The past year has led to more changes than anyone could have anticipated. While the banking industry had already been making moves toward technological innovation, the pandemic significantly sped up that trend.

Just as many other businesses are scaling back on their brick-and-mortar locations, banks are recognizing they no longer need branches on every other corner to be part of the local community. However, with the increasing shift to online banking and digital solutions, it remains vitally important for a business owner to have a trusted relationship with their banker.

During the early stages of the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) and Economic Injury Disaster Loans (EIDL), the government was providing loans, but they were facilitated through financial institutions including local banks like Univest. It was key to have your trusted banker by your side helping to navigate the unprecedented situation and figure out how your business could stay afloat. With uncertainty abounding, many businesses didn’t want to have to take these loans, but the generous terms were hard to turn down.

A bank shouldn’t just be a conduit for a PPP loan, but rather a partner that understands the unique needs of your business. Where your local bank shines is in having that tight-knit relationship with you, as well as understanding your industry, business cycle and need to supplement cash flow. You can’t take for granted the value of knowing who to call and getting a familiar voice on the line from someone whose guidance you are able to trust thanks to a solid foundation built on your relationship.

Now that a return to some “normalcy” is within sight, businesses are moving out of maintenance mode, and stand ready to resume their operations and future growth plans without needing to lean on government assistance programs. There’s a strong sense of optimism which could lead business owners to seek out traditional financing. For their part, many banks may be ready to loosen the reins on lending after tightening measures were implemented during the pandemic due to uncertainty about whether businesses would be able to repay their outstanding debts.

Remember, when working with your bank partner it’s not just about finding the right loan solution, it is imperative to create a business plan and then execute on that plan to take your company to the next level. Your banker should serve as a strategic partner and work in tandem with your accountant and attorney so that no one is operating in a silo. This collaboration assures the business owner that their strategic partners are on the same page. The bottom line is that a trusted bank partner should offer the resources that allow your business to sustain itself through challenging times and then thrive upon reaching the other side.

Steve Patterson is senior vice president and senior relationship manager, Commercial Lending, at Univest Bank and Trust Co. in Pennsylvania.