As competition for small-business customers continues to grow, banks are adding products and beefing up staff in hopes of drawing new clients.
More than 90% of banks intend to offer new products for small businesses this year, according to a survey released this week by the Consumer Bankers Association. Cash management, sweep accounts, and individual retirement accounts have become standard fare at almost all banks surveyed, and a growing number say they now offer private banking, payroll services, insurance, and tax planning as well.
The survey, which polled 38 banks, with a combined $3.3 trillion of assets, found that bankers are increasing their product offerings in anticipation of a shift in who they will be competing against.
While 89% said they consider local banks to be a top competitor today, only 59% said they expect those banks will remain so in five years. American Express Co. and Merrill Lynch & Co. - considered today by respondents to be competitors by only 18% and 16%, respectively - were viewed as competitors in five years by 29% and 23%, respectively.
Insurance companies did not register as a top competitor today, but 5% expect them to be one in coming years.
Banks hope that by increasing their products and services, they can form broader relationships with their customers, according to Kathleen C. McClave, a consultant with Tillinghast-Towers Perrin in New York who conducted the survey. In a summary, Ms. McClave wrote that in coming years banks will continue to look at their offerings to make sure they are giving customers exactly what they want.
"We expect more banks to rationalize product lines and to focus on the customers who can and will use a broader set of products," she wrote.
As they expand their offerings, most banks are also increasing their staffing levels. More than 90% said they have recently boosted their sales staff devoted to small-business or plan to do so during the next 18 months.
The bankers surveyed said that they felt these improvements have brought their product line up to snuff, but many said that work is still needed on advertising. Only 18% said they felt that other banks have an advantage in deposit products, for example, but 47% said competitors did have an advantage in telemarketing, and two-thirds said other banks have a leg up in mass-market advertising.
Banks that have gone through mergers in recent years said they are trying special tactics to keep customers. Nearly 80% of respondents said they called customers more frequently to make sure that accounts were not affected by changes. About 47% said they increased advertising, and 21% said they tracked customer reactions and changes in banking patterns.
But despite those efforts, 46% of the banks said that merger activity in their markets has brought them more customers at the expense of the merged institutions.