7 minute read 16 Sep 2019
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How FinTechs are a world of choice for small and medium-sized enterprises

7 minute read 16 Sep 2019

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  • EY Global FinTech Adoption Index 2019 (pdf)

Small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), long underserved by traditional financial providers, have new options as FinTech offerings increase.

Adoption of FinTech services by consumers increased, from 16% in 2015, the year the first EY Global FinTech Adoption Index was published, to 33% in 2017 and 64% in 2019. Over this period, EY has seen waves of innovation, including new ways to make payments, manage money and get financing. EY now measures 19 distinct customer propositions, compared with 10 in 2015.

As FinTechs broaden their offerings, they are maturing as businesses, expanding their global reach — and spurring new competition. Seeing the steady growth of FinTech adoption, banks, insurers and other financial incumbents are responding with FinTech offerings of their own.

This year, EY expanded the research to look at how SMEs use FinTech solutions. FinTechs now provide a range of innovative services to SMEs. SMEs use FinTechs to help them with their financial needs, including securing working capital, hedging foreign exchange risk and managing cash flow.

We surveyed senior decision makers at 1,000 SMEs in five countries — two developed markets (the UK and the US) and three emerging markets (China, Mexico and South Africa). Among those countries, China is the leader, with a 61% adoption rate, followed by the US, with 23%. The adoption rates for the other three countries are the UK (18%), South Africa (16%) and Mexico (11%).

SMEs have fundamentally different attributes and requirements to consumers; therefore, we used a different basis for measuring adoption. To be identified as an adopter, an SME has to have used services provided by a FinTech in all four of the following categories in the last six months: banking and payments, financial management, financing, and insurance. The global adoption rate is 25%, which leaves plenty of room for growth and presents opportunities for both FinTech challengers and incumbents to develop solutions that serve this market.

Banks have long struggled to provide targeted services to SMEs, finding it challenging to either scale up from the services they offer to consumers or scale down from the solutions they develop for large corporations, who are often nimbler and more focused than larger institutions, giving small businesses more choice than ever when it comes to picking financial providers and products.

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  • Download: EY Global FinTech Adoption Index 2019

How open banking will boost SME FinTech adoption

One reason to expect rapid growth in FinTech adoption by SMEs is their readiness to share data. Seventy percent of SME adopters are willing to selectively and securely share their banking data with other financial services companies, if doing so would help them get access to a better deal. By comparison, just 46% of consumer adopters are prepared to share data under such circumstances.

This readiness among SMEs to share data creates significant opportunities for FinTechs to develop products built around open APIs. Open APIs are at the heart of the open banking phenomenon taking hold in markets around the world.

In the UK, which ushered in an open banking regime in 2018, 94% of SME FinTech adopters are prepared to share data with other financial services companies, and 63% are ready to share with non-financial companies, if it means getting access to a better deal. This indicates that the efficiencies generated by open banking in the SME sector are significant, and that the products and services powered by open APIs bring real value to SMEs in the UK.

Many FinTechs in the UK use open banking and open data to serve their SME customers in a personalized and timely manner, helping them understand, run and grow their businesses. FinTechs that provide financial management services can use open-banking data to deliver rich insights into an SME’s cash flow and financial health.

Many SMEs are already accustomed to digitally sharing data by, for example, uploading their financial information to a cloud-based accounting provider. With the spread of open APIs, providers can more efficiently offer a range of services to SMEs, such as overdraft protection, bookkeeping, expense management, factoring and supply chain management.

Open APIs are spurring the development of new financial management tools. For example, a FinTech might provide a SME with the ability to dynamically and automatically hedge foreign-exchange risk on a transaction right at the point-of-sale.

Open APIs may make it significantly easier for SMEs to obtain credit, the fuel they need for growth. Securing a loan is often a slow and cumbersome process for small businesses. With access to open data, lenders — whether they are established banks or FinTech challengers — can quickly make informed underwriting decisions, in some cases, reducing the “time-to-yes” and the “time-to-cash” on an SME loan to just a matter of minutes. In the UK, we’re seeing various product marketplaces as well as standalone propositions that use open banking to “turbocharge” their onboarding and underwriting processes. This is to enable faster and better access to credit for SMEs.

Functionality matters more than price

Unlike consumers, who often pick a FinTech based on attractive rates or fees, SMEs are more concerned with features and functionality. Asked to name the top three reasons why they would pick a FinTech challenger over an incumbent financial institution, globally 66% said range of functionality and features, 55% said round-the-clock availability of service, and 54% said ease in setting up, configuring and using the service. By contrast, 39% identified rates and fees as among the most important factors. The top three global drivers for SMEs adopting FinTech solutions are the same in the UK market as well.

This emphasis on quality of propositions by SME adopters has helped fuel a surge in monoline FinTechs, i.e., providers that are focused on doing one thing very well, such as payments or loans. These firms can help SMEs address areas that are often pain points — including financing, billing, payroll and accounting — freeing up business owners to focus more of their time on being innovative and entrepreneurial.

Even as this unbundling of financial services is occurring, other providers are trying to re-bundle services, by creating super apps, platforms and ecosystems that offer a selection of products all in one place — although so far this phenomenon is more prevalent in the consumer market than it is in the SME space.

SME adopters of FinTech tend to be “technology-first” organizations. They favor technological solutions to business issues, such as dealing with new regulations or establishing a new sales channel. They also rely on a community of advisors when making a major business decision, including adopting a new technology. In the UK, for example, when SME adopters are deciding whether to use a new service, 53% consult their professional network and industry contracts, 49% seek advice from business advisors and 31% get recommendations from current suppliers.

This reliance on a network of advisors points to potential marketing channels that incumbents and FinTech challengers alike can tap into to reach a wider base of SME clients — opening up new ways to provide innovative financial solutions to a large, diverse and still largely underserved market.


SMEs, long underserved by incumbent financial providers, have new options as FinTech propositions grow. Globally, FinTech adoption among SMEs is 25%, and in the UK, it is 18%, leaving plenty of room for growth. One reason to expect a rise in FinTech adoption by SMEs is their willingness to share data via open Application Program Interfaces (APIs). Open APIs make it easier for FinTech challengers to develop services targeted to the specific financial needs of SMEs.

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