Much the way personal financial management has changed retail online banking by providing the newly budget-conscious consumer with a portal to fiscal transparency, banks are betting the mix of analysis and peer comparisons will prove just as sticky in the small-business market.
U.S. Bancorp is rolling out ScoreBoard, an online reporting tool that lets businesses monitor their spending and compare card sales data to other firms.
"If you're a restaurant, for example, and going through the economic crisis, you can look at other business like yours and see month-to-month data to figure out if you're doing better than your peers," said Robert Kaufman, U.S. Bank's senior vice president for small business.
U.S. Bank offers the free service to its small-business cardholders and merchant-processing clients — a total client base of more than one million. Kaufman did not disclose adoption numbers, as the product has been available for only a short time.
ScoreBoard stores three years of historical data and makes that information available on a dashboard through which small businesses or merchant processors can perform a variety of spending and financial performance analysis.
ScoreBoard can also download reports to be viewed within Intuit Inc.'s desktop financial management software QuickBooks, which Kaufman said 60% of small businesses use, or as a spreadsheet or PDF file. It includes charts and graphs to provide a monthly snapshot of credit card transactions and payments.
ScoreBoard was developed with Visa Inc. and uses Information Builders' WebFocus user interface. WebFocus uses combines business activity monitoring and complex event-processing for reporting purposes.
Christine Barry, a research director at Aite Group, said that given the breadth of information that small businesses need to track — and the fact that the small-business market has been relatively underserved by financial companies — banks are increasing both the function and usability of their financial management services for small businesses.
"Most small businesses have been just checking their balances," she said.
Steve Murphy, a research director for wholesale banking at TowerGroup, said the activities of small businesses are expanding to include more "large business" type functions, such as cross-border payments. "There is a market for this [self-directed financial management]," Murphy said, adding that SunTrust Banks Inc., KeyCorp, PNC Financial Services Group Inc. and large Canadian banks are actively tapping the space.
A recent startup, InDinero Inc., which is funded by the venture capital firm YCombinator, offers a dashboard that links to a firm's bank accounts and tracks balances, income, profit and other data.
Jessica Mah, inDinero's co-founder and chief executive, said the new firm hopes to partner with banks to reach the small-business market. "Accounting software was built for accountants," she said. "Business owners need an equivalent, and we have not seen that."
Wells Fargo & Co. has also built a small-business management system that allows a range of functions, such as a tool enabling users to manage and monitor employee purchases and track debit transactions and bill payments.
The big difference between small business financial management and consumer PFM "is that small businesses are looking to monitor business expenses and are paying close attention to receivables," said Richard Weeks, a senior vice president at Well Fargo.