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Mind the Gap: Expectations vs. Reality in Modern SME Banking

Small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) are undeniably a cornerstone of global economic growth and innovation. The International Labour Organization recently reported that in most OECD countries, SMEs contribute more than 50% of GDP, with some global estimates placing this figure as high as 70%.

Despite their significant economic role, SMEs continue to encounter substantial difficulties in accessing banking services that effectively meet their needs. These challenges arise because the high costs associated with customer acquisition and servicing, combined with technological limitations, have hindered banks from keeping pace with the rapid advancements and specific demands of SMEs.

The disparity between SME expectations and the current banking reality underscores the need for banks to innovate and adapt. By addressing these challenges head-on and focusing on key areas for improvement, banks can bridge the gap between SME needs and banking services they offer. This proactive approach to modernising their offerings will enable banks to better serve the dynamic SME market.

The Expectation

SMEs expect seamless, fast, and efficient digital banking experiences that align with their entrepreneurial drive. They desire a quick and seamless onboarding process, enabling them to start using their accounts within minutes and establish their operations swiftly through a fully digital experience. They need banking solutions that enable them to quickly start facilitating financial transactions, manage cash flow, and access essential banking services. 

Entrepreneurs expect straightforward methods to manage their teams. They want to invite employees to access the banking app with specific levels of access, directly from a mobile phone or web browser. They seek robust banking applications with secure team management structures that enable them to delegate specific tasks to employees while maintaining strict control over access. 

Moreover, SMEs require banking platforms that provide efficient invoice and expense management, payment approval flows, intuitive employee card management, and more. They look to banks for modern web and mobile applications designed to facilitate financial operations, aiming to establish trusted partnerships for their financial success.

The Reality

However, the reality often falls short of these expectations. Historically, banks have focused on other segments due to the high costs associated with customer acquisition and servicing, as well as technological limitations. Today, they often face challenges in adapting to the rapidly evolving needs of SMEs, which can result in poor customer experience. Traditional onboarding processes can be slow and cumbersome, in some cases taking up to 12 months, hampering business operations. Entrepreneurs need to open accounts quickly to start managing their financial transactions and cash flow. 

As businesses evolve, managing business operations via traditional manual processes can be cumbersome and often delay important financial transactions and updates, hampering business agility. Business owners need to delegate tasks effectively while controlling high-risk operations and access to sensitive information. Traditional banking systems often lack the flexibility and granularity needed for effective delegation, appropriate access levels, approvals, and other financial operations. Banks can bridge this gap by integrating intuitive interfaces and automating processes, making systems adaptable and user-friendly for managing business accounts.

Traditional systems often limit SMEs from having modern business banking applications that provide the same seamless experiences they are used to with their personal banking. To address this, banks should invest in SME-focused strategies, leveraging technology that integrates well with their existing systems, decoupling user-facing channels from the limitations of the underlying technology. 

Seizing the SME Banking Opportunity

The evolving and specific needs of SMEs present a significant opportunity for banks to innovate and lead. By modernising their offerings through investment in flexible, integrated technologies and adopting SME-focused strategies, banks can provide seamless, efficient, and customised experiences. This proactive transformation will not only better serve this vital sector but also position banks as indispensable partners in the entrepreneurial journey.

The journey towards bridging the gap between SME expectations and banking realities is both a challenge and an opportunity. By addressing the key areas of digital transformation, banks can create a more responsive and supportive environment for SMEs. This alignment will empower SMEs to thrive, and drive forward economic growth and innovation.

Ultimately, the future of SME banking lies in the ability to adapt and innovate. Banks that embrace this evolution will not only meet the needs of today’s SMEs but will also lay the groundwork for sustained growth and success in an increasingly competitive landscape. The time to act is now – to bridge the gap and build a banking ecosystem that truly supports the ambitions and realities of modern SMEs.


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Ben Goldin

Ben Goldin

Founder and CEO


Member since

08 Nov 2017



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