Challenger Banks and Fintechs for Small Businesses | 28 July

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Small is Beautiful: Where Challenger Banks and Fintechs Really Score

I was in a philosophical mood when I checked in to a Fintechtalk session on Clubhouse on July 28. 

Why, I asked no one in particular, did the word “success” seem to invariably suggest terms like “large deal”, “double digit growth”, “enterprise solutions” and so on. “Does that imply that to be small is somehow not as cool?” I wondered, as I sat in the digital shadows and looked on silently, and a bit crabby, sipping on a below-average Pina Colada, waiting for the session to begin.

As I learned quickly during the session, that’s not true at all. 

There is something very beautiful and inspiring about being small and successful. And you can make a huge difference in your Fintech efforts if you focus on small enterprises.

These FINTECHTALK sessions are so addictive. Paddy Ramanathan, the CEO of iValley, a Fintech incubator, conducts a couple of arresting sessions every month and attracts a lot of movers and shakers to his speaker’s panel. Thereafter he engages them in very interesting ways. You owe it to yourself to attend.

But I digress. Back to the session.

The panellists were an impressive and erudite bunch. Take a look:

  • Paul Loberman, Chief Product Officer at untied

  • Adi Engel, CMO at vcita

  • Nir Netzer, FinTech Innovation Strategist and Founding Partner of Equitech Group

  • Araminta Robertson, Marketing Consultant at Mintcstudios

  • Nathan Baumeister, CEO at ZSuite Technologies

  • Derik Sutton, Marketing at Autobooks

They first spent a little time talking about what they do.

Adi spoke about their focus on digitizing business operations. Simplifying and automating the day-to-day activities is a huge relief for SMBs for whom time is the most precious commodity.

Paul, with an impressive background in banking, focuses on personal tax at untied.  “No one likes to pay tax,” he remarked. He helps SMBs by collecting tax data automatically and submitting forms to the authorities. Again, saving SMB owners lots of time and aggravation.

Nathan works with Banks to get them more small business clients. ZSuite deploys niche technologies to help with different kinds of deposits that have different rules that apply to them, for which compliance can be vexing. Time is saved.

Are you seeing a repeated theme?

At Autobooks, Derek offers reporting tools in digital environments. He helps financial institutions recapture their relationships with clients. Araminta too assists fintech companies acquire and retain clients and develops case studies. And Nir helps create strategies for Fintech, who, he said, are trying to solve unprecedented problems. 

These are motivated individuals!

Paddy asked the panel for their view on the current challenges that small businesses face. Was there really a case for digital transformation and innovation for SMBs, he inquired.

The collective opinion of the group was that the technologies and digital initiatives do exist but the really crushing problem is that SMB owners have no time and resources and often no capital to leverage these initiatives! 

Lack of good valuable advice on appropriate systems is something SMBs face.  In fact, most cannot even articulate what they need. Thus, Fintechs need to find these SMBs and clear the fog, instead of expecting them to ask for help.

When 81% of SMBs have no employees, they are consumed by basic challenges such as how to accept payments through various vehicles. These owners want to spend time in their businesses, but they end up being forced to address non-core activities, getting paid, controlling costs, and staying compliant – all of which eat into their time and make them sub-optimal. Almost all face cash flow problems. Putting companies back in control may be a fundamental solution they need!

Nir highlighted a unique issue: many young companies are trying to solve problems that did not exist before. Even helping them articulate the problem helps in a big way. Sales and Marketing challenges are also significant.

What a thought! And so, if Fintechs can do a deep dive into these new challenges, they can be successful.

For instance, SMBs are being forced to deal with bewildering new regulations.  Araminta spoke about how SMBs in Europe are having to learn about PSD2 (customer authentication), SCA, and 3DS2 and ensure they are compliant. Do SMBs have the bandwidth for all this? Well, they don’t have much of a choice, because studies show a possible authentication loss of 21%.  In essence this is a new hurdle and requires education. This problem presents a great opportunity for a Fintech.

Further, 90% of SMBs are service providers who work with excel, WhatsApp, pen and paper. Digitizing their operations is a huge and rewarding proposition. 

The complexities of an SMB’s business can be intense. As Adi observed, even a Yoga studio has a staggeringly large set of possibilities in terms of processes and payment options. Ultimately it is the triangle of Time, Money and Clients is what needs to be addressed by Fintechs that want to be make an impact in the SMB segment.

A lot of interesting points came up:

  • From a Sales and Marketing perspective, new approaches will need to be considered by CBs and Fintechs. The customer must be caught in the right channel.

  • Fintechs who serve SMBs have the challenge of raising enough capital to compete with Square or PayPal, to then reach out to massively underserved markets.

  • Paul hypothesized that we will soon witness the next level of “downtech”, such as Square extending into Shopify. There is a growing market for tech giants, and they can find opportunities to partner with SMB oriented Fintechs. 

  • The new wave of Challenger Banks is attractive because of significantly lower fees, an easier onboarding process and so on. And many Fintechs that have no banking license can do payment facilitation. That’s actually pretty smart!

  • But something to keep in mind: there is only so much profitability for Fintechs while dealing with SMBs, even though there are plenty to go around.  Partnering with banks has obvious advantages for Fintechs including interchange fees, deposits, and such. 

At the end, SMB merchants will use Fintechs for better customer experience, with the easiest on-ramps being more successful. SuperApps (which combine multiple services within an app) and the thirst for simplicity will prevail.

It all just goes to show that in the banking world, small can be beautiful in stimulating innovation. Fintechs can become unbeatable if they make efforts to solve the issues that resource starved SMBs face in terms of time and capital. 

Will banks, big tech, super fintechs (Square, Stripe etc), and these other fintechs all converge into an SMB SuperApp, which does Operational, Financial, Sales/Marketing and Regulations stuff? Imagine!

The Pina Colada suddenly seemed excellent! I felt good!


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