Guest Article: How SMEs can benefit from the digital revolution

Employment, Fintech, Guest Feature | Wed 3 Apr | Author – Business & Finance

SMEs are vital to the economy but couldn’t always compete with larger organisations digitally. Now, fintech makes it possible to compete on a more even playing field.

SMEs are the backbone of the Irish economy: they account for the vast majority of all businesses in Ireland, they make a substantial contribution to the country’s economy, and they hire a significant proportion of the national workforce.

But technological adoption remains a significant challenge for many of these companies. In 2019, PwC’s Irish Family Business Report revealed that 40% of family run businesses felt vulnerable to digital disruption. In areas such as fintech, where there’s significant potential for SMEs to streamline processes, reduce human error, and increase margins, failing to adopt new solutions could be particularly problematic, and even cause issues in areas such as maintaining profitability and managing cash flow.

For a long time, the cost of technology stratified the business world into the digital haves and have-nots. Many SMEs simply haven’t had access to the rich ecosystem of apps and services available to banks and other large organisations. Complexity, cost, and lack of awareness have prevented them from enjoying the benefits of many fintech innovations.

Today, SMEs can benefit from a flourishing financial technology marketplace: Enterprise Ireland has invested in over 80 fintech start-ups since 2014 – with a total portfolio of more than 200, it’s now the second-most active global investor in the industry by deal count – and Deloitte recently described Ireland as a high-potential European fintech hub.

What’s more, this active fintech scene is translating into greater opportunity: potentially levelling the playing field for businesses all over the country. If you’re an SME owner, here’s how you can take advantage.

From nice-to-have to must-have

Thanks to an energised, innovative fintech scene, SMEs can benefit from the kind of innovations available to businesses in corporate and financial services in areas such as payments, regulation, and cash flow management (among others).

When adopted, some of these solutions can have a dramatic effect on customer experience and operational efficiency. Something as seemingly anodyne as payment options can determine whether a lead becomes a sale: many users who might otherwise enthusiastically buy your product or service could be turned off if their preferred method isn’t available. Through providers such as WePay or PayPal, SMEs can offer them the variety they need.

Additionally, if you’re running a consumer-facing company, it’s worth thinking about the financial processes that take up most of your (or your employees’) time. Resolving simple customer payment queries, for example, eats up valuable internal resources. Chatbot technology can automate this process by almost instantly handling common enquiries depending on certain keywords – ensuring that staff have more time to focus on things that require more thought and initiative.

Conventional ways of working are being disrupted, and for the better. In 2019, technology – and fintech in particular – has gone from nice-to-have to must-have. SMEs need to join the digital revolution to keep up.

Growing and changing

Take the agriculture industry. If you’re running a farm, you’re probably aware of the myriad of issues involved with managing livestock and crops across seasons. It’s not an industry you’d traditionally associate with financial technology.

But a new generation of farmers has entered the agricultural workforce, and they’re forward-thinking, growth-focused, and keen to use technology wherever possible. Tools such as Figured, for instance, offer comprehensive livestock, crop, and production tracking, farm budgeting, forecasting, and more. It’s also designed to be plugged into other apps and integrations, providing a one stop shop for all farming needs.

And it’s not just the agricultural industry, the likes of SimplePay can make it easier to offer multiple payment options across one platform and software like BriteBiz can simplify the process of managing bookings and events. Processes such as manual data handling can be eliminated entirely by accounting tools such as AutoEntry – giving you and your team time to refocus your energy on customers and business growth.

Investing in digital innovation and reducing time on outdated systems and processes can provide your SME with a distinct competitive edge. Technology is no longer simply a commercial and operational advantage: it’s crucial to the survival and prosperity of your company.

Donna Torres, Director of Small Business, Xero is responsible for leading the Small Business Channel at Xero in EMEA, managing the Commercial Operations team to deliver quality insights and analysis for the company.