Understanding the role of cash and bank branches in keeping small businesses thriving

Business Secretary Greg Clark’s recent inaugural Business Council meeting for Small Businesses highlighted that small companies represent an overwhelming majority of the businesses in the UK.

Given how important these businesses are for our economy, it’s clear more should be done to enable them to grow. Access to cash and bank branches is vital in enabling small businesses to thrive, the main three reasons being consumer demand, costs associated with card payment facilities and the services bank branches offer.

The FSB and Which? note that over 2,500 cashpoints were lost in the second half of 2018 alone, and this shrinking of bank branch and cashpoint networks has been hitting small businesses hard. It is not rare to hear of entire communities having no easy access to cash, causing inconvenience for SMEs in the day-to-day running of their businesses as well as disruption to sales. If customers don’t have cash at one of the 3 million small businesses that do not accept card payments, the sale is lost.

Why is cash and branch access so important for small businesses?

  • Consumer demand for cash
    A lot of consumers still like to pay with cash or rely on cash to make payments, for example those working on a tight budget that find it easier to stay in control using cash, tradespeople who are often paid in cash, and people without a bank account. In fact according to UK Finance’s 2018 UK Payment Markets report, cash payments remain one of the most widely used payment methods in the UK, meaning small businesses need to meet this demand or risk losing out. Bank branches are also important, as business owners need somewhere nearby to pay cash into regularly.
  • The costs involved with accepting and processing card payment
    Another reason access to cash is so important to sustaining small businesses such as newsagents and corner shops and helping them thrive is because card infrastructure can be costly. As noted by Handepay and Small Business, accepting card payments means having to account for monthly terminal charges and processing fees including basic rates for individual transaction processing, premium charges for processing transactions above the basic rate and fees for payment authorisation too. The cost to a small independent business can add up – for example, one local bakery estimated the electronic money processing facilties cost around £600 a month. How these payment processing costs add up can eat into what may already be thin profit margins, so cash can be far more economical.
  • The support SMEs need in order to thrive
    Additionally, bank branches are vital to small businesses given that they provide access to a variety of financial services, from cash depositing to loans support and even financial advice. And as emphasised by FSB chairman Mike Cherry, it is in banks’ interests to offer such services, given there are so many small businesses that want current accounts alongside accessibility to services. However, many small businesses are unable to access this support during normal banking hours, meaning they might have to close business early and lose out on sales. On top of that, if they are based in a rural or remote location they may not have a branch very close to them, causing them to close business for longer periods and budget for costs of travel such as ferries too. Rural-based business owners may also suffer more limited access to online banking services, making physical banking touchpoints all the more crucial to the running of their activities.

So how what can be done and how can technology help?
Challenge: Connectivity and online banking can be more difficult to access in rural locations
Solution: Banking technology at branches

While a lot of banking services are available online, small businesses in rural and extremely remote communities can be more vulnerable to power cuts and loss of signal or internet connection. Inclement weather too can play an unwelcome role as noted by Met Office warnings earlier this year. This could cause regular difficulty processing non-cash-based payments.

Access to bank branches is therefore very important for businesses in rural communities. Deploying technology like video banking, whereby visitors have access to a teller 24/7 via video link has already seen success in Portugal for retail bank Millennium BCP, as it allows the bank to continue to serve customers after hours in a cost-effective way. New software solutions from Auriga are making it easier for banks to provide superior customer service and improve accessibility to the services small businesses need, especially in rural and remote areas.

Challenge: Costs of running ATMs/branches for banks can be high
Solution: Shops and supermarkets with the right costs structure behind them could become a revenue stream for businesses already in rural locations

ATMs can be expensive to run, but white label ATMs, machines owned and operated by non-banking organisations, could enable small retail businesses to generate additional revenue streams in rural locations. The interchange fees from ATM transactions can help cross-subsidise the retail service. ‘Super premiums’ – large payments for operators of free-to-use ATMs that are 1km or more away from the next nearest free-to-use ATM, being introduced by LINK this year, will also incentivise ATM operators not to withdraw cash machines in rural areas.

Offering cashback could also drive higher footfall in rural shops while simultaneously supporting consumers by saving them time and money making a special trip to their closest ATM or bank branch.

Challenge: Small businesses don’t want to be left with large cash deposits overnight
Solution: Business banking hubs

Small businesses that depend on cash usually need to deposit their takings at the end of the working day and on Sundays, after bank branches have finished their own working day. Banking hubs, such as those being piloted by NatWest, Lloyds and Barclays offer great ways to tackle this issue. These include longer opening hours than regular branches so SMEs can deposit takings after close of play and cash collect services which allow businesses to schedule cash pick-ups for maximum convenience. Banks should condsider this concept in all communities, including those that are more remote.

Banking technology has a key role to play

The pressure is mounting on small businesses as access to cash declines – accessibility to financial services is vital to enabling businesses to run smoothly without disruption to sales or operational delays. Despite the challenges SMEs face, banking technology and innovation in the form of video banking, full service white label ATMs and business banking hubs will have a key role to play in helping small businesses thrive.

Source: ATM Marketplace