In brief

In brief

  • Extracted from Accenture research, this guide aims to help commercial banks serve the SME market e­ffectively, efficiently, and profitably.
  • Our research confirms that while SMEs remain an important segment for major banks, they also represent a difficult segment to serve.

Commercial banks have an opportunity to help SMEs

Small and medium enterprises (SMEs), the backbone of most of the world’s economies, have been hit hard by COVID-19. Half of the 1,300 we polled in May 2020 had seen a significant decrease in sales. Commercial bankers we talked to expect 10 to 30 percent of SMEs to go bankrupt due to a lack of cash flow and disrupted supply chains brought on by the pandemic.

Banks have played a critical short-term role as fast and at-scale distributors of public-backed loans to help alleviate the initial economic distress of eligible SMEs. Looking longer term, banks that help SMEs optimize new capital and adapt their operations to survive through—and thrive after—COVID-19 will not only fulfill their social purpose but also build trust in their organization. It means being a partner that can better serve the segment in the form of a human connection efficiently provided by an empowered relationship manager, as well as simple self-service digital tools, relevant value-added services and the right tailored advice.

The SME segment is too important and strategic for the bank to ignore...any perception that our bank does not support SMEs might have long-lasting negative repercussions.


But banks must also safeguard their profitability

Many banks have struggled to attract, retain and serve SMEs profitably. Our analysis shows that only 30 percent of large banks are achieving sustainable positive returns in their commercial banking units and the SME segment, specifically, underperforms with regard to almost all profitability drivers.

Historically, banks’ primary hurdles to profitability in the SME segment included compressed margins, high cost to serve, ineffective segmentation criteria and services ill-suited to SME needs. These internal challenges are being emphasized and, in some cases, amplified by COVID-19’s economic impact.

Winners will likely hone four key traits

We expect that those banks aiming to be both relevant and profitable providers of services to SMEs will work toward shared goals with their SME customers for win-win, trusted relationships. It means serving the segment in a new way, demonstrating more commitment and determination across four key characteristics: empathy, responsiveness, focus and efficiency.

1. More empathetic


  • Proactive and preemptive in customer engagements
  • Fair at all times
  • Trusted—being consistent, informed and purpose-driven
  • Forward-looking

2. More responsive


  • Deep customer understanding
  • Active customer engagement and feedback
  • Proposition flexibility
  • Affordable innovation coupled with operational agility

3. More focused

Relentless in:

  • Creating value for the customer and the bank
  • Seamless in delivering enhanced propositions
  • Hyper-personalized customer service

4. More efficient


  • Technology transformation
  • A data-driven operating model
  • AI, intelligent automation and cloud tooling
  • Third-party activation and integration

View All

Five steps to mastering these traits

To enable and hone the key traits, a commercial bank will need to pull these five levers:

  1. A relevant value proposition underpinned by a clear purpose.
  2. Technology transformation powered by next-generation platforms, cloud, artificial intelligence and intelligent automation.
  3. A data-driven operating model, enabling analytics and data supremacy.
  4. Openness to capitalize on digital ecosystems and best-of-breed technology and partnerships.
  5. Empowered bankers who optimize the potential of “human + machine”

We believe it’s critical that commercial banks improve their ability to serve their SME customers profitably, and can help your bank get started in doing so.

Contact our team for a more detailed view of the research findings and information on how we can help you start your journey to be the go to bank for SMEs.

SIBOS Podcast Series Interview: Commercial Banks and the SME Market

Jared Rorrer, Accenture’s Global Commercial Banking Lead and Tom Merry from Accenture Strategy offer advice on what it takes to find the sweet spot between heroic service and bank profitability in this podcast interview.

View Transcript

Jared Rorrer

Managing Director – Global Commercial Banking Lead

Tom Merry

Managing Director – Accenture Strategy, Banking

Goffredo Amodio

Managing Director – Banking & Capital Markets, Accenture Strategy


COVID-19 evolves the commercial banking relationship manager
COVID-19 and the looming credit crisis
Commercial Banking Top Trends in 2022

Our leaders

Subscription Center
Visit our Subscription and Preference Center Visit our Subscription and Preference Center