If you could start your own bank and design it from the ground up, what would it look like?
And if you’re a business banker with a focus on small business clients, how would your reimagined bank, and its core product offerings, differ from your current ones?
This is the challenge plaguing banks today. For the most part, business banking products have become a commodity — it’s virtually impossible to differentiate your bank’s offerings from the ones being sold by your competitor down the street. For that matter, it may be hard to draw meaningful differences between your various accounts, such as with your retail and commercial offerings. That’s one reason why 27% of business owners rely solely on a personal account. And it’s also why only 38% of small to medium business owners believe that business banking services offer extra benefits compared to their personal account.
One way for banks to break out of this current dilemma may be to shift their focus. This approach is already working for fintech challengers. Instead of focusing solely on transactional products or in-person services, they worked on understanding customer workflows and solving digital pain points. In the process, they have captured the imagination and the pocketbooks of small business owners.
If your bank has prioritized small business customers, or plans to, the best way to make this shift is by focusing on the business owner. Start with this simple question: What do you need from your bank to make meaningful progress with your business?
Their response likely won’t have anything to do with your existing products or services. Instead, they may share a problem or pain point: I need help tracking which customers have paid me and which have not.
There’s no mention of products or account features like fees, balance requirements and e-statements. A response like this reminds us of the quote popularized by Harvard Business School Professor Theodore Levitt: “People don’t want to buy a quarter-inch drill. They want a quarter-inch hole.”
In our case, it goes something like this: Business owners don’t want a list of transactional ranges, fees or digital banking tools. They want to know if their bank can help them better track and accept customer payments, so they can maximize their time running their business.
Increasingly, the process of accepting payments is moving from in person to online. But when small business owners turn to their financial institution for assistance, the bank lacks a simple solution to meet this fundamental need.
This leaves the business owner with four options for moving forward — options that require either minimal involvement or no involvement from a bank.
- If a small business decides that it’s not worth dealing with cards, they can simplify their receivables by only accepting cash and checks, closing themselves off to customers who prefer to pay in other ways.
- If a small business decides to accept credit cards, it can accommodate more paying customers, but must now track payments across bank statements (for checks) and external payment tools (for credit cards).
- If a small business relies on external invoicing or accounting tools, it can invoice and accept digital payments, but must now track payments across multiple platforms and reconcile those funds back to its bank account.
- If a small business consolidates all of its financial needs with one provider like a fintech challenger, they can resolve the complexity of dealing with multiple tools and/or platforms but lose out on the expertise and high-touch support of a business banker.
The two middle options involve a bank at the outset but can often lead to reduced deposits over the long term. Over time, fintech challengers may disintermediate banks by offering similar, competing products like integrated deposit accounts. The fourth option, born out of frustration, removes the bank entirely from the relationship.
Clearly, no option listed above is ideal. Nevertheless, it is still possible to help the business owner make progress with accepting digital payments. And, even better, there is an emerging solution for small business owners that may lie with your most straightforward business product: your small business checking account. Watch out for part two to learn more.