American Express has launched a new service for small businesses that provides a way to manage their finances from a single point, a service which they call American Express Business Blueprint.
Built on the Kabbage platform, which American Express acquired in 2020, Business Blueprint features cash flow insights and a way to buy digital financial products, such as a line of credit, from American Express.
“Historically, small businesses have been underserved when it comes to smart, simple financial management tools, said Alenka Grealish, principal analyst for emerging tech at Celent. Now a few financial institutions are reinventing small business banking and delivering needed tools, she added.
Her December 2020 report, “Reinventing Small Business Banking”, shows it was even then a crowded field of innovation with companies like Square, Stripe, Amazon, Shopify and Intuit Quickbooks offering merchant payment services and analytics both directly and with partners.
Although her list of innovators is made up of fintechs she predicts that the winners in small business banking services will be banks which work with partners. American Express Business Blueprint is raising the bar in helping small businesses manage their cash flow from one place, said Grealish.
Gina Taylor, executive vice president and general manager of American Express Business Blueprint & Banking, said the company is the undisputed leader in small business cards with a customer base bigger than the next five card issuers combined in small business spend.
“We use our risk management to enable small businesses to spend more on the card and they have a lot of the benefits of earning rewards and value back,” she said. “It’s a one-stop shop to view all of your cash flows and be able to manage them,” she added.
“It comes with insights, the ability to view all of your America Express card relationships in one place and add other relationships whether a card or checking account. In one place you will be able to view all of your money in and money out and money at risk.”
Over time Amex will add more analytics as well as AI to make better recommendations, she said.
“Cash flow analysis has usually been reserved for large business,” said an Amex spokesperson. “Now they [small businesses] can run their business with American Express.”
How this differs from what Square, now Block, offers, isn’t clear.
John Maggitti, co-founder of Novel Bay Booksellers in Sturgeon Bay, Wis., was underwhelmed.
“There's nothing exciting here. Excel is free. Square does this by default,” he said. The very successful five-year old book business largely runs on Square, which offers a variety of tools to help small businesses.
As Square says on its site: “If you are a Square seller, you can also pull reports from your Square Dashboard that give you insights into sales trends and more,” it says. (For a description of the ways Square met the needs of small businesses see my article on founder Jim McElvey’s book, The Innovation Stack.)
The Amex Business Blueprint will offer free cash flow analysis.
“Any U.S. small business may access, for free, personalized cash flow insights to help them make financial decisions more confidently,” the company said in its announcement. “Small businesses may also access applications for select financial products, like a business line of credit,” the announcement said.
“Business Blueprint marks a critical next step in American Express’s vision of becoming a digital one-stop shop for small businesses’ financial needs, whether to manage their cash flow, make payments, get paid, or access working capital,” said Anna Marrs, group president of global commercial services and credit fraud risk at American Express.
While it may be a big step for Amex, its impact on small businesses remains to be seen.
Gealish wrote in “Reinventing Small Business Banking Part 2” that “Small business banking is ripe for disruption as evidenced by the onslaught of fintech and big tech players vying to capture traditional as well as new revenue streams. The winners over the next decade will not look like today’s banks.”
Aperture, a fintech research and marketing firm based in Geneva, looks for firms using the latest technology.
For instance, Assure Hedge works with partner firms to provide foreign exchange (FX) hedging for small businesses. Barry McCarthy, founder and CEO of Assure Hedge, says he started it to address the problem small and medium enterprises (SMEs) have in hedging their FX risk.
Banks don’t want to offer a price for anything less than one million, he said, and the process would be too complicated for most SMEs to bother with. Assure Hedge has removed the complexity for users.
“The products have been digitized and they're presented to the customer when they need them, in a form of the job they need done. I think that's the bit that people sometimes miss with banking products — changing forms from being like off-the-shelf banking products to being much closer to a customer’s job to be done.”
Not the 50 pages of paperwork one bank handed him when he asked about FX hedging.
Banks too can be nimble.
DBS, headquartered in Singapore, is a global leader in technology and has been named best bank in the world and best digital bank.
“SME customers came back and said they are exporting and importing and need a FX rate,” explained Nimish Panchmatia, chief data and transformation officer. “Spot rates don’t work from their planning perspective, they want a fixed rate over 7 to 10 days and it was not there in our bucket. They could buy forwards, but those are high value. This was a part of the market that banks hadn’t addressed, fixed rate for smaller payments for a short time.”
DBS now offers short-term fixed rates.
American Express Business Blueprint is entering a fast-moving and competitive marketplace.
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