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How banks can support businesses working remotely

Apr 23, 2020 / Consumer Banking

The COVID-19 pandemic is forcing banks’ mid-market business customers to make difficult decisions every day about how to keep their companies running while keeping employees, customers and stakeholders safe. In most states, companies have been forced to go entirely remote – for some this is not a huge shift, but for others it creates a significant learning curve.

Thankfully, there are digital tools like Zoom and Slack that help coworkers more easily communicate, but these tools do not solve every company’s or employee’s remote work challenges. Just as each business has unique needs, individual departments within each business have unique needs as well – many that cannot be solved with a video conference line.

The finance departments of these businesses – the department banks primarily interact with – is a prime example. Their work is critical to the operations of all businesses, and even more so during challenging times like we are currently experiencing with the global pandemic.

Yet, surprisingly, the finance function in mid-market companies is one that is often the most reliant on in-office work and the one least prepared for the remote work scenarios unfolding around us today. Manual invoice processing and generation, check-writing, in-person approvals, required signatures and lots of paper still define many finance environments. Taking functions like this remote can be difficult, but it is something that must be done, not only to keep the business going, but to keep finance professionals safe and healthy during this time.

Many mid-market companies have delayed moving their finance functions entirely online. They are not confident that consumer-oriented tools are secure or capable enough to meet their needs, and enterprise-level solutions are too complex and expensive. So we still see large swaths of companies doing it the old-fashioned way.

Banks can help with critical business challenges

As the trusted financial advisor for many businesses, business customers turn to banks at times like these to help solve their critical business challenges. Right now, banks have the opportunity to step in and fill a critical gap that goes far beyond providing working capital. Offering modern integrated platforms that allow finance teams to keep their businesses running smoothly even when it may not look like business as usual is a way to provide deep value to your clients, create customer loyalty and develop new revenue opportunities.

Services like accounts payable (AP) automation and integrated payables allow finance departments to work from anywhere they have an Internet connection. They may also reduce the cost and time spent on AP and provide greater visibility into cash flow, and they may bring an additional layer of fraud protection to these businesses from payments fraud and phishing scams that are on the rise due to COVID-19. By adding virtual card payments to an AP or payment automation platform, banks can help finance teams keep the business running smoothly by providing direct access to working capital and allowing businesses to operate effectively during these times of great uncertainty.

In today’s uncertain environment, it’s especially difficult to think about the long term. Fortunately, banks can offer services and provide benefit to their business customers today. In most cases, these payables capabilities can be deployed quickly, and most solutions are already integrated into the common accounting systems, so your business customers do not have to wait until the crisis is over to make the changes that may be able to help them now. 

Banks that can step up and provide these services today may differentiate their value to their business customers by potentially enabling them to save time and money and to work remotely more effectively and securely. These services may also help set businesses up for greater financial and operational success down the road, which is something they will appreciate and remember about the relationship they have with their bank.

Micah Remley is CEO of MineralTree, a Boston-based provider of accounts payable and payment automation software.