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Small banks must step up if they want to keep their small-business customers

By October 4, 2019No Comments

(This post originally appeared on The Guardian)

Kind of underwhelmed with your bank? You’re not alone. According to a survey of more than 1,000 business owners released by BlueVine, a company that provides financing to small businesses, only 9% said their current bank meets all of their needs. Not only that, but a whopping 69% of them said they would be willing to leave their current bank if they could find one that provided all the banking features and services that they want.

What kinds of services are small businesses looking for?

The BlueVine study focused on core things like making more financing available, reducing fees and offering more competitive interest rates for small businesses, as well as offering more rewards and improving on overall customer service. No surprises here.

“Our survey showcased compelling results demonstrating the lack of banking services for small business owners including rewards, financing and even basic customer service,” Eyal Lifshitz, CEO of BlueVine, said. “There are vast improvements that can be made to serve small business owners who often cover the roles of both CEO and CFO and are seeking an end-to-end banking experience.”

So is that it? Give us more money and don’t charge us as much? Hardly. The findings of BlueVine’s study are helpful. But to me, there are at least two bigger things bankers – particularly those running smaller institutions – could be doing that would go a long way towards improving our satisfaction.

The first has to do with technology. Big banks have been aggressively moving their customers on to their cloud-based platforms that handle credit applications and processing as well as online invoice receipts, transfers and electronic payments while at the same time providing them with cash management tools that not only integrate with their accounting systems but also offer real-time analytics that have been proven to help managers achieve better control over their cash flow.

Meanwhile, there are thousands of smaller, independent and community financial institutions around the country that just aren’t doing this.

These banks are operating no differently than their own mom-and-pop customers. They’re still behaving as they did decades before. They’re way, way behind in adopting the fintech tools – like the ones I’ve mentioned above – that could make a life-or-death difference to a small company. Many of my clients are starting to realize this and are frustrated that their own banks don’t provide them with these tools like their competitors get from their larger counterparts.

So why aren’t the smaller banks keeping up with technology? You’ll have to ask them, but from the bankers I know the reasons generally come down to lack of resources – both cash and human. Implementing these systems is disruptive, particularly to a small-town bank with small-town bankers that have been doing the same thing for a thousand years. When will they come around? Hopefully soon. Because things are changing fast.

Technology isn’t the only thing missing, though.

There’s another big reason why small businesses aren’t thrilled with their bankers. It’s because many of us are still not getting the kind of old school service that even a smaller bank can provide: plain and simple business advice.

The best bankers I’ve met get it. These are bankers that are not just up to speed on banking. They are up to speed on the economy, healthcare, employment issues, taxes, technologies and other business trends that a business manager needs to know. This banker can read a client’s financial statement and point out where things are on track or going off the rails and can make recommendations or give advice. They are advisers, counselors and confidants.

This type of relationship weighs heavy on the mind of any small business when deciding to continue a banking relationship. Sadly, too many of them are ignored.

The lesson for the banking industry – and particularly smaller, independent and community bankers – is clear: if you want to truly serve the 30 million small businesses in this country then give them the technology they need along with the business advice that they desperately want. We would prefer to work with you as opposed to the giants. But not if you’re not providing the services we need.

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