Small businesses want banks to add more of a personal touch.

Nearly a quarter of owners of companies with less than $10 million in annual revenue want their bank to make adjustments to meet their individual needs, according to a survey published Monday by U.S. Bank (USB).

More than 20% of small businesses owners also want their banks to make more money available and to connect them with other small business owners. A fifth of those who participated in the study want their bank to serve as a financial mentor, according to the fourth edition of the Small Business Annual Survey.

"Customers have always told us they want a relationship, regardless of their size," Kent Stone, U.S. Bank's vice chairman for consumer and small business banking sales and support, told American Banker. "That means access, information and preferred treatment whether they have a kiosk in a mall or a multi-billion dollar business."

On the whole, the relationship between banks and small businesses continues to trend positively. More than 80% of small business owners say they have maintained or increased their opinion of their primary bank in the past year, compared with 79% who felt that way the last two years and 76% who reported similar feelings in 2010.

Roughly half of small business owners have maintained or increased their opinion of the banking industry, compared with 40% whose opinion stayed the same or rose in 2012 and 33% who felt that way in 2011.

The finding reveals that small businesses are fully aware that banks and other financial firms are competing for their business, according to U.S. Bank. "We've had to continually up our game and we're continually listening to customers," Stone said.

Fewer small business owners say they are borrowing money. Thirteen percent of those surveyed said they have borrowed money or tried to borrow money for business purposes over the last six months, compared with 19% who applied for a loan in 2012, according to the survey.

At the same time, 52% of small business owners say they find the process of obtaining a loan to be easy, up from 49% last year and 36% in 2011.

Banking also figures prominently into small business owners' use of technology. Of the five categories of smartphone apps small business owners say they use most, the top two uses tie to banking: 37% of small business owners saying they use apps to access bank or credit card accounts, while 32% say they use an app to account for funds or pay bills.

Small business owners are divided over whether the economy is improving, with roughly 45% saying the economy is recovering and 45% saying it remains in a recession. The federal budget deficit tops the list of national issues that concern small business owners, followed by unemployment, healthcare and taxes.

Nationwide, owners of small business are tempering their outlook. Sixteen percent of small business owners say they expect to hire in the coming year, down from 20% last year and 22% in 2011. Forty-one percent of small business owners say they expect revenue to rise next year, compared with 46% last year and 49% a year earlier.

The online survey of 3,210 small business owners was conducted in January on behalf of U.S. Bank by Market Probe, a global research firm.

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