Bankers talk a lot about the importance of relationships as opposed to stand-alone transactions. And they frown on the idea of small-business customers' spreading their business among a group of banks. Yet for some business owners, using multiple banks is a matter of practicality -- a way to get their credit needs met and hedge against possible bank failures. Here's what CEOs who use more than one bank have to say:

* * *

Vercon Construction
Greenville, S.C.; $32 million in sales

Until recently, CEO Robert Vergnolle used three banks. (He's down to one because of shakeouts in the banking industry but looking for others again.) A small local bank gave him the largest credit line. The others handled payroll, payables, and a money-market account.

Comment: "My attitude is, Give me what I want. If they say no, I'll go somewhere else. I'll always try to have at least two banks so I have a backup."

* * *

Holiday Foods
Hollywood, Fla. $2 million in sales

When the bank that had given CEO Emilia Zecchino her Small Business Administration loan failed, she tried to get a big Miami bank she also did business with to take on the loan. It refused, so another small bank won her business. The large Miami bank handles payroll, so her catering employees have a nearby location where they can cash their checks.

Comment: "My old bank is after my business now, but I'm stalling. I don't want to say no, because I want to keep the door open in case I need more money in the future."

* * *

30-Minute Photos Etc.
Irvine, Calif.; $1.1 million in sales

Since the company's start-up, in 1990, cofounder Mitchell Goldstone has used two banks. Bank of America handles his daily transactions, but a small local bank gives him working capital, better rates on credit-card processing, and a line of credit against his checking account.

Comment: "I'd like to do more with the larger bank, but it doesn't offer the services I need. I play the banks against each other a little and get great service from both."

* * *

J.G. Ebersole Associates
Lancaster, Pa.; $200,000 in sales

Consultant Glenn Ebersole uses three banks: a Pennsylvania lender he's used for 23 years; and two others. Deposits and checking go through his primary bank, and Ebersole bounces among a handful of others for the lowest rate on unsecured credit lines.

Comment: "If you're not organized, it can be difficult to manage. But when things get a little more competitive, I have an advantage." -- Phaedra Hise

* * *
* * *