Trucking is traditionally a male-dominated industry. So, Sejal Patel knows she’s not exactly who her customers are expecting when they approach the bank to inquire about financing equipment like tractor-trailers.

It’s written all over their faces.

“They might assume, 'What does she know about trucks?'” she says with a laugh.

She’s there to talk about leasing and how to make the financing fit with their business plan. Soon enough, they'll learn that the day they met with Patel regarding transportation leasing at Minnwest Bank could very well end up being one of the best business decisions they'll ever make.

That decision boils down to Minnwest’s customer-first approach. Had that customer opted for an online lender or national bank, they would likely be handed the company’s standard lease product: Their standard parameters, their terms.

At Minnwest Bank, Patel gets to work at establishing a relationship with that customer, learning everything she can about their business — from financials to goals — so she can structure a lease transaction tailored to work for their business.

“Leasing can be transactional,” Patel says. “At Minnwest Bank, our motto is, ‘We don't want transactional business.’ We also want to develop relationships.”

Building a career in equipment financing

According to a 2022 analysis, women make up less than one third of commercial lenders. In Patel’s case, she happened upon a career in lending by chance.

She started her tenure with Minnwest Bank as a loan administrator. When there was an opportunity to advance into a lender role, leadership encouraged her to pursue it.

Patel was ultimately promoted to lender, focusing on leases for tractor-trailers to trucking companies for their owner-operator program.

Patel says she has learned so much about the logistics industry and how crucial it is in our everyday lives. Going to the store or the pharmacy and seeing things on the shelves, she has a deeper appreciation for the dedicated truck drivers who keep our essentials stocked.

Thanks to her strong work ethic, persistence, and hands-on approach, she’s earned referrals from her devoted clients, along with the sales producer award from her employer in 2022.

More recently, she was promoted to Senior Vice President, Director of Leasing.

A place where customers come first

Transportation is a challenging space for small business owners, particularly now, with inflation and elevated interest rates creating obstacles to making a profit.

Patel’s hands-on approach makes a big difference. When her customers call, they’re not going through a phone tree, repeating their request to five, six people before they are routed to someone who can help. Because Minnwest is different.

“They have my email, and when they call, they know they’re going to be speaking to me,” she says. “And I think that resonates with a lot of customers, knowing that there's somebody on the other end that has that relationship.”

That gets to the other key difference of working with Patel at Minnwest. She's willing to find solutions through the challenges of running a business, so they can keep their equipment and their good standing.

She looks back on one of her earliest clients from 2009. Patel restructured their lease payments so the operation could remain profitable during a recession. As the years went by, the customer recovered, grew and built a financially successful operation. Because of Minnwest Bank’s willingness to help them through a tough time, that customer has pledged their loyalty many times over. Other banks wouldn’t do what Minnwest did, he told Patel, so he’s not going anywhere.

“Everyone wants your business when things are good,” she says.

But her customers know: that she’s in it with them, and she’s going to help them get through tough times.   

To her, these leases enable people to earn a living and provide for their families. Not only that, but drivers are the essential workers who keep food on the shelves at the grocery store, and keep our commerce system alive and well.  

“I love what I do,” she says. “I feel like I'm making a difference for somebody else.”

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