Food truck

I think we can all agree that 2020 has not gone according to plan – with the impacts of COVID-19 hitting everyone incredibly hard on a global scale, small businesses have had an uphill battle in facing incredible financial pressures and challenges to their business strategies.

Financial institutions have been stepping up to bat for their business members and customers, particularly in facilitating access to government support programs like the Canada Emergency Business Account (CEBA) program. CEBA provided interest-free loans of up to $40,000 to eligible small businesses and not-for-profits to help cover their operating costs, which alleviated some stress for businesses across Canada (including Kitchen Kuttings who we recently interviewed). Loans and financial support are very helpful in helping our fellow businesses bounce back but it will take more than that to sustain small businesses for the long-term – what can financial institutions provide beyond this?

The Challenges are Great, but Opportunities are Greater

As we’ve covered with you recently, the small business segment presents endless opportunity – while we typically envision restaurants and boutiques as our small businesses, change in the landscape accompanied by digital transformation have enabled new forms of small business as well as a greater percentage of gig workers to thrive with many new landscapes to conduct business. With that said, the significance of small businesses across the country does not necessarily indicate stability through COVID-19. Even Central 1’s Deputy Chief Economist Bryan Yu confirmed this in his analysis of the recent business outlook report by Bank of Canada (BOC), that while sentiment is improving there is still weakness within this landscape.

How is Forge helping financial institutions to better support small business customers?

Digital Transformation – COVID-19 has certainly demonstrated the need for digital transformation and solutions that are nimble, ever-evolving and innovative. The pandemic has only sharpened the overriding desire of small businesses to have a one stop shop for all their banking and administration needs.  No longer is there an appetite to move between different distribution channels such as the branch, contact centre and online to complete daily tasks. Add to this, the distain small businesses have for any offline processes that involve paper and sending it somewhere in their time strapped world and this points to a seismic shift in expectations of their Financial institution. Simply put, status quo is over, it’s time for action.

Perhaps more surprising, neither is there the desire by small businesses to pick best in class tools from individual providers, the trend a few years ago. Fragmentation kills productivity. Small businesses have told me this over and over again.  Add in this, the tsunami of business owners retiring and the emergence of a younger generation and much higher usage of digital payment methods as 50% of the workforce consisting of Millennials and Generation Z by 2020 and 75% by 2030 per a BDC report. In providing them with the all-in-one experience with Forge Small Business, this will empower all generations of small businesses to thrive through this strange time and build connections into the future.

Enhanced Communication – While there’s often a perception that digital transformation means less person-to-person communication, it can in many ways enable more focus on relationship building. In a recent interview with Frank Chisholm at Kindred Credit Union, Frank reported that Kindred made calls to 7,000 members to learn about what support they were looking for and how to offer services in ways that were convenient and innovative, an action much appreciated by members. A recent PWC survey also confirmed the importance of this, with over 60% of survey respondents wanting to be sure the lines of communication stayed open. Fortunately, Forge Small Business is designed to simplify processes and provide direct support to customers so that financial institutions can deepen their focus on these customer relationships.

Expanding tool kit – Aside from the seamless all-in-one administrative experience and insights, there are many tools we provide to financial institutions to aid small business members through challenges. Enabled on Forge, Coconut Software allows better scheduling and time slots for calls, as well as facilities access for pickups and deliveries. The Ficanex integration is also available to automate answering most common questions, while the Do Some Good integration amplifies support to members and communities, along with the basics of Interac e-Transfers to help them get paid faster. With evolution absolutely top of mind for our partners, collaborators and those of us at Central 1, there will be so much more to come that will help financial institutions to further position their small business members towards success.

We know it’s been an incredibly unusual year, chalked full of challenges that the world could never have expected. With that said, I am proud to see how innovators and collaborators have come together to face these challenges and to work towards solutions that will enhance our communities, our families and businesses from coast to coast. Should you have any questions or interest in Forge Small Business, please visit our website or connect with me through LinkedIn and I will connect you in with our team.

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