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SMEs avoid high street bank accounts because of complexity, survey suggests
Published:  01 September, 2015

More than half of small businesses have avoided opening an account with a high-street bank because it is too complex, research commissioned by banking services provider Advanced Payment Solutions (APS) suggests.

For those that have applied for a traditional business bank account, respondents report having to wait more than two weeks (16 days) on average to gain approval. More than 15% of UK small and medium size enterprises (SMEs) had to wait more than 26 days before they were granted access to their business bank account, enabling them to make and receive payments. Just 6% were granted access on the day they applied.

A third of SMEs believe that "dealing with banking red tape makes operating a business a laborious task". More than one third (39%) of small businesses describe interacting with their bank as a "necessary evil of operating a business".

The survey was conducted by onepoll.com on behalf of APS in August 2015, and requested the opinion of 500 either self-employed/sole traders or intermediate/higher managers in businesses employing between one and 250 people.

It found that fees and charges mean small businesses pay an average of £468 a year to hold a business bank account with a high street bank - the equivalent of £39 per month. Such charges lead 31% of small business owners to believe that their bank "actively seeks ways to sneak in fines and fees that they do not understand".

As a consequence of complex fines and fee structures, 16% of small business owners admit that they do not know how much they are being charged to run their business bank account each month.

Gaining access to credit, including overdrafts and loans, also emerged as a key difficulty small businesses struggle to overcome when operating with high street banks. Less than a quarter of self-employed workers and small business owners in the UK have been granted access to the full amount of credit they requested from their bank. Less than half say that their credit overdraft facility is "fully meeting their business' needs".

Rich Wagner, chief executive officer and founder of APS said: "It's worrying to see that UK SMEs are finding it so difficult to gain access to a basic high street business bank account.

"The laborious credit checks and paperwork that SMEs must endure are an unnecessary hurdle, and is more to do with banks ensuring that their new small business customers will be profitable for them, than a risk assessment tool. This highlights that banks are not always best placed to serve the needs of the smallest business customers."

"There's no getting around the fact that you have to have a bank account to make and receive business payments. It is likely that a good portion of the 65% who say they do not hold a traditional business account have been declined, and are therefore being forced to rely on risky alternatives such as cash or personal bank accounts, putting their own credit scores on the line for the sake of their business.

“SMEs and self-employed workers would be wise to look beyond traditional banks to find alternatives that can meet their unique requirements and help them to run their business as smoothly and profitably as possible."

Simon McVicker, director of policy and external affairs at the Association of Independent Professionals and the Self-Employed, said: "It's hugely important that all businesses, including the self-employed, have access to a business bank account. If the facility isn't available to them, independent professionals may have no choice but to merge their personal and business incomes.

“This can result in mismanagement of funds and create significant financial problems in the future. Banks should support these microbusinesses by streamlining the process of opening a business account to make it as clear and simple as possible."