Between the lines: SMEs: time banks did more?

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The good news? According to new research, the majority (63 per cent) of SME customers are satisfied or relatively satisfied with their banks. They’re looking for high service quality at low cost. And, broadly, they believe they get it. If there’s room for improvement, it would be to keep on receiving the same banking services, but with lower fees and charges attached (45 per cent say lower fees would increase their satisfaction the most). meanwhile, 20 per cent of SMEs claimed there’s nothing their bank could do to make them happier.

Banks need to do something about the one-third of customers who are dissatisfied, or at best neutral, where their banks are concerned, but the relationship with SMEs is far from broken.

Any push to secure these relationships and build market share by reducing fees and charges will, however, be a race to the bottom. It’s a route that would consign banks to utility status just when they need to differentiate themselves in an increasingly commoditised market.

Interestingly, the research also shows the SME market thirsty for more business support. Some 60 per cent of those responding to the Accenture survey said they are looking for closer engagement with their bank, 32 per cent want their bank to be proactive in suggesting ideas and 28 per cent want it to provide more complex services on demand.

SMEs need value added products and services. At least one in three are already using, or have expressed an interest in, services that would help them run their business better, improve customer service and/or increase sales. There is demand for cloud, big data, blockchain and business advisory services.

More than 20 per cent of SMEs would be happy to pay an additional monthly fee for value-added services. They can have minimal access to important market data which could cause them to misjudge the gap between production and market demand.

Another example of how and why the banks and SMEs should maximise their relationship, and yet only a very small proportion of SMES (4 per cent) look for services to address their broader business needs when selecting a business-banking partner.

It’s clear that SMEs have few strong feelings about their banking services today. And before banks can do more in this crucial sector of the economy, they will have to address these low expectations. But there are benefits all round if banks and SMEs form a stronger and more meaningful relationship.

l Stuart Chalmers is an executive with Accenture Scotland