Banks and Small Business: Finding the “Just Right” Fit Isn’t Easy

Banks and Small Business: Finding the “Just Right” Fit Isn’t Easy

Banks need business customers because business accounts provide more profitability than consumer accounts.  By volume, there are more small businesses in the US than mid-size or enterprise businesses, which you would think would be a good thing for the banks – more business customers, right?  It seems not so much.

For many banks, the problem is that they don’t appear to really know how to service – or even identify – these small business customers.  The majority of small businesses in the US don’t have employees, so direct deposit and payroll solutions aren’t something they are looking for.  Many of these small businesses operate from the business owner’s home rather than an office, and don’t generate the revenues (=deposits) that bigger businesses do.

To a bank, most small businesses look like consumers.  These small businesses are treated like consumers – are offered consumer-level services and are not educated on what business banking services might be able to do for them.  In reality, the banks really don’t have much to say to these small business owners, because the services offered by the banks are simply not a great fit.  There are studies which suggest that the small business market is fairly evenly divided, with approximately 50% using consumer banking services rather than those designed for business use.  Given the inability of the banks to even identify those consumer banking customers who are actually small businesses, I would suggest that the percentage is even higher.

There are three primary elements tied to banking which should be better-positioned to assist small business owners in leveraging their banking relationships to the benefit of the business and not just the bank.   If the financial institutions can find a way to meet these three essential needs for smaller businesses, they would likely find that more small businesses would embrace business banking services, resulting in greater profitability for the bank.

e-Payments

Use of electronic payments services represents a growing trend in small businesses and needs to be better-addressed by the financial institutions rather than purely retail providers.  Small businesses are increasingly using the Internet and online technologies to service their various business needs, and payments processing is among the top sellers.  Providing SOLO/SOHO and other small businesses with the ability to process payments at any time and from anywhere has become a big driver for this type of solution.  The popularity of Pay Pal, Intuit GoPayment and Square payment solutions is a testament to the need for such services in the small business market, yet the broadest use continues to be within retail providers rather than directly via the financial institutions.

Entitlements

Security and access controls to account and transaction information (frequently referred to as “entitlements” attached to business accounts) are hugely valuable for small businesses.  Most small business owners engage bookkeeping or accounting professionals at some point, and the process of accounting for the business activities is improved dramatically when those professionals are able to access the information directly from the financial institution.  Unfortunately, it is only with the more expensive business class accounts that most banks provide the means for account holders to grant access to account and/or transaction information for accountants and bookkeepers, financial advisors, etc.  Allowing small businesses to benefit from this type of security and control of their accounts is tremendous, yet the overall costs of the associated business banking solutions are often simply too great for the small business to bear.  The result is either a lack of privacy, security and control, where the business owner must grant unfettered access to account information to a 3rd party bookkeeper or accountant, or the business owner simply continues to pay for manual bookkeeping transaction entry.

Cash Management

Most small businesses operate on cash, and expense and cash management is essential to maintaining operations.  Consumer banking solutions may offer limited capabilities for expense and cash reporting, but the services offered through many business banking portals would be far more beneficial for the business, reflecting trends and providing more insight relating to business financial activities and business behavior.  Unfortunately, many of these services designed for business customers are oriented towards the larger organization, and are far too complicated or expensive to provide real value to the owner of a small business.

Small businesses fuel the economy, yet remain a largely untapped market in terms of business banking and other services.  Small businesses run “under the radar” of many service providers because they have not reached the point where the obviously available business services (e.g, the more profitable banking solutions) seem attractive to them.  Banks need to recognize that serving the small business customer well – providing the services which help small businesses grow into bigger businesses – is ultimately the key to acquiring new customers for whom the big banking solutions fit.

jmbunnyfeetMake Sense?

