UK Small Business Banking trends

Key trends for UK business banking marketers to consider in 2021, and what to do about them.

1. Sustainability: SMEs still take on digital pollution

Businesses are under pressure to continue to drive sustainable practices and SMEs are taking the lead in applying ‘tech for good’ solutions to permanently reduce emails/data consumption in order to reduce their carbon footprint.

Digital pollution is a threat to the world’s climate change. Information and Communications Technology (ICT) now accounts for 14% of the world’s energy consumption, and data centres will account for 45% of ICT’s carbon footprint1. With 2020 seeing a rise in purposeful brands and solutions, many SMEs are embracing agile business models to quickly adapt business practices that not only reach net-zero-carbon but also position them as a positive figure within their category.

In transitioning to reduce their overall carbon footprint, SMEs are benefitting from the lack of scale and complexity larger brands have, and by adding low-carbon, more sustainable products to their services, they are able to help create a competitive edge over larger brands.2 This is helping them meet growing consumer demand for more purposeful and sustainable products and services, and at speed.

SMEs such as Cleanfox are driving such activity, focusing on not only helping consumers understand the impact of cluttered emails and online search habits, but committing to campaigns such as #cybercleanup, which has already cut up to 20,000 tonnes of CO2 emissions3.

What this means for marketers:

ESG, as a macro theme, is still growing in importance and has naturally had a knock-on effect for organisations, encouraging them to reassess all aspects of operations and their social purpose and impact. With digital pollution becoming a growing topic of conversation, we’ve already seen great strides from brands outside of the financial services category striving to reduce the data-heavy impact of inundated communications. Coca-Cola, through Covid-19, placed a greater focus on delivering contextual and interesting messaging4 as opposed to bombarding consumers with constants news, updates, promotional offers and brand messaging.

Cluttering your consumers’ inbox with content does more damage than good, and marketers need to consider sustainable content delivery as part of their wider sustainability agenda.


2. Communications: Capitalising on video dwell time

Following on from the previous trend, Covid-19 has spiked a stream of new customer expectations not only in service offerings, but the way in which brands now communicate with them. Two-thirds (66%) of customers now expect brands to understand their unique needs and expectations, with a further 77% believing that the crisis should act as a prompt for businesses to improve the way in which they operate5.  

With the sheer amount of time consumers are spending on social media, SMEs are starting to shift their focus to appearing on habitual channels to reflect changing online behaviour – 47% of SMEs have already cited this as a growing focus moving forward. Amid lockdown measures and travel restrictions, consumers have adjusted to the increased time on their hands, and channels such as TikTok, YouTube and Instagram have seen unprecedented growth in video content – indicating a clear opportunity for SMEs to communicate with different demographics on habitual platforms6.

With customer expectations changing and the amount of messaging customers are already receiving from other brands, 55% of SMEs have been careful about inundating consumers with constant communications, focusing more on providing vital updates. SMEs are taking a practical approach to including customers in their Covid-19 and Brexit journey, however we expect to see more communications around brand values, positive stories and employee highlights in the effort to remain resilient through upcoming uncertainty.

What this means for marketers:

The key priorities to land are contextualising content to reflect wider, macro topics such as political and cultural changes, rather than simply delivering Covid-19 updates and adapting to growing communication channels.

Marketers from all sectors need to be able to show that they as a brand are able to listen, adapt and evolve strategies to meet different needs and different audiences, without taking a ‘one message for all’ blanket approach to content strategies. Marketers, particularly within financial services, have the opportunity to capitalise on the sheer amount of video content consumers are currently watching and tread into new channels, such as TikTok, to reach new audiences. Education can play a key role for a much younger audience, especially on topics such as ‘financial wellness’, ‘understanding the basics’ and ‘planning for your future’.


3. Cybersecurity: Preparing for further threats

Nearly half (43%) of cyber-attacks are aimed at SMEs, activity that has been heightened by SMEs’ vulnerability during Covid-19. Although investment may be tight, smart SMEs are adopting a short-term ‘firefighting’ mentality, but are also ensuring sufficient investment goes into ‘fit for future’ legacy systems5.

Cybercriminals see Covid-19 as an opportunity to not only target smaller, more vulnerable businesses, but to infiltrate businesses as they mobilise for long-term recovery. With the existing financial strain, 60% of SMEs will go out of business within six months of a cyber-attack, due to the pressure applied to the business. Therefore, the importance of adopting agile and bespoke solutions to suit the needs of smaller businesses is needed now more than ever7.

What this means for marketers:

Cybersecurity is becoming a hot topic of conversation for a number of industries, and being able to reflect the security behind the brand and processes not only benefits stakeholders but current and future employees. Marketers, particularly in financial services, should be tailoring messaging around cybersecurity not only to drive credibility, but to also showcase authority and resilience ahead of further economic instability. Marketers have the opportunity to help SMEs understand global trends and threats within cybersecurity and, within financial services, can help SMEs access a bank of knowledge from their internal experts.

In terms of messaging, highlighting key threats and practical solutions to fend off cyber criminals is a great start to establishing marketing as a key function for helping protect and upskill SMEs that don’t have a dedicated IT department.


4. Diversity & Inclusion: Continued focus on diversity

SMEs are embracing more diverse workplaces in order to pool a wider set of skills and personalities. Businesses with a diverse team are not only more innovative but perform better financially, and findings point to the fact that diversity in the workplace also helps with hiring and making better and faster decisions.

Data shows there are financial benefits to this growing organisational shift and it improves how organisations are perceived by consumers and future employees8.

What this means for marketers:

Showcasing the eclectic mix of employees you have within the organisation is key but showcasing the skills and experience they bring to the organisation carries more value than being perceived to simply fulfilling a diversity quota. Future employees, investors and consumers expect to see content that reflects the values that the organisation holds and expect to be able to hear the voices of employees.

Consider how the voices of those within the organisation can be used as front-facing ambassadors, and how they align to and represent the organisation’s values as a purposeful organisation.


5. Online presence: Accelerating ecommerce

Almost 230,000 SMEs closed their doors during the pandemic and many SMEs are struggling with debt, as well as a lack of staff to help meet the fluctuating demand between lockdowns. Although businesses are fundamentally struggling, they’ve been able to adjust their agile business models to focus on ecommerce as a key channel to reach their audiences.

This growing trend of SMEs turning to ecommerce has seen benefits such as a 501% increase in online sales post-Cyber Monday. With such a boom in ecommerce business9, SMEs are in a position to move the majority of their business now to cater for online search and purchase habits. This growing trend not only reflects a change in consumer behaviour, but the agility SMEs have in adopting/accelerating new business practises and developing/evolving current strategies10.

What this means for marketers:

Online purchase behaviour demonstrates just as much about purchase habits as it does the way in which consumers now navigate content. With more consumers shopping online naturally increasing the time spent online, and becoming more efficient when researching brands and services, SMEs need to understand how their brand should be portrayed in the online world and the formats best served to meet brand objectives and consumer behaviour. With the increase in online consumer behaviour, financial services marketers need to increase content surrounding the topics of online purchase behaviour, financial tools and payment solutions – ultimately helping SMEs navigate a new environment while minimising risk.

Zac Masih

Zac Masih

Senior Content Strategist