In a recent survey by Raddon Financial Group, businesses that were asked which factors they would weigh if they were to consider switching financial institutions cited pricing, service and convenience as the top three.

In pricing, more than 84 percent of respondents said competitive fees on business products and services were the chief factor. More than 14 percent of small businesses surveyed said they had switched financial providers in the last two years because of subpar service and issues with fees.

Clearly, these businesspeople feel strongly about bank fees. Here are ways banks can avoid losing their business.

Offer free business checking. Business checking is not subject to the truth-in-savings restrictions on the use of the term "free," so banks can still set monthly limits on the number of items before a usage fee is imposed, even under the free business checking structure.

The number of free items offered varies widely - from as low as 200 to 500 a month. Assess your business checking account customer activity to determine the appropriate maximum.

Offer product bundling or package accounts. Raddon found that 14 percent of small businesses overall use a business-services package account, but this increases to 31 percent for businesses with sales of $2 million to $10 million.

Small businesses have made cost cutting a high priority with the economy struggling, and banks looking to retain them should offer better deals, depending on the relationship.

Allow small businesses to pay for business services through personal account balances. Over one-fifth (22 percent) of small businesses said that the fact that they had personal accounts at an institution was the reason they selected it for their business banking. Moreover, 51 percent of the small businesses Raddon surveyed said they had the same primary financial institution for business and personal financial relationships.

Bundle remote deposit capture into the pricing of business services. Many banks charge business customers for the equipment, such as scanners. Instead, bundle it into the pricing for the relationship to become more price-competitive.

For the business customer, it will be more costly to leave or switch banks, because they will most likely be required to pay for the remote deposit capture equipment at their next financial institution.

Channel price, especially for small businesses. Allow business customers to offset their account costs through the use of multiple delivery channels.

It is important to remember that small-business customers behave much more like high-end consumers, albeit with more transactional activity.

For instance, six in 10 small businesses use online banking, and almost five in 10 use online bill pay.

Mobile banking is also a growing channel for businesses. If delivery channel pricing is appropriate for the consumer market, then it is also appropriate for the small-business market.

Offer referral bonuses. Raddon's research indicates that 38 percent of small businesses learned of their primary financial institution from another small-business owner.

Roughly 20 to 25 percent of banks' small-business customers change institutions every two to three years, so it behooves banks to encourage referrals and to offer referral rewards. In some cases, technology is holding financial institutions back from offering some or all of these strategies. Having a strong core foundation can make implementing them easy.

During these difficult economic times, banks across the United States have the opportunity to look at their underlying foundation and decide how prepared they are to thrive once the economy turns around. Now is the time to determine if your core platform is capable of meeting your goals in this new world we live in.

In addition to these suggested strategies, it is critical to remember that small businesses have been especially hard hit in this economy by the across-the-board changes that larger banks have instituted to minimize their own risk, especially in regards to credit. Many healthy small businesses have had their credit lines cut even though there is no real change in risk for that business.

At the same time, however, banks do not need to focus solely on credit. A high percentage of small businesses will never borrow money, choosing instead to self-fund, so banks would be wise to make sure pricing and product structures are not tied only to credit.

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