With early recovery now in play, it’s important to examine the needs of small businesses in the Canadian market. Labour Force Survey estimates indicate that small establishments employed about 65% of Canadians in 2019, indicating them as a significant backbone of our economy. Now that businesses are in the process of reopening, there are new challenges to face.
As we often like to do when we’re developing products or seeing changes in our industry, we wanted to hear how this experience has been for both a financial institution and a small business. For this, we went to Kindred Credit Union, a member-owned financial cooperative based in Kitchener, Ontario that’s been supporting their community for over fifty years. Their small business customer, Kitchen Kuttings is a specialty food store operating for over 31 years in Elmira, Ontario. Beginning initially as a booth at a local farmers market, Kitchen Kuttings quickly progressed into a storefront, and eventually developed a café concept in 2019. Incredibly popular in the community and yet the impact of COVID-19 has still been challenging to maneuver. Here’s what Co-Owner Elmeda Weber had to say on the subject:
How has this pandemic impacted your business?
The first difference we noticed was less in-store shoppers than before, especially at the café. We made the decision to close the café for 4 weeks to focus on store business. We started offering free delivery when people became more hesitant to visit and removed browsing in-store for a while. When reopening the store, we implemented plastic screens at our counters and enhanced our food sanitization processes. Things are picking up, but it seemed business was forced to start all over again. We are thankful to our loyal customers, and supportive community who have stayed with us for more than 30 years.
What did you notice around digital and payment solutions through this period?
Before the pandemic, we had been accepting cash and card, and when it began, we introduced Interac e-Transfers for our deliveries and drop-offs, which many of our customers opted for and are still using. Having the option of using tap on payment cards has also become popular, as no one is physically touching anything.
How do you feel digital impacts your business, and/or businesses in your community?
We noticed a spike of website traffic especially in the spring for the online store. As we move through this summer, we’ve been working towards enhancing our website to fully facilitate our online customers while implementing other great additions like a delivery partner.
What financial and business tools do you wish you had to help you through these months?
To have the ability to have a complete overview of how our business is doing, and to have everything in one place for peace of mind. This could be a great asset so that we can focus more on customer engagement and improvements to our website and delivery processes.
How did Kindred Credit Union support you through this time?
We are very happy with Kindred – they’re easy to work with and worked with us as we’ve grown. They assisted us in acquiring the $40,000 CEBA loan which was right at the time when we needed it the most, we really appreciated their support in this crisis. To other businesses going through this alongside us – this experience will be a learning curve – don’t stress yourself. When you make mistakes, do not be too hard on yourself, and try to go with the flow.
It’s always great to hear that the people-first processes put in place to support are genuinely helping. So, how have financial institutions dealt with these challenging times? We spoke to Frank Chisholm, Director, Brand and Marketing, at Kindred Credit Union to understand how the credit union maintained its focus on the changing needs of their business base and helped them each step of the way.
KINDRED CREDIT UNION
What was it like to support your members through an unprecedented crisis like this?
We immediately began adapting our practices as things evolved – we fast-tracked solutions that enabled members to do distanced banking like phone and video appointments and launching e-signature to reduce the need for signing in-person. Many members qualified for government support programs, and we were among the first to offer access to these programs directly. To accomplish all of this, Kindred needed reliability from our service providers. Through Central 1 and CCUA, we received information and interpretations of government policy, like what the lockdown meant, what did we need to do to open safely, how could we protect staff, etc. We also made calls to 7,000 members and learned a great deal about what support they were looking for and how we could offer our services in ways that were convenient, safe, and innovative.
You’re launching on the Forge Digital Banking platform soon – what are you most excited about in terms of enhancing your member experience and continuing to support your members through this challenging year?
It’s fair to say that pretty much everything digital is accelerating and has been for some time. This is as true for Kindred and our members as it is for anyone else. Forge is a key technology we plan to use to be a leader in the digital space as we develop a new public site, online banking, and mobile app. We need a platform that takes care of all the basics that every financial institution needs to provide and also offers the ability to create innovative solutions for people that really want to connect their values with their finances. Open innovation means that we can create the unique capabilities that our members desire and we can share them with other credit unions that would like to follow a similar path. As a cooperative, we’re eager to collaborate with other credit unions to advance our shared digital priorities more quickly. As an Open Innovation platform, Forge provides that opportunity.
FORGE WILL ENABLE SMALL BUSINESS GROWTH
Based on Elmeda and Frank’s experiences, it’s clear this year has required nimble solutions and coming together as a community to overcome the many challenges faced both at financial institutions and business customer levels. The typical small business that had simple needs now requires a toolkit of digital features that will help businesses drive that experience, enabling them to focus further on deepening customer relationships and value. When Central 1 conducted research with over 1,500 small businesses in 2016, we identified there was a need for financial institutions to move beyond simply providing balances on accounts and simple payments, and to provide tools that would help businesses run more effectively and succeed. This included tools such as actionable insights that would act as a guiding hand to help business owners with their financial affairs. This is more important now as we deal with the financial administration related to pandemic support.
These insights have formed the basis for our Forge Small Business experience that will be launching this year. With an enhanced digital experience, electronic payment solutions and an exciting roadmap of tools, an experience like this will enable small businesses like Elmeda’s to streamline and build, while easily leveraging third-party tools to become even more effective. It is this that will differentiate financial institutions as true advocates and partners to small businesses across Canada.
As small businesses adapt, they require an agile financial institution that listens and evolves with their expectations. To learn more about how Forge can enable you to tap into the next-level of digital banking and accelerate the digital transformative experience to retain and grow your small business base, contact your Relationship Manager at Central 1, or if you’re new to Central 1 reach out to us by email.