Sunday, January 24, 2010

Small Business is Big Business

While most banks are spending more time and resources trying to address the needs of small businesses, a large percentage of this segment is still underserved. According to a Javelin Strategy & Research report released last year, about two-thirds of the 26 million small firms don't have business banking accounts.

Smaller companies usually integrate their business and personal relationships or simply open another personal account according to the Javelin report released late last year. That means they may pay lower account fees, but also don't receive cash flow and treasury service attention from a bank's small business sales team, potentially impacting the business' ability to grow.

At a time when banks are looking for ways to acquire new customers and generate additional revenue, marketing to and serving this untapped banking segment is a win-win for banks and small businesses alike. The challenge is to uncover these somewhat hidden relationships. Sometimes, banks are evaluating transactions to determine what customers are using accounts for business purposes while others are using social media to have small businesses indentify themselves.

According to several reports over the past two years by Aite Group, while smaller businesses tend to use banking services similar to consumer banking relationships, their payments habits show tremendous growth opportunity for debit and credit cards as well as online banking services. In fact, according to Aite, only 4% of spending by small businesses currently is done on a small business credit card. Capital One has already responded to this opportunity by allowing small businesses to combine their business rewards with their personal rewards. Other banks are tracking checks and ACH transactions to help find underserved businesses.

Alternatively, firms like Bank of America are leveraging the power of social media to develop the Small Business Online Community which has over 50,000 registered users, while American Express continues to promote their very successful small business OPEN Forum where small businesses can find articles, expert blogs, success stories and advice with limited networking opportunities. Wells Fargo is also the first bank using blogs to stay in touch with small business and retail customers, while VISA teamed up with Facebook to create the VISA Business Network for small businesses to share advice and potentially grow their customer base.

Going forward, bank marketers should take notice of the smaller business market (under $500,000), tieing together personal and business relationships, changing payments behavior and providing better cash flow solutions that can help these business grow.

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