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Back to basics relationship management

“Making good products is no longer enough. Serving them efficiently is no longer enough. It’s how we make people feel that matters most of all”. – Will Guidara

WHEN Covid-19 became a global pandemic beginning of 2020, it resulted in a paradigm shift in the way human beings work and interact. When nations world-over locked down and restricted human interaction and movement, it brought about new ways of working.
The era of working from home and virtual interactions came to the fore. The two years that followed were characterised by virtual meetings and remote working This became the new normal. Technology, digitisation, and automation were central to humanity overcoming the pandemic. Our response to the pandemic in terms of remote work and human interaction presented some new realities that still stand to this day, despite the pandemic being behind us.

The banking industry was no exception to the realities presented by remote work. Our technological response to the crisis removed what we had all believed was improbable, specifically, human interaction.

Relationships, which are critical to sustaining the longevity of any business enterprise, were altered by the advent of online meeting platforms. Now that we have seen the end of the pandemic, where do we see opportunities to rekindle and revive relationships altered by the former realities of the pandemic? It is imperative for relationship managers to re-emphasise back-to-basics relationship management tenets.
Among other essentials, successful relationship management in banking requires an understanding of the following tenets:

Betty Murambadoro is executive director, corporate & investment banking at Stanbic Bank Zimbabwe

1. Technology, though useful, will not replace human interaction
It cannot be overemphasised that successful relationship managers invest in relationships. They also understand that technology, though useful, will not make human interaction redundant. Technology needs to complement human interactions and not replace it. Machines are efficient and transactional, whereas human beings require interaction.
Online interactions will not achieve what humans working together can. Regardless of technological advancements there is possibility of losing the benefits of observing immediate reactions, privacy and gestures, which impromptu face-to-face meetings bring. These basic physical interactions are what cements relationships with clients and internal stakeholders.
I remember when I lost my mother, the physical presence of colleagues was priceless, it soothed me. Don’t get me wrong, I appreciated the texts I received but the physical presence hit a different nerve — the embraces, the eye contact, the conversation. Up to today those who attended manage to pick up the conversation faster on how I am coping.
2. Being intentional in building rapport
A competent relationship manager will know when to use technology and when face-to-face interaction is more ideal. Know-your-customer (KYC) goes way beyond the usual legal documentation, governance parameters and understanding the client’s business. It is also about the gut-feel of decoding when exactly to deliver certain type of information online and when it matters to really look into each other’s eyes over a cup of tea, or behind closed doors.
Often times, delivering an unfavourable message, tough as it might be, I have found it better done physically. I am always grateful for moments I get to show my authenticity, genuineness, and hearty empathetic connection as I offload not-so-pleasant news to my business partners. After-all it is just so humane to have that chance to massage-in and soft-land a message responsibly.

3. Commitment to continuously improve connecting with stakeholders
Relationships are cemented by basic gestures. I keep hearing that people do business with people they like, and I agree with this statement. A competent relationship manager should be intentional about improving how they connect, show-up and build rapport with their clients. My own experience is that building good chemistry is a gradual process which works better when we meet more often physically.
It is always refreshing, after we have successfully executed the electronic transactions, exchanged emails, chatted over the phone, delivered that robust online PowerPoint presentation, we still make room to cover other conversations physically, which are not palatable in online meetings.

4. Bonding strength via technology Versus via physical interactions
During the Covid-era, I celebrated the convenience that the advent of hybrid conferencing facilities brought. Firstly, I noted cost-containment to be an obvious direct benefit, as some delegates did not need to travel or pay for accommodation.
Secondly, we got more participants to attend as there was no need really to limit numbers, if others were joining the conference online. In fact, I got to attend conferences that I ordinarily would not be privileged to attend at all.
Thirdly, I was thrilled by the flexibility introduced in our way of working. You could connect into a conference from wherever you were, and one could weigh own circumstances and decide whether or not to show up in person.
But my sad moments with such hybrid facilities so far, have been when those attending physically, are invited to proceed to a physical tour of operations and I have to drop-off the call.
I am then left drooling with envy at what those attending physically were exposed to, the networking, the bonding, the room to venture into other business discussions without me.
As we journey on building our businesses, let us be mindful of what achieves us the most impact, what works and what does not work for the situation at hand.
I am a big fan of convenience, automation, digitisation and however else we want to describe the technological advancements around us. But I will not take my foot off the pedal of human interaction.   BY BETTY MURAMBADORO

Murambadoro is executive director, corporate & investment banking at Stanbic Bank Zimbabwe