Small and medium-sized enterprises are the unsung heroes of the Australian economy. They employ around 5 million people and contribute more than 45% of GDP.
Small businesses contribute massively to the economic well-being of this country; they support hundreds of thousands of Australian families. They are brave. They have a go.
Small businesses need to be supported and empowered to prosper and grow. Historically, this support has fallen short, with many small business feeling impeded by big business, by regulators and by banks.
But thanks to significant innovation borne out of the digital and mobility revolution, small businesses are now getting more of the support they need.
Recently, St George Banking Group (St George, Bank of Melbourne, BankSA) launched a digital platform that I would liken to the supermarkets’ approach to servicing consumer needs beyond grocery shopping. The new MyBusinessConnect platform enables SMEs to get far more digital savvy with a smart web and online marketing set up and management platform.
Small businesses are complex and come in multiple shapes and sizes, with different levels of expertise and expectation. But there are some insights that can be applied to a majority of businesses within the sector.
I recently spoke to some of the management team at St George Banking Group about what they are doing to make banking more small business-friendly.
“What I have learnt over too many years in banking: small businesses are passionate people. And they are time poor. Small businesses do many of the same things as big businesses – they sell, they make, they market, they plan, they account, they comply, they manage, they support. Big businesses have departments to do these things – small businesses have proprietors,” Phillip Godkin, head of St George Banking Group, told me, describing the approach St George are taking with its small business customers.
“Small businesses need their simple needs met quickly and efficiently. And they need their more complex needs met with confidence and advice,” Godkin added.
The digital revolution is transforming the way people run their businesses, and transforming the way people do their banking, so it is only appropriate banks help and enable small businesses to get digital across the whole of their business.
More people than ever before are doing their banking via the internet and on a mobile device: 55% of Australians used a mobile banking app to transfer money and Australian take-up of mobile banking is ahead of the US, UK and Germany, according to the Deloitte Mobile Consumer 2014 report.
Technology is also improving the ways in which banks can offer support to small businesses – both through digital transactions and easier access to conversations.
When pushed on further innovation we should expect from banks, Godkin said: “Small business owners can now talk to expert business bankers via video, at a time that suits them. Bank branches are video enabled so customers can talk to centralised experts when they want to, rather than wait for an appointment with a local banker. This is soon to be introduced onto mobile devices so small business owners don’t even need to leave their home or office to talk to a banker.”
“This technology means that small businesses in every suburb across Australia have access to a business banker in real time. This is transforming the support offering for small businesses.
“Banks are also partnering with technology companies to provide small business solutions that extend beyond banking and help small business with all their needs. An example of this is a one-stop-shop package that helps small businesses manage their payments, establish a web presence and provide cloud storage data.”
These are the innovations that will support small businesses to prosper and grow into the future, through channels that suit them and at times that suit them.
The banking sector as well as governments and the business community have a shared responsibility to encourage and foster innovation that channels the services being provided to big business to smaller businesses.
Fi Bendall is the managing director of Bendalls Group, a team of highly trained digital specialists, i-media subject matter experts and developers.