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A Personal Approach to Client Relationships

Following an international banking career with some of the world’s largest banks, I was quite clear as to the culture that I wanted to develop at Abu Dhabi Commercial Bank (ADCB) when I joined in 2007. In particular, I was, and remain, passionate about the importance of client engagement: not the occasional email or invitation to an event, but genuine relationships with clients that provide long-term mutual value. This is not easy to achieve in practice, and few banks have the culture, skills and confidence within their teams to engage in a meaningful way with the clients. At ADCB, client engagement is a priority, with considerable benefits for our clients and for the bank.

Defining and achieving client proximity

Effective client engagement is a complex activity that can be undertaken at an initial, basic or advanced level. First is proximity. Proximity is often referred to in requests for proposal, and is often used to refer to the degree of local presence that a bank has in a particular market and the number of branches. While these factors are important, and indeed, they are amongst the initial reasons why companies of all sizes choose to do business with ADCB, proximity involves far more than this. Specifically, a bank needs to build personal contacts with clients, spending time with them to understand their business, their constraints and competitive advantages, and the ways in which the bank can help them.

This sounds straightforward, but many banks find it challenging to achieve in practice. In a world of digital media, people find it easier to engage electronically rather than in person, as face-to-face contact can feel more intimidating, particularly while individuals are getting to know each other. However, relationships that are mostly conducted electronically lack depth and genuine understanding between the parties, and should be an adjunct to face-to-face dialogue.