I met Friday with Mike Hirst, CEO of Bendigo and Adelaide Bank, one of the top banks in Australia today. As we discussed the need for community banks to get better at servicing SME business needs moving forward, we had a really interesting brainstorming session on where to go next. Mike is an easy going guy and I think he's created a really positive, open culture at Bendigo that will pay dividends as they take market share away from the majors in Australia.
I guess it's an obvious statement, but for small to medium size businesses, banks provide a logical partnership as an enabler for a range of bank services. Mike explained that Bendigo and Adelaide Bank has, in recent times, been providing a range of services to small businesses beyond the traditional merchant, trade finance and credit services including extended services such as cash flow and accounting analysis, SME advisory, website/minisite development, telecommunications deals as a reseller, and similar services. Recently ANZ launched The Small Business Hub, as a way of extending more services to their SME clients. American Express has gone one step further with their Open Forum platform as an attempt to engage the broader business community in actively sourcing solutions. Bendigo Bank has tried to facilitate community involvement through their PlanBig portal.
As Mike Hirst and I discussed Bendigo's wish to provide a better platform for SMEs to grow their business, it occurred to me that almost all the services we were discussing were candidates for the cloud. Here are a few that came to mind:
Accounting, Cash Flow Modeling and Credit Services:
Plugged into an SME's basic accounting package (think MYOB, etc.) the ability to provide some intelligent tracking of cash flow, help businesses to think about aged receivables and rightsizing a credit or overdraft facility is a very valuable tool. A plethora of these are being introduced into Internet Banking facilities this morning, but extending a basic accounting facility with cash flow analysis tools that is an extension of your banking relationship is not a stretch. Ben May, MD of OnlineFactor, recently showed me a new tool they had been playing with called Imagineering Profit which allows users to plug in their basic financial statements and get some great analysis on break-even, cash flow, and various what-if scenarios.
If this could be married with basic account information, accounts and invoicing data, etc -- this could give SMEs a nice tool embedded within banking to start to look at a basic overdraft facility, factoring, inventory financing and a whole range of complementary services.
Easier Merchant and P2P Enablement
By 31st October, 2018 the UK Payments Council has mandated that central cheque clearing will be phased out. The decline of cheque use in the UK has been widely documented. In 2000 cheques represented 25% of all non-cash transactions, but by 2008 they accounted for less than 10%, this year they will be less than 5%.
This is also where the mobile device and P2P platforms come into play. While debit cards have had big success in recent times, as credit and debit cards are integrated into your mobile phone for contactless payment capability, it is obvious that the use of cheques and cash will further decline. With the introduction of Square and Verifone PayWare it is becoming increasingly simple to provide merchant type services to accept payments.
But Person-2-Person is the big innovation for SMEs and businesses. In 2009, financial institutions including Bank of America (BAC), ING Direct and PNC Financial (PNC) rolled out so-called P2P technology that lets customers use the Web or a mobile phone to transfer money from their account to any other account. Within the next 3 years our phone will become the payment device of choice for paying SMEs who work in the service arena. This makes cloud services even more viable as SMEs will increasingly rely on virtual platforms to effect and receive payments. The ability to augment basic banking services to capture the need for virtual P2P and payments capability is a no-brainer.
SME Community Building
There are hundreds of thousands of groups currently active on LinkedIn, many dedicated to SME forums and the like. Ecademy is an social networking site based in the UK, but active globally with more than 17 million members. A survey by O2 in the UK showed that more than 600 SME businesses were joining Twitter everyday, and that 17% are already actively using Twitter to support their business.
SME community building is a great way to empower businesses and is a logical extension of the already powerful network that banks have with their customer base. Banks don't use their community of clients to encourage interactions, but as a trusted intermediary it makes absolute sense for bankers to utilize their community to encourage internal business between their SME clients. The cloud and online communities such as LinkedIn, Ecademy and others seem like the perfect partner to kick this off.
The cloud is increasingly critical for SMEs not only for facilitating business, but also for enabling closer connections with partners, integrating shared services, improving payments and cash flow and marketing their services. Banks have a huge opportunity to be not just a trusted partner for banking services, but extending their platform to help SMEs build their business.
There's one key problem with banks extending platform for SMEs. To illustrate, the current e-Invoicing and Accounts Payable Integration services banking provide today, a process designed ostensibly to reduce paperwork for an SME and improve cash-flow, is saddled with an antiquated, compliance heavy sign-up/application processes that mean the initial onboarding for such services is erroneous and time consuming. The benefits aren't there for SMEs if the application process takes more effort than the benefits.