SME accounts: Five factors that will improve an overlooked revenue stream

2 November 2017

Banks are looking for new revenue streams. Providing excellent service to SME customers is an opportunity often overlooked by banks. There are an estimated 4.5 million SMEs in the UK – accounting for 99.9% of private sector business. Can you afford to ignore this market?


Business customers don’t have time to fill out a time-consuming and complicated application and then wait days — or even weeks — to open a new account, or to repeatedly enter the same information into separate applications to obtain multiple products. If the process isn’t quick and easy from any device, customers simply decide to take their business to a bank that offers a more convenient and customer-friendly experience.

To date, banks have been unwilling to tailor their services to meet the specific needs of SMEs. By failing small business owners, banks are ignoring the opportunities of the lucrative business banking market. Large banks likely have upside available today for existing SME customers, adding a cross sell capability — to apply for additional credit, for example — would bring banks a significant upside.

The good news is anyone can adopt the best practices discussed here, proven by the success of top banks, to create a customer-focused acquisition and onboarding experience.

Take the customers’ viewpoint

A great onboarding experience starts by looking at it from the customers’ perspective. That means understanding how your customers would want to experience the process and then providing the features that make it possible. Some must-have features include:

Field pre-population

Pre-populate fields with customer information from your customer relationship management (CRM) system and from appropriate third‑party sources to eliminate unnecessary and duplicate data entry for your customers. As a bonus for you, it also increases cross‑sell opportunities since customer information is pre-populated across product applications and can be tracked through the onboarding process.

“Save and Resume”

Give customers the ability to start the application in one channel and continue in another without losing their information — for example, they can start the process on their laptops and complete it later from their smartphones. This helps if they have time constraints or need to gather information they don’t have immediately accessible.

Offer a personal touch if the customer wants one

Develop a process that enables one-on-one interaction between customers and your relationship managers. With this capability, relationship managers have access to partially completed applications and can work through them with customers individually. No matter how simple the online process, personalised customer service is still always appreciated. It’s important to keep in mind that some customers would prefer to not interact with a person though this process, which is fine, but give your customer choices.

Reap the benefits of straight-through processing

Straight-through processing (STP) takes your customers’ information from the application and puts it directly into your existing core banking systems. There’s no need to re-engineer your entire process to do this, and it offers multiple advantages. It saves time, improves data quality, and reduces errors. When you implement STP, you eliminate the need for paper forms, manual processing, and re-keying of information, all of which can slow processing and introduce errors. And a faster onboarding process means accelerated new revenue recognition.

The streamlined workflow created by straight-through processing enables your relationship managers and operations staff to focus on high-value, revenue-generating activities, rather than chasing down customer data and manually re-keying it.

Third-party integration capabilities

At certain points in the onboarding process, you’ll have to pull in data from external sources, to run fraud, anti-money laundering (AML), and identity verification services—or to access the latest in technology to improve the account opening experience for your customers and your staff. Rather than having your IT team build these integrations from scratch, look for onboarding application solutions that offer pre-built integrations that seamlessly connect with third-party services.

When you pre-fill with accurate and verified information from a third-party provider, you not only make it easy for your customers, but you also increase completion rates. E-signatures and document upload creates an end-to-end digital experience. In addition, leveraging prebuilt integrations to the newest and best-in-class fraud detection and identity verification services can increase instant decisioning for higher approval rates and fewer back-office reviews.

Make the experience consistent for customers wherever they do business

If you operate banks in multiple countries, you need to provide a consistent, integrated experience across all of them. After all, many of your business customers also conduct business in multiple countries. You don’t want to require them to complete separate account-opening applications for each country.

Develop an onboarding process that allows customers to complete a single application to open accounts in multiple countries simultaneously. Equally important, give your customers the option to complete the application in the language of their choice.

Don’t stop improving the customer experience

Best practice teaches us the value of gathering real-time insights into the customer onboarding process. The deep-dive analytic tools now available with the most sophisticated application development solutions go beyond the standard analytics tools you are already using.

They enable you to see how your customers are engaging with every aspect of your application process. By analyzing customer completions, error rates, time spent on the application, help rates, number of keystrokes, and the last field interaction prior to abandonment, you can adapt the experience to make it truly extraordinary for your customers.

Leverage a proven platform to accelerate time to market and increase agility

So far, we’ve looked at how to make the process frictionless for your customers. Now we can turn to how to streamline and simplify the creation of your onboarding experience for your IT staff.

Experience shows that IT teams that try to do it all themselves invest enormous amounts of resources and time—even years—to develop features that are pre-built and readily available from third-party vendors.

DIY doesn’t have to mean “from scratch”

The smart banks leverage a platform with all the features and security required for an optimal onboarding experience already built in. A customer acquisition platform is used when a bank needs an integration hub to control the flow of the customer transaction among the applicants, external FinTech services, and the bank core systems. There are many pre-built features that help you not only create a customer onboarding experience in half the time, but also help you create the best customer onboarding experience possible.

Some top features to look for should be a server application purpose-built for sales acquisition and onboarding providing; support for all major browsers and latest versions to reduce design and testing time; a proven enterprise web hosting infrastructure enabling you to benefit from: Advanced security and reliability configurations to address encryption, access control, and multiple levels of fault tolerance.

Leveraging a platform with these capabilities not only helps your IT team create a better experience faster, it empowers you to control updates to meet regulatory requirements and market opportunities with limited IT effort. With so much time and resource savings versus engineering from scratch, your IT staff is freed to focus on more creative revenue-generating projects that can give your institution an even bigger competitive advantage.