Listen: Mark Stafford and Samuel Cumming on MBOT RADIO
It is, Stephen Dulong says, “a unique and innovative business model”: three companies that design and manufacture different kinds of materials for commercial building construction, but which can work together to provide customers an integrated and cost-efficient solution.
Dulong is sole owner and CEO of three material fabricators and subcontractors – TAGG Industries (architectural glass), M&G Steel (structural steel) and Krisro Metal (panels) – and all are based in Southern Ontario. He keeps them as separate business entities to maintain operational integrity (their manufacturing processes are distinct from one another) and to mitigate risk. The model also allows him to offer his customers – developers and general contractors – a way to integrate these three different scopes of work cooperatively under one contract.
That multi-company coordination is a key part of Dulong’s growth strategy, and customers see the value in it, he says. But he has long faced one big hurdle: traditional banks will not extend operating lines of credit based on receivables from sister or related companies. “If I’m putting together a contract through one company, each of the other two would show receivables from the lead company,” says Dulong. “Those two companies have their own cash flow needs, materials to buy and employees to pay. But the banks would say, ‘Sorry, we don’t recognizable the receivable.’”
That refusal, he explains, often made integrated contracts next to impossible to service. “The banks basically said, ‘Stephen, make it easy for us by combining all your companies under one legal roof,’” Dulong says. “They wanted the tail to wag the dog and set up my business to fit their needs.”
A different banking experience
Last summer, however, Dulong was introduced to Canadian Western Bank, which was in the midst of opening its first Ontario location at the time. And unlike the other banks he had dealt with, they didn’t just say no – they listened.
“Instead of sitting there and saying, ‘This is our policy,’ they really dug deep to understand our business model, our banking needs and what our challenges were,” Dulong recalls. “We were at a spot where we might have had to abandon our strategy because of banking, but CWB came to the table with the banking solution we needed.”
Dulong’s story is not unique: for more than 35 years, CWB has been supporting Canadian small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) with a depth of solutions – and a commitment to finding them – with a proactive ethos. But last year, CWB brought the full suite of its offerings to a brand new market: Ontario. As CWB’s first full-service location east of Manitoba, the banking centre on Argentia Road in the GTA community of Mississauga, which officially opened last October, represents a key development in the Bank’s growth and diversification strategy.
“We’re a very different kind of organization,” says Mark Stafford, CWB’s Mississauga-based Vice-President and District Manager.
“Our goal is to be the best full-service bank for business owners in Canada, and now we are bringing all the pieces together and delivering the boutique experience and entrepreneurial spirit we’re known for to businesses in Ontario.”
What is that boutique experience, exactly? The fact that CWB prefers not to use the word “branch” provides one clue: its “banking centres” bring together all of its services – commercial banking, personal banking, cash management, wealth management – under one roof. While business owners at other banks often have to deal with various teams in different service pillars, “here at CWB everybody is all on one team, with one mandate under one leader,” Stafford explains. “It’s not different people talking different languages. And it puts the business owner at the centre of everything.”
Personalized service also means that the CWB team spend as much time as they can in the field, sitting down with clients to bounce ideas, ask questions and really get to know their clients’ business and their needs. “We’re known for going to the business owner rather than making the business owner come to us,” says Stafford, noting that digital channels replaced most most face-to-face client communication through the pandemic. “One of our clients recently said, ‘I’ve seen more of your team in the past three months than I saw from my prior bank in the past three years.’ Well, that’s what we do.”
A winning model
Even though the banking centre has been officially open for one year, it is already clear that CWB is meeting a strong demand for a different kind of banking experience. Part of CWB’s strategy in opening in Ontario was to leverage its existing operations in the province, where it already had nearly quarter of its loan portfolio; the bank saw an opportunity to convert the largely lending-based business into more full-service client relationships.
Yet while that provided a strong potential client base for the Ontario banking centre, Stafford says that most of its clients have been attracted organically. One acquisition channel has been through the connections of its team of experienced bankers; another has been through marketing CWB’s new presence in Mississauga with advertising and partnerships. The CWB team also got involved in the community by supporting local business organizations and charities, including Achēv – a charitable organization that works with small- and medium-sized business owners to improve cultural awareness – the National Aboriginal Trust Officers Association and the Mississauga Board of Trade. And as local business owners have come to understand the CWB difference, word-of-mouth has provided a strong pipeline of new clients.
“Business owners are looking to understand what our value proposition is, and once we share it, and the fact that we’re very flexible in terms of structure, it really resonates with the marketplace,” says Samuel Cummings, Associate Vice-President and Market Manager at CWB, who manages the Mississauga banking centre.
“There really is a thirst for an alternative to the big banks, and that’s been key to our success.”
Certainly, opening a new banking centre, in a new market, with a relatively unknown brand – and during a global pandemic, no less – presented its share of challenges. For instance, the COVID-19 environment forced the delay of the centre’s opening, and it made getting face time with clients difficult. But it also highlighted a market opportunity.
“COVID has been a bit of a double-sided coin,” says Stafford. “Business owners just had a lot on their plates, worried about their business and their employees and all those things, so having a conversation about switching banks could be challenging. But on the flipside, a lot of business owners were thinking about their financial situation and the lack of support from their existing financial partners, and that opened some doors for us.”
Culture and commitment
As much as the CWB banking centre is making an impact in Mississauga’s thriving small business community, it is also making a difference for its team. Both Stafford and Cummings had long careers with other financial institutions before joining CWB last year to help drive its Ontario expansion, and the combined banking experience of the 20-person team in Mississauga totals more than 300 years. Why did they choose CWB? For Cummings, it came down to factors: culture and commitment.
“The culture here is absolutely phenomenal,” he says. “One of our values is ‘People first,’ and it’s one thing to say it, another thing to feel it. Here, talent feels the difference. The second reason is that we are a bank that’s truly obsessed with the business owner – not just their business, but also the impact it has on their families, their employees and their communities. We are committed to surrounding business owners with the right professionals to support them through their journey.”
So far, at least, CWB seems to have found a recipe for success in Mississauga, and the banking centre there could be the first of many in Ontario. “What we’ve learned is that there is a gap in the market that we can fill,” Stafford says. “And we can’t service the whole area with just one banking centre.” The Bank, he adds, is currently scouting another location in the Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area, and if it proves to be as successful as the Mississauga banking centre, “we’ll be looking at more.”
So there could be more to come, and with nearly a year under its belt and business growing, CWB’s first expansion into full-service banking in Ontario can certainly be considered a strong evidence of a banking experience that feels unique. But Ontario clients like Dulong don’t seem to need any more convincing about the CWB difference. Dulong is now making good on his own expansion plans by acquiring a U.S. company that will extend and complement his companies’ current product offerings. He has decided to enlist CWB for all of the U.S. company’s operating line needs – and he turned to the bank to facilitate the acquisition rather than going to an American financial institution.
“I am truly appreciative of CWB and the approach they take,” he says. “Compared with the other banks, they have been a breath of fresh air in a very tired and staid industry. We really feel like we have a partner.”
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