Research by the Payments Council on the payments that UK businesses make and receive reveal that small businesses lag some way behind larger businesses, but seem to be more savvy than individuals in terms of adoption of modern payments technology.
The Council reports that smaller businesses are nearly twice as likely to get online and make payments via online banking, than individuals. Given the internet revolution over the past decade – in particular over the last six years with the advent of Twitter and the soaring popularity of Facebook – it is interesting that individuals lag behind when it comes to online banking payments.
Though small businesses have progressed, when comparing with larger businesses, clearly there are still improvements to be made if the former are to take advantage of the time savings and efficiencies that using newer technology can bring in the workplace.
Comparing the current picture with 10 years ago, big and small businesses have increased the use of technology into their working practices. In 2002, just 15% of all businesses made payments online; in 2011 this had risen to 70%. Similarly, in 2002, 29% of businesses had signed up to use online banking – nine years later this figure more than doubled to 78%. More businesses are also equipped with internet access; in 2002, 59% were online, whereas in 2011 this figure was approaching 90% – an impressive leap over a relatively small timeframe.
Individuals are far more likely to make cash payments or to use plastic cards, which are not used as extensively by businesses. Small businesses are more likely to make payments by cheque, direct debit or Bankers’ Automated Clearing Services (Bacs) direct credit, although their use of direct credits lags far behind large businesses, which use these for over two-thirds of outgoing payments. Large businesses are also far more likely to make Clearing House Automated Payments System (CHAPS) payments. However, not all payments made by large businesses have transferred over to electronic methods; there remain a small number of large businesses that send out very large volumes of cheques, such as insurance companies and insolvency practitioners.
The research also shows how businesses receive payments. Cash remains an important method of receiving payments for both small and large businesses, though cash is far less significant by value terms – representing just 8% of income for small businesses and 3% of income for large businesses. Businesses which accept payments from consumers are far more likely to accept plastic cards and cash than those who accept payments from other businesses. Businesses tend to pay other businesses using electronic methods.
Otherwise, most payments tend to be received by plastic cards or, in the case of large businesses, direct into the business bank account. Sole traders experience a different pattern of payments from other small businesses, being far more likely to receive cheques and far less likely to receive plastic card payments – potentially as they have not invested in card accepting facilities. Sole traders, which make up about three quarters of businesses, make only 15% of their payments using direct credits, with a greater proportion instead using cheque (27%) or direct debit (23%).
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However, a London summit on the industry’s introduction of the technology cautions that testing and acceptance are still at an early stage and firms should proceed with caution.
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