Many small business owners still prefer to deal with local banks

The big American banks have never been bigger – JPMorgan Chase, Bank of America and Citigroup just keep on growing, exponentially expanding their influence with the biggest corporations in the United States. Smaller businesses, though, are singing a different tune. A new study reveals that smaller enterprises are resisting the business banking trend that's engulfed the rest of American companies, staying loyal to local branches rather than migrating to the titans.

A new BAI Research study sponsored by ARGO found that more than half of all bank transactions are still conducted at a branch. Furthermore, small enterprises expressed a strong preference for speaking to agents, either in person or over the phone, rather than completing transactions strictly online. This trend is unlikely to change anytime soon, as 75 percent of entrepreneurs said they were happy with their primary banks overall.

Todd Robertson, senior vice president of ARGO, said that it's difficult for larger banks to compete with the personalized service offered by local branches.

"Given the importance of the branch to these customer relationships, banks that can provide superior service at the branch-level can attract and retain these customers," Robertson said. "Although seemingly counterintuitive based on comparisons with retail consumers, this segment's strong attraction to the branch, personal service and paper checks, among other preferences, opens the door to grow existing customer relationships and become their primary financial institution."

American Banker recently explained that because banks have recently begun downsizing, doing away with teller windows, offices and meeting rooms, they've freed up some empty space at their branches that they can reallocate toward promoting small businesses. Financial institutions can use the space to "spotlight" local enterprises, giving them free promotion that they'll undoubtedly appreciate. In turn, the companies will return the favor through their patronage.

For the most part, small business leaders remain stuck in their traditional ways. ARGO's research found that only 25 percent of owners use mobile banking, and even less – a mere 8 percent – use mobile bill pay. Still only 20 percent of respondents say they prefer banking online versus in person, a shockingly low number in this advanced technological era.

Local business owners still love their local banks, and that love appears to be reciprocated. Bigger corporations may be seizing most of the business world, but there is still one subset of the American economy that keeps things in the neighborhood.

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