversations and relationships didn’t build as she’d hoped. “It’s been an experiment,” she says. “Now we have numerous lunches with no more than eight in a group. Women walk away connected and inspired. Trust is built — so they call.” Some of these gatherings are onsite at an Envista branch. Others are at a local restaurant or the country club.

Perhaps because Dimick is also an entrepreneur, she has empathy and immediate credibility other bankers may not have with a small business audience.

Another benefit to these smaller groups is that each time attendees introduce themselves to each other, they tell about themselves and introduce their business. “For the regular attendees, each time they do this, they’re getting better at their pitch,” Dimick says. “That’s invaluable in growing their business.

Large-group programs with big impact are also offered on occasion. The credit union has hosted the Kansas Secretary of Commerce for two separate meetings with about 40 local women business owners. The purpose: introduce these women entrepreneurs to each other and to the Secretary and open a dialogue about how the State of Kansas can better support these small business owners.

And while the institution doesn’t directly profit from these efforts, its brand exposure and the value it brings its members and prospects is immense.

Read more:

Citizens Bank of Edmond: Retail Incubator and More

When Citizens Bank of Edmond consolidated some branches, they were left with an empty building and 12,000 square feet of space. “We were trying to lease this for as little as six dollars a square foot,” says Jill Castilla, President and CEO. “We had prized Main Street store frontage but were not finding a tenant. So we had to pivot.”

Partly inspired by Barclay’s co-working space for startup fintechs, Castilla convinced the board to let her try using the space as an incubator/coworking space, and Vault 405 was born. Vault 405 has flexible arrangements for short term or longer term working space along with plenty of amenities like a private podcast creation booth, meeting space and Wi-Fi — as well as opportunity for mentors, monthly business educational programming, networking events and access to investors. And Vault 405 is only available to those who bank with Citizens Bank of Edmond.

A Citizens banker is also always on site. So members of Vault 405 have ready access to someone who can help with banking and financial questions. From the Citizens website, “Not only do we understand the benefits of a social community, but also delivering resources to ensure the financial viability of your business.”

In addition to Vault 405, The Retail Incubator for the Shopkeeper Experience, or RISE, Citizens has partnered with the Independent Shopkeepers Association to provide retail entrepreneurs the opportunity to set up a pop-up retail space located in front of the Citizens Bank of Edmond building.

“We’re part of an entrepreneurial ecosystem. Mentoring startups is an important role.”

 — Jill Castilla, Citizens Bank of Edmond

“[Entrepreneurs] pass by lots of other banks to be able to bank with us,” says Castilla. “We want to help them achieve success. We learn their stories, help them get a loan built with patience, understanding and care.”

Citizens also encourages their own employees who have a business idea. “Citizens has a Side Hustle Factory for our team members. It provides seed capital for branding, mentor connection in the community, a business membership/address,” says Castilla. She believes that those experiences make her bankers more understanding of the road their business customers walk.

Read more: The Value of Turning Bank Employees Into Entrepreneurs

Value-adds that set your financial institution brand apart:

What else could your bank do to address the pain points of Millennial small business owners?

1. Talk with these entrepreneurs and learn more about their daily lives, their struggles and their wins.
2. Build personas that illustrate a bigger picture of all their unmet needs (not traditionally bank-related).
3. Work with multiple departments in the institution to identify how you could meet these needs.
4. Test your ideas: start small, get traction, pivot when necessary and keep moving.

More inspiration:

> Oxygen Bank helps people set up an LLC for their business and unique loyalty level offerings for credit card holders.

> Her Bank by Legends Bank offers an entry into a young women’s entrepreneurial ecosystem with podcasts, a book club, music playlists and more.

See more coverage of business banking or Millennials.

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