Most bankers think of social media or online banking when they consider customer acquisition channels. However, there is another dimension to multichannel — using a bank's existing consumer retail customer base to reach those individuals who are also small-business owners.

With today's e-communications platforms, it's easy to go after this segment.

First, let's look at the opportunity it presents.

Statistics from the U.S. Census 2007 Survey of Business Owners indicate that the U.S. has approximately 25 million small businesses with annual sales of less than $1 million. Of these, approximately 23 million have no employees. Another 10 million individuals are self-employed.

These businesses and self-employed individuals are a golden opportunity for bankers. According to a March 2010 report from Barlow Research Associates, a small-business customer relationship generates an estimated $5,173 in net revenue to a bank each year. These estimates are based on a total view of the customer relationship, including short- and long-term loans, demand deposit accounts and other business banking products, balances and fees.

According to Raddon Financial Group's 2009 Small Business Survey, most small-business owners are more likely to use a local bank (55%) or a credit union (35%) than a large bank because of what has happened in the banking industry.

But community institutions still have a great opportunity to capture the combined personal and small-business-owner banking relationship.

Raddon estimates that only 50% of small-business operators use the same financial institution for both their business and personal accounts. Banks that seize this opportunity stand to benefit, as relationship profitability can more than double when banks capture the full mixed household (JD Power 2009 Small Business Banking Satisfaction Survey).

The big banks clearly recognize this opportunity.

Bank of America announced in late 2010 that it planned to hire more than 1,000 small-business bankers by 2012. A number of others, including Chase, Citibank and even nontraditional institutions such as Sam's Club, have announced small-business hirings and product rollouts.

Barlow Research indicates that 67% of small-business owners do not receive a phone call initiated by their bank and 76% have never received a visit at their place of business.

Branch bankers, already stretched for resources, need to communicate better with their small-business customers.

Identifying customers who have both consumer and business accounts and developing strategies for owning the entire relationship is a challenge for bankers. Most banks operate separate lines of business for consumer and small-business customers, so they are unable to view the entire customer relationship. They tend to think that CRM, data warehouse and customer analytic implementations are the only way to capitalize on this opportunity, but for most smaller institutions building such programs takes too long or costs too much.

While bankers are beginning to recognize the opportunity within combined personal and small-business relationships, they have had little success identifying small-business owners within their retail customer base or those retail customers who own small businesses but don't have their business accounts at their bank.

While organizational silos hamper communication and coordination between the consumer and small-business groups, there are now easy means for mining the opportunity within these two segments. Various e-communications solutions offer banks an easy method for identifying small-business customers within their retail customer accounts and marketing to them.

Bankers should take the initial steps toward acquiring and serving the small-business customer. Those who wait to implement a long-term solution encompassing a total view of the customer relationship risk losing critical small-business market share to aggressive competitors.