Canada's Best Bankers

Written by Camilla Cornell
Soumaya Baker €¢ Dick Bradshaw €¢ Terry Wilson €¢
Joanne De Luca €¢ Jim Reader €¢ Wish List

Soumaya Baker: Through good and bad


Senior account manager, Business Banking; RBC Financial Group; Brampton, Ont.

Years with bank: 20

Years in current job: 4

Credit authority: $175,000

With approval: Up to $5 million

Loans managed: $45 million

No. of clients: 35 (many with multiple businesses)

Loans called in 2002: None

Philosophy: “I feel very strongly that banks are out there to help businesses grow and succeed.”

“I wish God would make more bankers like Soumaya Baker,” says Fred Mohr, owner of Jeet Contracting Ltd. and Cartier Kitchens Ltd. in Brampton, Ont. “If it weren’t for her, 160 people would be out of work and I would be bankrupt.”

Mohr’s ordeal began in 1999 when, in entrepreneurial fashion, he seized a real-estate opportunity in his native Germany. Mohr used company funds to buy property at $300 per sq. ft. in the wake of German reunification; a year later, it was worth $85 per sq. ft. and more company funds were propping up the investment. “We were in serious trouble,” he says. With almost $1.5 million drawn on Mohr’s line of credit and no equity left in the business, the bank was ready to drop him.

That’s when Baker stepped in. New to her job, she met with Mohr and asked him what was going on. “I made a mistake,” Mohr told her. “But my businesses in Canada are sound. Give me one year and you’ll be borrowing from me.” Baker believed him: “The chemistry and the comfort level I got from management in the meeting went a long way to reassuring me.” Mohr also had a reputation for keeping his commitments to the bank.

Still, Baker demanded a detailed account of Mohr’s receivables and payables, income statements to prove the core business was still healthy, and that the entrepreneur put more of his own money on the table. She then went to bat for her client, convincing higher-ups at RBC that Mohr deserved a second chance. Within two years Mohr had sliced the balance on his credit line by more than half. Revenue has since quadrupled to $10 million, and both businesses are firmly in the black.

The incident illustrates Baker’s contention that a banker should be with clients through good times and bad. But she expects customers to keep her well-informed in return. “Don’t be intimidated by banks,” she advises. “Be honest — if we know of problems beforehand, we can deal with them.”

Achieving such comfort is harder when your banker changes as often as the weather. Baker says RBC is reducing financially motivated promotions by assigning a wider salary range to each position. Also, each manager has a backup who covers vacations and sick days, so at least one staffer knows the client should the primary rep leave.

Baker’s clients have annual revenue of up to $20 million and come from all sectors. But no matter what the shape or size of the company, she says, “I try to put myself in their shoes and see things from the customer’s perspective.” Such empathy goes a long way toward keeping customers happy. “I haven’t lost a client once in the 13 years I’ve been in business banking.”


Soumaya Baker €¢ Dick Bradshaw €¢ Terry Wilson €¢
Joanne De Luca €¢ Jim Reader €¢ Wish List

© 2003 Camilla Cornell

Originally appeared on PROFITguide.com