Just like the accounting software market of the early ‘90s, today’s digital payments offerings are primarily divided into two camps: consumer and commercial.
Meanwhile, small businesses are largely stuck between the two and left to fend for themselves. Often, this means wandering outside their bank to cobble together patchwork solutions.
On the consumer applications side, small businesses are often left without critical features they need for managing payments and cash flow. Examples include two-way synchronization with accounting software and automatic delivery of remittance information.
There is also a major issue around control that has been growing in recent years: checks vs. ACH payments. In short, today’s small businesses want to choose how to pay each vendor. Most business banking portals, however, say “enter the address and we’ll decide the payment method.”
For these and other reasons, digital payments penetration in the small business market pales in comparison to the consumer and commercial sectors. Today, nearly 80% of consumers pay their bills electronically. Same goes for large businesses. When it comes to small businesses, however, it’s closer to 20%.
On the commercial side, products are not built with ease of use in mind. Making a payment requires users to create specially formatted files (one per payment type), upload the information, and then download and re-integrate confirmation files. For corporate treasurers and controllers, it’s a perfectly sensible workflow. For small business owners, it’s overly complex and completely unnecessary.
When it comes to the market for digital payments and where it’s heading, the story behind Intuit’s strategic bet on QuickBooks is one that holds invaluable lessons for bankers and fintech innovators alike. It’s a story that parallels the current business payments landscape almost to a tee, and it’s one I had the opportunity to witness first hand while working as a product manager at Intuit.
Around this same time, a new generation of software-savvy businesses was starting to hit the market and Intuit recognized the need to launch an SMB-specific solution: QuickBooks. By creating a product with the business-specific functionality small businesses needed and the ease of use typically found in consumer software, Intuit effectively revolutionized the market for accounting software overnight.
For small businesses that have been around since the ‘90s, it’s a scenario that looks all too familiar. For banks, it presents an opportunity the likes of which have not been seen since the pre-dotcom era.
Ultimately, what I see is an opportunity for banks to truly serve their small business customers -- the industrious entrepreneurs that drive the economic engine of the United States and create most of the new jobs in this country. Payments are the backbone of commerce, and as the world goes digital so too must the way small businesses pay and get paid.