Artificial intelligence (AI) has emerged as a potent force, reshaping industries and transforming how businesses operate — a transformative power that has been recognized by the world’s most notable leaders and influencers, as well as our collective culture.
Amid these global happenings, small and medium-sized businesses (SMBs) stand to gain significantly. As the backbone of world economies, these businesses are often tasked with doing more with less, which makes the efficiency and productivity gains offered by AI incredibly valuable. Recognizing the potential of AI, SMBs are increasingly looking to harness its power to drive growth and efficiency. However, the world of AI can be complex and intimidating, particularly for businesses that may not have extensive resources or technical expertise.
SMB Awareness and Understanding
According to a recent Visa survey, 90% of Generation Z and millennial SMB owners, as well as 91% of Generation X and 70% of baby boomer SMB owners are aware of AI and its potential business applications. This awareness indicates that the understanding of AI’s potential transcends age demographics and is becoming a common understanding among business owners.
It’s critical that financial institutions and payment providers explore and advocate for ways SMBs can leverage AI to accelerate their growth, from ongoing research and initiatives aimed at demystifying AI for SMBs to providing the tools needed to capitalize on this transformative technology.
Optimism and Expectations
The sentiment towards AI among SMB leaders is overwhelmingly positive; Visa’s recent survey data shows that 84% believe AI will be beneficial for their business. This optimism is reflected in their future expectations, with 85% expecting AI to have a significant impact on their industry or sector in the next three to five years. This bullish outlook on AI’s potential impact suggests that SMBs are not just aware of AI but are ready and willing to embrace it.
It’s also notable that 84% of the surveyed SMB leaders believe that AI could help them refocus their human skills and talents in more effective ways, indicating a recognition that AI is not a replacement for human talent but rather a tool that can augment human capabilities and lead to more efficient and effective businesses.
Current Use Cases and Adoption Gap
Despite this high level of awareness and positive sentiment, there is a significant gap in AI adoption among SMBs. Visa’s survey data shows that only 26% of SMB leaders have used AI tools like ChatGPT for personal and business purposes while 45% have not.
Among those SMBs that have embraced AI, there’s a range of innovative and effective use cases. For instance, some businesses are using AI-powered chatbots for customer service to provide 24/7 support and instant responses to customer queries. Others are leveraging machine learning algorithms for predictive analytics, helping them forecast sales, manage inventory and target marketing efforts more effectively.
The gap in adoption represents an opportunity for financial institutions and payment providers to empower SMBs with the education and tools they need to adopt AI effectively.
The Future of AI for SMBs
Visa’s data indicates a bright future for AI in the SMB sector. There are three specific ways generative AI is predicted to change commerce in the next six to 12 months:
- Virtual assistance with, and automation of, administrative tasks.
- Natural language interaction that allows users to communicate with their technology in a human-like, conversational way.
- Hyper-curated recommendations that understand consumer preferences and tailor to their unique interests.
These areas are also where SMB leaders think AI will have the most impact. According to Visa’s survey, 44% of SMB leaders think AI will be most impactful in customer support or operations, 43% in marketing or accounting, 37% in financial management, 33% in sales, 29% in human resources regarding current employees and 27% in recruiting and hiring.
For SMBs to effectively implement AI, they need to understand the technology and recognize its potential, especially as it is poised to help reimagine how SMBs operate and grow.
Data referenced is from Visa, in partnership with Maru. Data from this report is taken from 301 respondents from an online survey who are described as “Business Leaders” – this means they are at least senior decision-makers with the business, including roughly eight in ten who are the business’ primary owner. Responses come from across the United States, and represent a mix of revenue bands, business tenure, industry, etc. Fielding period: July 10-14, 2023.