60% of UK SMEs avoid high street banks

New research, commissioned by Advanced Payment Solutions (APS) reveals the complexities that UK SMEs face when attempting to open a business bank account, to the extent that over half of small businesses have never tried to open an account with a high-street bank.

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. Over 15% of UK SMEs had to wait over 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.

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With paperwork and extensive credit checks delaying, and in some cases eliminating, many UK small businesses from trading, it is perhaps unsurprising that a third of SMEs believe that ‘dealing with banking red tape makes operating a business a laborious task’. Meanwhile, over one third (39%) of small businesses in the UK describe interacting with their bank as a ‘necessary evil of operating a business’.

Unfortunately, for self-employed workers or small business owners looking to open a business bank account, it’s not just the time delay that proves to be a challenge. The survey found that fees and charges mean that small businesses are paying 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.

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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, CEO and Founder of APS commented, “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 IPSE, the Association of Independent Professionals and the Self-Employed, commented: “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 micro-businesses by streamlining the process of opening a business account to make it as clear and simple as possible.”


About the survey

Survey conducted on in August 2015. Total number of respondents – 500 UK adults, either self-employed/sole traders or intermediate/higher managers in businesses with 1-250 employees.

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