Silicon Valley Bank perfected the art of banking with startups. Between rates, account types, client support and culture, they had the game mastered. And having worked with SVB as a customer on & off for the last 20 years, here are a few things they did that probably weren’t so obvious in the broader banking world.
- Kept it simple. SVB had the right orientation for startup founders - handle the banking tasks so they can focus on building their products and startups. I don’t ever recall having a conversation about fees or features. It was just included, with a sense that they could do whatever I needed without thinking about it (even if not entirely true). As a starting point it was always a place to store money and move it in or out as needed, without fees or special exceptions or hassles. I didn’t have to think about it, explain what was going on, or have to think about their business.
- Run in the background. They didn’t get in the way, look for credit or more time than needed. Understanding just how much founders want and need to think about banking was their superpower. They truly supported the businesses I’ve had and even would look for ways to add more value and connectivity across their network.
- Take a portfolio approach. Whether it was accounts under a business umbrella or across their portfolio, they didn’t seem to sweat it at the account level. I could open a new account with a zero balance in it for a year, while also having another account will a huge balance. And it wasn’t going to accumulate fees or get overdrawn. Just like a startup investor has good and bad ones, they didn’t focus too much on individual accounts and looked across portfolios.
- Scale with the business. Because they understood startups, they were there as the winners emerged, and that created opportunities for them. They helped founders transition to having financial pros in their business, and then supported them as well. My CFO friends were some the bank’s closest allies and biggest advocates, making it easy for them to shine as well. They also increasingly banked founders personally, a byproduct of that trust and scale.
- Embrace startup culture. They liked being around startups, and enjoyed it. And they were available during startup hours, not historical banking ones. And while they were bankers, they led the way in being more “startup-y” and surrounding themselves with their clients. That magnet led to the referral machine of most startups banking with them.
These may seem like fairly replicable features, but few others have been able to come close to organizing and operating this way. SVB reflected this in their people, and it started at the top of the organization, not just in a small sub-team within a different culture and disposition.
For community banks and others who want to fill the void that’s been left by SVB, I’d also argue that embracing startups could have other benefits for the entire bank, such as exciting stories and clients from the “idea economy” that may help attract and keep energetic young talent. And we know that is a big topic for the entire banking industry.
So, if community banks want to capitalize on the same strategies, they can turn a disaster into an opportunity. How can you use your current SMB offerings to capture startups that now desperately need a new bank?
Action items to capture NEW startup and VC customers right now:
- Redefine what a “small business” is to your bank. “Startup” and “small business” are two names for the same type of customer at inception, but they tend to take very different paths in the banking world.
- Rethink what your “community” can be (banking on affinity and shared interests rather than geography). Do you have the desire to garner a 'startup community'?
- Shift your focus from being product-centric to being customer-centric.
- Drop monthly fees wherever you can.
- Make your current small business features available to startups across the country, entirely digitally.
- Digital account openings and credit applications are a table stake.
- Market your bank as a safe landing zone for tech startups. By utilizing affiliate marketing via Fintel Connect, you can put your offerings in front of the exact audiences that you’re looking to capture.
Read more about this topic from Carey on LinkedIn.