J

Read more about small business banking and credit

Cloud Computing and Online Accounting for All? Some Markets Are Still Waiting for Broadband

Cloud Computing and Online Accounting for All? Some Markets Are Still Waiting on Broadband

As the information technology industry espouses the benefits of the “paradigm shift” in computing and the move to cloud computing platforms and models, there are folks out there in the world who just aren’t seeing it happen like that.  Not everybody’s working online. For many, the Internet and online working models simply haven’t intruded into their lives and businesses as it has for others.  While this may be partially rooted in conservative mentalities and beliefs which are resistant to change, the more likely reality is that options for high-quality and affordable broadband service is simply not available to them.  Without choices for affordable and useful connectivity to the Internet, online just doesn’t have the attraction it does for those who are “connected”.

When businesses look at cloud solutions and the Internet dependency that comes along with them, having more than one connection to the outside world becomes the imperative rather than a luxury.  Unfortunately, some markets are still waiting for broadband (or have very limited options for service), rendering the cloud nearly unreachable.

It may come as a surprise to some, particularly to those in East and West coastal regions, that high speed broadband just isn’t as available in other zones.  In fact, the *National Broadband Map clearly reveals limited availability and choice in numerous regions of the US.  Broadband Internet access is a necessity to support the IT industry’s shift from localized IT to “cloud” IT.  But the shift is only evident to those who are involved in it or who have that option.  For those who the industry is beginning to refer to as the technology “have-nots”, this lack of available and affordable access will ultimately create more than simply an inability to participate in broadband-reliant IT solutions.  The fast pace of innovation and evolution in IT almost guarantees that the technology have-nots will fall even further behind, possibly to the point of not being able to catch up.

 “A Growing Gap Between IT Haves, Have-Nots. There will be a growing gap between the IT haves and have-nots in 2013. The latter will fall behind the former on a wide range of business technology fronts such as mobile, cloud, social, virtualization, and analytics…” 7 SMB Technology Predictions for 2013 | InformationWeek.com

As business (and personal) technology models continue to evolve, and as new solutions and services begin to displace the old, those who remain disconnected will begin to directly experience much more impact.

Consider something as simple as using QuickBooks desktop software for small business bookkeeping.  As Intuit continues to remove elements from the installed software product, turning them into web services instead, customers with limited or no broadband access will find themselves without the features and functionality they need in the software.  And the only possibly comparable alternatives to QuickBooks desktop accounting products are Internet-based alternatives, making them not really alternative options at all.

It is also likely that lack of sufficient broadband is one of the factors motivating many solution providers to seek clients in other markets – outside of the United States, and in regions where broadband availability is more prevalent and service speed and quality is higher.  Yes, it’s true.  The United States is not the leader in broadband availability, or even in quality.

“For many people, their broadband connections are their lifelines. So what is the state of broadband in the U.S.? Well, when it comes to speed and price and adoption, we’re certainly not a leader — “middling” is a better way to describe our position.

Currently 119 million people that live in the U.S. don’t have broadband connections (for many reasons, including not wanting it or not being able to afford it) while 19 million don’t even have the option to get it. Our rate of broadband adoption (62 percent) lags behind countries such as South Korea, the U.K.,and Germany, according this year’s Federal Communication Commission report. (We’re closer to the penetration rates to Japan, Finland, and Canada.) These numbers are not likely to change soon, given that broadband growth is slowing and providers are moving away from wireline infrastructure. “ GIGAOM:The state of broadband in the U.S. [infographic]

Accountants and other professional service providers serving clients in regions lacking sufficient choices for access must recognize that their approaches to doing business will not necessarily match their peers in more fully connected areas.  Certainly, accounting and legal professionals are dealing with this reality as practice coaches and industry leaders push for IT- and cloud-enabled models for improving practice performance and creating differentiation, even as their proven applications and business solutions morph into or are replaced with SaaS applications and online service.

The take away from this is that there are still large numbers of businesses and individuals doing things with legacy tools, managing spreadsheets on standalone PCs, or writing with pens and using paper – even in areas where broadband access is plentiful.  Regardless of how forward moving the rest of the world may be there remains a need to provide service and support these IT have-nots.  Perhaps this becomes a means for differentiation, finding ways to work with businesses who are connected and those who are not, and leveraging the firm’s access and capability to deliver what the client cannot obtain directly.

Make Sense?

J

*The National Broadband Map is a tool to search, analyze and map broadband availability across the United States