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What Are Neobanks and What Do They Mean for SMEs?

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Online banking is nothing new. It’s been around since 1994, and in more recent years it’s become mainstream for both consumers and businesses. As of 2018, over 54.2% of Australians used online banking, with 46.5% accessing their accounts on mobile devices.

The concept of neobanks, however, is still quite fresh and something many SMEs will have a vested interest in.

 

What are Neobanks?

A neobank is a type of bank that’s completely digital where apps and online platforms are used to support customers rather than physical branches. All aspects of banking are done 100% online.

Neobanks offer many of the same services as traditional banks such as checking and savings accounts, money transfer services and business loans. They just don’t have brick-and-mortar branches like traditional banks do. They’re also known for using cutting-edge fintech such as artificial intelligence and machine learning to provide customers with high-level service and a streamlined experience. 

Due to the fact that they’re inherently digital, neobanks appeal to tech-centric individuals and those who prefer to do their banking online.

 

Neobanks are Quickly Growing

It should also be noted that neobanks are being heavily invested in, which is fueling rapid growth.

“Global investment in payment services and neobanks at the end of last year increased by more than 40% — up to 12.6 billion dollars over 2017,” explains payment processing platform Bilderlings. The furthest ahead are Australia and the US, as well as the countries of Scandinavia and Europe.”

From 2004 to 2010, only 6 neobanks were founded. Between 2011 to 2016, that number rose to 28. And from 2016 to mid-2019, it spiked to 45


This data clearly shows that neobanks are gaining momentum, and a growing number of financial institutions will strictly operate online in the future.

 

How Can SMEs Use Neobanks?

Like we mentioned earlier, you can do many of the same things with neobanks that you can with traditional ones with physical branches. So SMEs can use them for everyday things like storing money in an online savings account and transferring funds. 

For instance, Xinja allows you to open an account in seconds and offers all of the essential features of a bank account and debit card without any ATM or account fees. It syncs with Apple Pay and Google Pay, allowing you to conveniently make business purchases. 

86 400 lets you open a “Pay Account” where you can also use Apple Pay and Google Pay, as well as Samsung Pay, Fitbit Pay, Visa Debit, and more. They also offer a “Save Account” where you earn 2.25% p.a. when you deposit at least $1,000 a month, making it a good option for business owners who are looking to build up their monetary reserves. 

You can also turn to neobanks for small business loans — a move that’s appealing to many SMEs given the often slow and meticulous nature of the traditional bank lending process. And considering traditional banks have collectively been more reluctant to hand out business loans ever since the 2008 financial crisis, many SMEs have a better chance of obtaining funding through a neobank.

 

The Pros of Neobanks

There’s a lot of excitement around this new form of banking, and understandably so. It offers many benefits, with the speed and simplicity of the platforms being one of the biggest. Neobanks are adopters of sophisticated, up-to-date technology, which can be a huge advantage for business owners. 

You can easily manage your finances from an online dashboard, even while you’re on the go. This means no more driving to the bank, filling out checks and invoices or waiting in line. As a result, you can stay on top of your business expenses and be notified whenever it’s time to make a payment from one convenient interface. On top of that, It can also be used to predict account activity, giving you a financial edge. 

Another advantage of neobanks is the level of transparency they offer. By having condensing all of your business’s financial information in one place, you always have a bird’s eye view of what’s happening, how much money is coming in and where your money is going. 86 400, for example, can connect accounts from over 150 financial institutions, which creates a full financial picture. 

They also tend to be low cost and don’t have as many fees as most traditional banks. With 86 400 there’s no:

  • Monthly account fee
  • Payments for using their app
  • Fees for domestic card payments
  • Fees for most ATM cash withdrawals
  • Replacement card fees

This is big when you’re a business owner looking to save anywhere you can. 

And when it comes to business loans, neobanks are quickly becoming a more desirable choice for SMEs because of how fast it is to apply and the increased odds of obtaining financing. “Businesses that applied to online lenders were “attracted by the speed of credit decisions, improved funding chances and lack of collateral requirements,” according to a 2017 Small Business Credit Survey by FED Small Business

So this is definitely something to keep in mind when you’re choosing between a neobank and a traditional one.

 

The Cons of Neobanks

Perhaps the main drawback is that not all neobanks are covered under the Australian Government Guarantee Scheme, which guarantees deposits up to $250,000. If you happen to place your money in a neobank that’s not covered, you can potentially find yourself in a scary situation. That’s you should always ensure a neobank is covered by looking through their terms and conditions. 

For example, Xinja addresses this and specifically states that money is protected by the Australian government up to $250,000. 


The potential for technical issues can be another major problem for business owners. For instance, if an app or software malfunctions and there’s a serious glitch, it may be inoperable for a period of time, meaning you can’t access your banking. So any downtime on a neobank’s end can greatly hurt your business. 

There’s also a lack of laws and regulations surrounding this industry at the moment. We’re currently in a bit of a “wild west” stage where neobanks aren’t nearly regulated to the same extent that traditional banks are. This can create some concerns for SMEs because it may not always be obvious who’s responsible for a problem, and you won’t necessarily have any well-defined legal recourse. 

And considering that neobanks are 100% digital, they’re probably not a good choice for business owners who still value the human touch and prefer to speak with customer service reps face-to-face. While many platforms have adequate customer service, with some even offering it around the clock, it’s hard to reach the same level of customer service of traditional banks at the moment.

 

The New Frontier of Banking

Banking has evolved a lot over the 21st century, and neobanks are one of the newest manifestations of progress. Heavy investing is fueling their rapid growth, and this type of digital banking will only continue to catch on throughout the 2020s. 

Neobanks present some great opportunities for SMEs, mainly because their efficiency, transparency, low cost and potential as a business loan resource. However, SMEs should also be aware of the drawbacks and understand any issues that can arise. 

That way if you do decide to go this route, you’ll be well informed and shouldn’t have any major curveballs. 

 

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