More than five and a half million SMEs currently operate in the UK. Accounting for 99 per cent of private sector businesses, their contribution to the economy is significant. They employ more than 16 million people, 60 per cent of private sector employment in the UK.
But, as we’ve discussed previously, SMEs face numerous challenges, including the ongoing uncertainty of Brexit, the increasing prevalence and importance of digital technology, and the continuing issue of late payments from larger organisations.
Fortunately, there are an increasing number of innovative services aimed at supporting SMEs and providing them with ways to operate more effectively in these testing times. We’ve gathered just a few examples below:
Small business hubs
UK high-street banks Natwest, Lloyds Bank and Barclays are planning a series of jointly-provided business hubs to support small firms being hit by bank branch closures.
The pilot will see six business banking hubs launched across the UK, where business customers of all three banks can pay in large volumes of coins, notes and cheques and complete cash exchange transactions.
Clydesdale and Yorkshire Banking Group (CYBG) is taking another approach with its SME hub and retail store in the centre of Manchester. Part of CYBG’s digital banking brand ‘B’, the B Works facility will comprise a business banking centre, co-working space, private meeting rooms and a programme of business events.
Cash flow management solution
Payments giant Visa and financial platform Wave have developed a new payments solution designed to change how small businesses manage cash flow.
Making use of Worldpay’s payments processing platform, Wave’s Instant Payouts feature, integrates Visa’s real-time push payments solution, Visa Direct, into Wave’s small business accounting offering.
The solution should give SMEs faster access to money earned, something sure to delight merchants.
Government-backed cybersecurity toolkit
With cybersecurity an unavoidable concern for small businesses, the government recently launched a digital toolkit for small businesses and local authorities to test their capabilities and boost their resilience to cyberattack.
‘Exercise in a Box’ is a free online tool, designed by the National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC), that includes a technical simulation and ‘table-top discussion’.
The launch of the tool follows government security officials making Industry100, an initiative promoting close collaboration between industry and the NCSC, a permanent feature of the UK’s security landscape.
Self-service invoices app
Recent research carried out in the UK on behalf of global payments provider Square showed cash flow to be the second-biggest overall concern for UK small business owners, affecting 41 per cent of businesses.
In response to this, Square recently launched the Square Invoices app in the UK. The initiative provides retailers with a self-service tool for creating, managing and sending invoices from anywhere.
The app adds extra functionality to help small businesses get paid quickly. This includes sending quotes and requesting deposits, issuing recurring invoices and automated reminders.
Innovative SME financial products on the horizon
The Banking Competition Remedies scheme aims to boost competition in small business lending by allocating cash to challenger banks, earmarked for them to improve the financial products and services they offer to SMEs.
Nationwide Building Society, Investec Bank and The Co-operative Bank were recently granted a total of £80 million from the fund. Earlier this year Metro Bank, Starling Bank and ClearBank shared £280 million between them.