Financial services providers need to do a better job of listening to their clients’ needs rather than pitch a set menu of products, says E. J. Burke, executive vice president and head of KeyBank Real Estate Capital, which ranks No. 7 on NREI’s Top Lender Survey with $22.2 billion of commercial real estate financing in 2005.

Burke uses a restaurant analogy to illustrate his point. “It’s like asking for a cheeseburger, and the waitperson saying, ‘Oh, our special today is catfish and it’s wonderful.’ And when the waitperson returns with your plate, it’s catfish.”

Much like the misguided waitperson, financial services providers don’t often get the order correct, says Burke, because frequently they are not listening to what their clients are trying to achieve. Burke’s comments came during a joint meeting between NREI and sister publication Retail Traffic on Tuesday at the International Council of Shopping Centers convention in Las Vegas.

Borrower needs run the gamut today, Burke explains. Some want pre-payment flexibility, others don’t have much equity in a particular deal and need maximum debt proceeds, and still others have plenty of equity, but they want debt at the cheapest price possible.

Once it’s made clear what the borrower is trying to achieve, KeyBank assembles a team of experts -- such as a syndications specialist, a mortgage expert and a mezzanine professional -- to hammer out a comprehensive game plan, says Burke. “When you talk about where we want to go as a company and what we’re trying to do, this [consultative approach] is a big part of that plan.”