Small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) are major actors in the Belgian economy. Are they receiving the full attention they need and deserve from banks? To find out, Accenture increased the scope of its annual Market Pulse Survey in 2020 to also look at SMEs’ current experience of the banking industry and to gauge their future expectations. Our study reveals that SMEs in Belgium desire a deeper relationship with their banks, acting as real business partners, able to unlock doors for SMEs. 

In this article, we discuss how banks can build a more meaningful relationship with their SME customers depending on their size, maturity level or industry, and keep these important players close to them.  


Help me excel 

Through our survey of 400 Belgian SMEs, it becomes apparent that the current banking relationship is not necessarily what these businesses desire. Forty-five percent of SMEs currently feel left alone by their bank and only approach their bank when they need simple financial products. Only 18% want this kind of relationship 

Our study reveals that 23% of SMEs are looking for a much deeper ‘help me excel’ relationship where banks actively help them to address business issues and provide a wider range of products and services

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Yet, only 13% of SMEs currently claim to enjoy such a deep relationship with their bank.

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This gap between how SMEs assess the current relationship with their bank and the kind of relationship they actually want offers an opportunity for banks to take action and position themselves as THE business partner of SMEs. The rewards include increased market share, differentiation and a whole new ecosystem to play with.  


3 key actions banks should take

#1: Take traditional banking a step further

Banks must focus on continuing to satisfy SMEs traditional banking needs. They have a strong foundation to build on. Satisfaction levels are currently high, with 75% of SMEs considering their core needs well-answered. 

Still, there is room for improvement when it comes to meeting the demand for non-daily banking products and services (e.g. borrowing money, financing a project, investing in funds…). Contrary to popular belief, our survey reveals that lending and financing activities are not necessarily the main levers for the bank/SME relationshipOnly half of SMEs surveyed reach out to their main business bank when they need to borrow money or finance a new projectSaving and investment products and services deserve equal attention from banks with 49% of SMEs using them. 

 Another key challenge is the fierce competition that banks are facing within this traditional banking battleground: one out of two SMEs are tempted to reach out to other banks, traditional providers (i.e. international trade agency, insurers…) or fintechs for banking products and services.  

Banks who are looking to gain market share should seize this opportunity to become the main partner of SMEs in the traditional banking ecosystem by connecting more with other (new) players to provide a seamless experience throughout the SME banking journey. Some banks are already doing this by expanding their core offer horizontally to include insurance products and services via partnerships with traditional insurance providers.  

#2Explore the beyond banking space 

The beyond banking space encompasses products and services that are not typically offered by financial services providers (i.e. Legal services, IT & Technology servicesHR services). Our Market Pulse Survey 2020 reveals that 30% of SMEs are interested in these kinds of products and services. This percentage is even higher for specific services such as Tax (53%)Accounting (51%), Legal topics (49%), IT & Technology (38%) and Financial Management (35%). 

The level of appetite changes according to the size of the SME, with specific groups of SMEs showing more interest than others. For example, the overall interest in beyond banking services reaches 49% for larger SMEs (>10 employeesand 42% for SMEs still in expansion. 

Not only do SMEs show an interest in beyond banking services, they also express a willingness to pay for these services (66% of SMEs that show an interest). This is a clear opportunity for banks to become the kind of business partner SMEs are looking for and at the same time unlock new revenue streams  

However, the survey also shows that 62% of SMEs that show an interest in these services would choose a traditional provider (e.g. tax specialist, accountant or lawyer) rather than a bankTo overcome this preferencebanks will need to create a fluid customer experience by partnering with traditional providers of these servicesBanks will need to transform both inside and outside to ensure that SMEs clearly see the added value of the new ecosystem 

#3Enhance customer experience so SMEs stay close to their bank 

Understanding what SMEs value is crucial to ensure they stay close to their bank and stay for the right reasons. 

Our survey shows that 60% of SMEs interviewed would stick with the same bank if they had to start all over again, while 40% would choose another bank. There is a big difference between the reasons why each group would do this. Loyal SME customers stay because of the trusted or well-established reputation of the bank. Leavers overwhelmingly stay out of habit. 

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WITH  40%

of SME customers potentially at risk, banks should evaluate what makes their loyal SME customers stay (and stay satisfied) through customer surveys, data analysis (traffic volume analytics, sales tracking…) etc.

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According to our survey resultsbanks should also build on and improve their online channels, the customer experience in branches and the overall quality of (customer) services. By working on all these levers, banks can create a seamless and delightful customer experience that will sway the attitude of SMEs ready to leave from indifference to positivism.  


Embrace new partners to reinvigorate the SME relationship

If banks want to keep SMEs close to them, they need to become THE go-to business partner throughout the entire SME banking journey. This means opening up to third parties and repositioning themselves as facilitators in the evolving traditional banking and beyond banking spaceIt will require deep internal transformation and a shift in perceptions externally so that SMEs understand what banks can offer. At the same time, banks must not forget to continuously invest in their core business activities and in the customer experience, which as a trusted banking and business partner, will be more crucial than ever. 

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 This Article has been co-written by Pierre Saey.


Adrien Kirschfink

Managing Director – Strategy & Consulting

Isabelle Festraets

Senior Manager Financial Services at Accenture Belux

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