How COVID-19 has changed business banking for small firms

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Date: 1 December 2020

A new report has found that the coronavirus pandemic has significantly changed the way that SMEs use business banking.

A survey of 2,000 small business owners conducted by YouGov for Pay.UK has found that SMEs are three times more likely to say they are satisfied than dissatisfied with their bank's service since the pandemic started. But it says lockdown has "changed their behaviour dramatically, in a way that points to significant changes to customer behaviour both now and in future".

Sole traders, micro-businesses and larger SMEs were polled in February 2020 and again in September 2020, enabling researchers to see how attitudes to business banking have changed during the pandemic.

The results show that the proportion of SMEs using business current accounts has increased from 69% in February to 74% in September - driven by the need for firms to have a business account in order to receive access to government-backed lending schemes.

In addition, the proportion of SMEs who say they regularly use a bank branch has dropped by almost a quarter (22%) in six months; at the same time, 15% of those polled said their use of mobile or online banking has gone up.

When it comes to choosing a bank, the importance of physical branches has declined. When asked in September 2020, 17% of SMEs said the availability of nearby bank branches was important when selecting their bank or building society, down from 22% in February 2020.

This trend is most noticeable in the North East where 35% of SMEs believed nearby branches were important in February, falling to 18% in September. The importance of branches also varies between industries. One in ten IT companies (11%) said nearby branches were an important factor compared to 29% of leisure and hospitality businesses.

Overall, four in ten SMEs (38%) say they have been satisfied with the support they received from their business current account provider since the pandemic began. Only 13% of SMEs said they were dissatisfied.

The findings show that the most important factors for small firms looking to switch accounts are:

  • Low or no charges for business banking (50%);
  • Good interest rates (35%);
  • Advanced digital features (34%)
  • A personal connection through a relationship manager at the bank (30%).

However, the findings show that 41% of SMEs have never switched their business bank account, rising to 53% among micro-businesses with less than 50 employees. Although 55% of those polled said they are satisfied with their current business bank account, 49% of dissatisfied SMEs have never actually switched.

Pay.UK offers a free Current Account Switch Service for small businesses with a turnover of up to £6.5 million and small charities with an annual income of less than £6.5 million.

Written by Rachel Miller.

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