“SMEs have historically been a neglected segment. Open banking provides an opportunity to address this by enabling better understanding of the needs of businesses, and focusing on making it easier for them to achieve their goals, rather than just providing financial products,” says EY Open Banking Leader, Hamish Thomas.
While open banking offers a more dynamic way to handle finances, sharing highly sensitive data with third parties will be viewed by some SMEs as a risk.
Robust regulation of open banking is a given in some parts of the world, while a more organic approach is being taken in others. The customer is ultimately in control of who sees their data and how they handle it.
The pay-off for skeptical business owners will be jettisoning the administrative headache of onboarding with lots of separate providers. And if circumstances change – relocation, expansion, new staff, or a switch from one finance provider to another – avoiding more time-consuming paperwork.
Digital passporting enables access to a firm’s most up to date information through a single secure portal from which multiple service providers such as financial institutions, telcos, government departments or utilities can be given permission, wholly controlled by the business, to access the key information they require to better support that business’s needs. This means companies need only input and update information once, keeping admin simple and convenient. SMEs can also link accounts and products from the various providers they use to gain an outlook of their international finances in a single view.
This is especially important for SMEs, who are chronically underserved by current banking models – in the UK in 2015, just 18% of SMEs applied for financing from their banks, despite making up 47% of the private sector. In emerging economies, 40% of “unbanked” SMEs are not able to gain financing.
A key reason for this underservicing of SME customers is the challenge banks face in performing KYC (know your customer) and the due diligence measures around them. SME operations are often opaque, complex, and low scale. This makes them difficult for banks to understand, and therefore of limited value as customers.
Better digital passporting measures, therefore, could simplify multiple steps of the onboarding process, and make SMEs generally more attractive customers for banks.
Why frictionless finance pays SMEs
Choosing which banks and financial service providers to share their data with means SMEs remain in control while looking for better deals. But open banking can also free up resources. Automating tax, payroll and back-office systems can liberate SMEs to focus on development.
Open banking means SMEs can open their back office to accounting and cashflow management tools, freeing them up to focus on value-adding tasks.
In the UK, which introduced open banking principles in early 2018, SMEs can now connect with software that is compatible with the UK government’s Making Tax Digital (MTD) scheme. The scheme – which has been going through implementation since October 2018, and will likely conclude in October 2019 – aims to make tax administration more effective, while saving businesses time. The data needed for tax purposes is seamlessly shared with government databases, reducing back-office effort.
Some firms are already complying with the Value-Added Tax element of the scheme, ahead of 2019 when it becomes mandatory. This element requires them to keep digital records of transactions and file tax returns via MTD-compatible software – a much more efficient method than traditional tax return systems.
The benefits of ‘frictionless finance’ for SMEs include making payments faster and easier, being able to see and monitor expenditure, automation of cashflow forecasting and – not least – gleaning insights from transactional data. Together, these benefits can help both identify new business opportunities and accelerate growth by allowing firms to react more quickly when those opportunities emerge.