Small Business Owners Badly Want Mobile Banking: Survey

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Mobile banking services hold serious sway over small business owners, according to a new study.

Sixty-six percent of small business owners said that they would switch banks for better mobile services, according to the annual study by the research and consulting firm ath Power. But financial institutions may not be attuned to the growing demand for smartphone-friendly offerings. In 839 in-person branch visits by prospective small-business customers in the second half of 2013, 37% of bankers neglected to mention mobile banking options.

"Mobile represents opportunities and challenges for banks to attract and retain small business clientele," ath Power Chief Executive Frank Aloi said in a Tuesday press release. "Banks with mobile offerings tailored specifically for small business will achieve success by delivering differentiated features and functionality not available in standard mobile banking services."

The small business owners included in the study also rated 38 banks on customer experience. Bank of the West, Associated Banc Corp (ASBC) and JPMorgan Chase (JPM) emerged at the top of the heap, receiving respective scores of 80, 79 and 79 out of a possible 100 points. Respondents gave those banks kudos for their ability to listen closely to clients' needs, build a rapport and provide clear reasons why they were a better fit than the competition.

"Personal connections remain critical for banks seeking to acquire new small business customers," Aloi said in the release. "The most successful institutions are training bankers on how to build rapport and then using applicable research and coaching to continuously improve."

Three companies received scores of 76: Fifth Third Bancorp (FITB), U.S. Bancorp (USB) and People's United Financial (PBCT). Citigroup (NYSE: C) earned a score of 74. Union Bank and Regions Financial Corp (RF) both scored 73.

Overall, banks received an average score of 71, a decline from last year’s average of 74. The study also showed a falloff in bankers’ efforts to follow up with prospective customers. Roughly 70% of bankers asked for customers’ name and contact information, compared to 78% in 2012. Sixty-six percent asked for permission to follow up, down from 71% in in 2012.

"I felt like the banker did not want my business," said one small business owner quoted in the study. "He never tried to establish a rapport with me. The fact that he did not ask for my contact information told me he did not care if I came back to this bank or not... I was made to feel like he would take my money but wanted me to do all the work."

Bankers who fail to be proactive with small business customers are likely to lose out on business, according to the survey. Ninety percent of small business owners who were asked for permission to follow up said they would become customers, while just 62% of those who were not asked were willing to make a commitment.

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