Banks will suffer for using consumer platforms for small biz bill pay

By Sanjeev Kriplani for PaymentsSource

For banks that serve small and medium-sized businesses, the opportunity is especially great. But to realize it, banks must deploy easy to use, SMB-specific, mobile-friendly business banking experiences – an undertaking that’s not as simple as it may seem.

For example, far too many banks are passing off souped-up consumer bill pay products and watered-down commercial platforms as online SMB banking solutions. While it’s easy to understand why banks adopted this approach, the long term consequences are not so obvious.

When regulators tightened the screws on the banking industry following the financial meltdown, bank innovation slowed to a virtual standstill. During this time, regulatory compliance and maintaining existing products consumed the majority of bank resources.

What little remained for innovation was typically funneled into consumer and commercial products. As a result, many online banking products for small and medium business customers that emerged during this time (and are still being offered to this day) were largely derivative products rather than customer-specific solutions. For bankers, the hope was that business owners would just “make them work.”

This strategy may have worked fine with the previous generation of small and medium business owners who viewed technology as a “nice to have” and weren’t especially demanding when it came to tech solutions. But today’s increasingly digital savvy business owners – particularly millennials – won’t tolerate it.

Consider traditional credit card terminals, for example. Millennials outright rejected them in favor of Square’s more simple, digital and “connected” smartphone and tablet-based solutions. Before long, other SMBs followed.

Millennials also favor Venmo. Why? Because Venmo was built specifically for person-to-person payments, whereas more traditional P-to-P plays use the “make it work” approach.

When you consider that today’s online bill payment solutions are not purpose-built for SMBs, it’s easy to see why it’s only a matter of time before millennials find alternatives – even if it means wandering outside the bank to find them. And we can all rest assured this new generation won’t follow in their predecessor’s footsteps and start printing paper checks when their bank’s bill pay falls short of expectations. They will find a fintech alternative instead.

Banks today have a clear choice: deliver great, purpose-built technology solutions that meet the complex and evolving needs of today’s increasingly digital SMBs, or lose that business entirely to someone who does.

When building SMB-specific, mobile-friendly business banking experiences, banks would be wise to look to bill pay as the starting point. Paying and getting paid is at the very center of business operations, which makes it a uniquely “sticky” service. In other words, one that keeps users highly engaged and drives long-term retention.

Banks that do not have the design or development skills and resources to build such solutions internally should look to the growing fintech ecosystem to find best-of-breed providers to partner with. In this context, the key question banks must answer is whether millennials love the provider’s solution.

Is it extremely easy and mobile friendly? Does it sync seamlessly with online accounting software? Does it automatically send remittance information to vendors, even when two invoices are being paid with one check or ACH payment? Asking these and other questions will help banks find the right partners to help them deliver the business banking experiences their customers want – and deserve.

Most of all, remember that when it comes to technology adoption, millennials are your true north. Where they go, so too goes the rest of the SMB market.

First appeared at PS