People often think banking is just about dollars and cents, loans and lines of credit. But that is only part of the story for Karanjit Kochar, Associate Vice-President, Business Development, for Canadian Western Bank (CWB) in Surrey, B.C.
For Kochar, what matters first and foremost is getting to know his clients, understanding their needs, and providing value-added advice and counsel to help them overcome the challenges they face. His “currency,” if you will, is relationships, and he works hard to develop, maintain and strengthen them.
“It’s not about the deal – it’s about the relationship,” says Kochar. “My clients can take a deal anywhere, but as long as we have that relationship and I’m their trusted advisor, that’s what matters to me.”That might sound like a surprising statement, coming from a banker, but Kochar’s emphasis on relationships embodies CWB’s mission of being a “customer-first” bank for business owners.
In Surrey, a Vancouver-area city of nearly 600,000, Kochar has found something of a niche service for his business customers – and something of a niche customer base to which he provides it. Over his more than a decade in banking, he has developed a deep expertise in providing support and advice for his clients’ real estate transactions, including residential and commercial properties. And he has found it meets a strong demand from a particular subset of business owners – namely, dentists. Over the years, Kochar says, “I have helped a lot of dentists.”
Granted, his client base is well diversified, and he offers all his clients – including dentists – more than real estate investment advice.
“For dentists, I’ve helped arrange financing for start-ups when they graduate from school or relocate to Canada, helped them finance leases, helped them when they are looking to expand or acquire another practice, or when they might want to buy out their partner,” he says. “So I’ve done all sorts of transactions depending on their banking needs,” which could include commercial lending, equipment financing, personal banking and wealth management.
That might sound like a lot to bring together, but CWB’s Professional Banking Program makes it simple. One-on-one support – like that of Kochar’s – is available through CWB’s network of financial experts to help business owners navigate any milestone that approaches in career and life.
Dentists in particular seem to gravitate to Kochar because of the guidance he can give them when they want to invest in real estate. Often, he says, a dentist will be about to make an offer on a property and call him to ask what he thinks of the asset, its location, and whether it might be a sound investment opportunity. “I share my perspective, and then they make the decision that is best for them,” says Kochar.
Why might dentists be especially interested in real estate? Kochar suggests a few reasons. One is simply that they are in a high-income bracket, so they have access to the cash and the financing required for large real estate purchases. Another is that many dentists, like other CWB customers, are entrepreneurial, and they are willing to devote the resources and time – and take on the risk – that property investment can entail.
In general, Kochar finds that many of his professional clients prefer physical assets over other forms of investment. “Real estate is easy to understand,” he says, “and its value doesn’t really fluctuate in real time the way the stock market does.”
Like several of Kochar’s professional clients, Dr. Dharamjit Sandhu got started in real estate investing because he wanted to stop paying rent. Almost a decade ago, Sandhu, who immigrated to Canada from India in 2000 and started practising dentistry in Surrey in 2005, had his eye on a location across the street from the office he was leasing at the time. With help from Kochar, who was then working at another financial institution, he purchased the office space and three other units. Later, when Dr. Sandhu wanted to expand his presence in New Westminster, he once again turned to Kochar. Suddenly, he was a real estate entrepreneur, and he acknowledges that he caught the bug for investing in property.
“I know people are making money in stocks, but I have no knowledge of that market,” Dr. Sandhu says. “With real estate, you buy something and you can see it. I like that it is tangible. And you can’t really go wrong with real estate in Canada – the challenge is in whether you can hold on to it.”
Fortunately, Dr. Sandhu says, dentistry as a healthcare occupation is to a certain extent recession-proof, and it can provide a substantial income even in tough economic times. That helps to smooth out any bumps in the real estate market over the long term. And since his initial investment in office locations, Dr. Sandhu has gone on to expand his property holdings, including a healthcare building in Chilliwack, B.C., and a recent residential venture that involves converting housing units into a multi-residential building.
For all of those, Dr. Sandhu has turned to CWB – and Kochar – for support. (In fact, Kochar helped his client negotiate a better price for the Chilliwack property, which the dentist later sold for a tidy profit.) He says CWB offers the flexibility and the range of services he needs to make sound investments. And as for Kochar, “I get his advice on everything,” Dr. Sandhu says. “If it’s related to real estate, I will always call Karanjit.”
Kochar has built that expertise – so valuable to real estate investors like Dr. Sandhu – over the years through research, hard work and, of course, relationships. He stays in regular touch with real estate agents, contractors, property developers and appraisers, some of whom he counts as clients as well. The reach of that network goes beyond the Lower Mainland; for example, he has helped several dentist clients establish (and purchase) office properties in Alberta, he says.
The goal is not just to get the business for CWB, although that is surely part of it. It is also to build and strengthen relationships with his clients, so that even if a new transaction doesn’t come to the bank as a result of Kochar’s support, then at least the client can rest assured that CWB is putting their needs first.
“I have been in this business for more than 10 years,” Kochar says, “and one thing I have learned is that I might lose on the transaction, but I will never lose on the relationship.”
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