General Electric Commercial Finance (GECF) wants to lend you money. And if that's not enough, it'll throw in a few finance experts to help out around the shop.
Through a program called "At the Customer, For the Customer" (ACFC), GECF says it will help clients solve their nagging business problems for free (the exception is health-care clients, which by law must be charged). The idea is that GE can draw on its background in process improvement and Six Sigma (a quality-improvement method) to help clients become better borrowers. GE will even dispatch consultants on-site to assist with a problem.
For example, when Blue Ridge Paper Products, of Canton, N.C., a GECF client since 1999, enrolled in the ACFC program in 2002, it asked the lender to help out with problems that had plagued the company for years — including improving invoice accuracy. GE responded by conducting a two-day introduction to Six Sigma for Blue Ridge managers and inviting four employees to GE's Greenville, S.C., gas-turbine plant, where they saw the principles of Six Sigma in action. "In three or four months, we were up to about 98 percent perfect on our receivables," says CEO Rich Lozyniak. "More important, our customers were satisfied with our performance." He says the improvements have saved the company $100,000 a year.
GE says the program makes good business sense. "GECF grows its business when its customers succeed," says Sharon Garavel, the firm's Six Sigma practice leader. "We are taking our best practices, best processes, and best people, and sharing them directly with our clients." She says the company can help clients with change management, acquisition integration, and process mapping, among other things. GE hopes the program will not only inspire borrower loyalty, but also make clients stronger financially and increase their need for capital.
GE isn't the only lender to offer this kind of assistance, though. David Lentini, CEO of The Connecticut Bank and Trust Co., says GECF is simply doing what smaller banks have done for years. "This is done at community banks all over the country every day," he says. "We go into businesses, sit down with the people who run them, and give them all kinds of financial guidance."