Risk WATCH with Alberta Quarcoopome: Managing key accounts with unique skills (1)


Bank accounts are handled by various staff in the bank. We generally see the two distinguishing roles of two groups who relate with key account holders as follows:

Account Executives: are on the front end of business and client development. Filling a more traditional sales role, they are responsible for prospecting, cultivating, and following up on leads. Sometimes called “the hunters,” account execs go out and seek new business opportunities and convert those leads into clients. After winning the account, the account executive introduces the new client to the account manager who then nurtures the ongoing client relationship.

Account managers manage the client relationship to build a positive partnership with the client and nurture long-term growth. The account manager is the point of contact for the assigned accounts (i.e., clients) and the liaison between the clients and the sales and customer service teams. This role is all about communication and relationships.

Ideally, the same account manager will stay with a client account for the duration of the client’s tenure with the company. Depending on their contract, they might represent C-level clients, mid-management, or even project managers. All relationships, all communication, and all presentations come through the account manager.

A key account is one of your most important customers with whom it is crucial to develop and maintain an added value relationship to improve your business. Banks categorize or segment their customers into various groups for various reasons. I am sure you will agree that some customers, by their sheer size and complexity demand additional time to meet their desired expectations.

Account holders who demand extra time and monitoring, mostly due to their type of business operations, are usually charged more and therefore, contribute more to a bank’s bottom-line. Savings and personal account holders are fairly easy to manage as compared to business account holders, groups of companies, conglomerates and multi-national companies. One key point is that despite the differences, all customers must be treated FAIRLY.

Key accounts are the consistent high revenue producers (remember 20 per cent of your customers probably produce 80 per cent of your revenue). They also offer opportunities to increase sales/revenue and are strategically important industry or market leaders. They also offer reduced sales costs because it is cheaper to grow your business with existing customers than to deploy a salesforce to find and secure new ones.

What is Key Account Management (KAM)?

KAM is the process of managing and growing a company’s most important customer and large accounts in a systematic way to maximize value for both organizations. This involves strategic efforts to deeply understand client needs, forge long-term loyalty beyond transactions, and strengthen relationships over time. Key Account Management (or just “KAM”) is about unlocking the potential of your best 20% of customers, driving 80% of your revenue.

What are the benefits of KAM?

  • It enables one strategize and plan such accounts in totality. Every member of the organization is important. One should never look down on anyone in the target business…..The drivers, security guards, vendors and suppliers as well as the ordinary staff working in the company.
  • It’s great for strengthening your relationships with the most important people, helping you find more opportunities to sell more or sell different products.
  • It makes a big difference in turning potential sales into actual sales and in making better predictions about future sales.

Why a Key Account is different

Your key account customers differ from your other customers in many ways. Your competitors are constantly trying to win them from you. In the case of corporate accounts, you may find that there are multiple decision-makers and other staff who may influence the company’s business relationship with your bank. It is especially important to understand your key account’s business.

The expectations of a Key account holder

Their expectations are high. Some of them are very financially sophisticated and expect “an arm and a leg” from you. After all, they know their worth to your bank. Your key account will expect you to be the main link into your bank for all issues, understand its business, market needs and competitive environment, help sell them products/services that achieve their business objectives, add value to the business relationship with your bank by, for example, acting as a consultant on issues not directly related to your main business. Last but not the least, they always expect you to act with integrity and in a professional manner.

The expectations of your bank

From your bank’s perspective, every relationship manager, guided by the branch manager is expected to understand all aspects of the key account’s business, proactively develop more business with the customer, establish strong relationships with the decision makers in your customer’s organization, build a wide awareness of the Bank’s capabilities throughout the key account, handle the key account in a professional manner on a day-to-day basis, and develop a true business partnership with the key account. Once again, the integrity and professionalism aspects are critical to success.

The dilemma of a manager

As a manager, you are to be the customer’s “Friend”. Sometimes key customers demand outrageous exchange rates for their foreign currency during international trade transactions. During the negotiations, many managers find themselves being asked by the Bank’s management staff: “Are you for the customer or for the bank?”.

Meanwhile your customer is also threatening to take the transaction to another bank! This dilemma is very common and can put branch managers and relationship officers under duress. Management of the bank would not be happy if you lose a key account holder to a competitor. Sometimes, you may face blame games, warnings, and sometimes poor appraisal from the supervisor.

That is why managers need to know the customers’ business, the competition and its external environments and regularly send brief call reports to management for an appreciation of the customers’ stand and find solutions to withstand any shock from their decisions. 

How to increase your influence

The key to successful relationship management is to increase your influence with the decision maker in your key account.  To do this, you must find out who is who in the decision-making process, understand the ‘internal politics’ in your customer’s organization, the network in the key account and so become familiar with the whole organization.

One thing a manager or relationship officer should never do is to think that apart from the main customer, (the account holder), the CEO, Board Chairman, etc, nobody else matters in the company. Let me share a true story. A young relationship manager dealt only with the Managing Director of a company. She never bothered to know the General Manager, Finance Manager, Sales and Operations Managers.

The other management staff were also key decision makers who exerted great influence in the company’s decisions. She had the rudest shock of her life when she realized that the company had started sending most of their sales proceeds to a competitor.

Apparently, they were not satisfied with the way the bank’s branch was handling their operational account. Returned cheques were not being advised, some SMS alerts messages did not pop up, causing inconsistencies in their balances on their internet banking platform.

They felt the relationship manager did not respect them and had therefore managed to convince the CEO to try another bank! This means that the relationship manager did not even bother to know how the company’s account was faring, neither did she even attempt to know the other executives to cross-sell other products like Executive loans, salary loans, etc to them. For such products, you need to know the Finance Manager, Head of HR, Production Manager, not forgetting the Executive of their Local Union.

The union leaders are very influential in mobilizing the general staff to meet the bankers for a sales presentation. They sometimes become the bank’s advocates, so do not under-estimate their influence.


For more insights on this topic, please book a copy of my new book, “THE MODERN BRANCH MANAGER’S COMPANION” which involves the adoption of a multi-disciplinary approach in the practice of today’s branch management. It also shares invaluable insights on the mindset needed to navigate and make a difference in the changing dynamics of the banking industry. Call 0244333051 for your copy.


Alberta Quarcoopome is a Fellow of the Institute of Bankers, and CEO of ALKAN Business Consult Ltd. She is the Author of two books: “The 21st Century Bank Teller: A Strategic Partner” and “My Front Desk Experience: A Young Banker’s Story”. She uses her experience and practical case studies, training young bankers in operational risk management, sales, customer service, banking operations and fraud.


Website www.alkanbiz.com

Email:alberta@alkanbiz.com  or [email protected]

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