The future of Europe’s economy hinges on the ability to effectively support and finance small- and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), which form a remarkable 99% of the economic landscape, employ roughly 100 million people, and account for more than half of the continent’s GDP.

On top of their sheer numbers, SMEs are central to the EU’s twin transition to a sustainable and digital economy, and are already working to provide innovative continent-wide solutions to challenges like climate change, resource efficiency and social cohesion and help spread this innovation throughout Europe’s various regions.

SME barriers to accessing finance

Despite playing such an undeniably essential economic role in both quantitative and qualitative terms, these SMEs continue to face significant barriers in accessing the financing they need to properly grow and innovate. Fixing this doesn’t demand the invention of new financial solutions and policies as it does the strengthening and improvement of current strategies. In other words, ensuring the prosperity and resilience of SMEs and, by extension, the entire European economy, does not require us to reinvent the wheel. The solutions SMEs need are remarkably straightforward and already exist. They just need to be adjusted to work better.

What we’ve learned about SMEs’ banking needs – just by asking

This spring CapitalBox conducted a survey among Finnish SME decision makers to determine how they feel about the current digital banking landscape and how it could be improved to better suit their needs. We surveyed decision makers across industries, including construction, hospitality and food services, agriculture and forestry, real estate, and health and social services. The results were startling in their directness, and in how they laid bare the gap between current reality and the ideal scenarios for growth.

It was immediately clear that their digital banking services are not doing everything right. 63.3% of our respondents said they either saw fairly little or very little value for the service fees they pay their bank. That’s more than double the number of entrepreneurs who said they saw fairly good or very good value in return for their fees. And again and again, the most pressing pain points they mentioned were not desires for super innovative technological solutions but more personalised customer service and treatment.

Loans and cards: current pain points for SMEs

When asked about the current pain points as it relates to loans and cards, 52.8% of respondents responded simply getting a business loan was the most inconvenient aspect – flexibility in payment holidays and refinancing were a distant second and third at 29.6% and 26.8% respectively. Not only was it a pain point, but the speed at which they expected it to be dispersed was equally lacking: 33.3% of respondents said they expected to receive a loan they applied for within two to four weeks at the earliest. Compare that to 20.5% that responded within a single week, and the just 3% that felt they could count on it within a day.

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Meaningful, human-centric improvements beat flashy new products

What all this points to is not a fundamental rethinking of digital banking but a need for real improvement on existing strategies. First and foremost, SMEs need loans quickly in order to survive and grow. Considering the pace of today’s digital economy, even a one-week delay between application and disbursement is too long. Perhaps so many SME decision makers feel they’re not getting their money’s worth when it comes to their service fees because they can’t get loans in a timely manner, and in trying to they come up against impersonal or inadequate customer service.

When I say banking should be improved along human-centric lines, I’m imagining two distinct improvements. The first is personalised and rapid-response customer service that doesn’t require antiquated methods of battling a chatbot or calling a hotline and pressing digits in hopes of finally speaking to a representative.

Making SMEs business lives easier

The second is digital banks understanding that SMEs are run by humans who are deeply invested in their work, and treating them with the respect that deserves. This means making their business lives easier: dispensing loans quickly, levying fair service fees, putting flexibility at the core of service strategies, and not treating SME owners as throwaway customers.

Indeed, it means treating SMEs like the complex businesses they are, and offering convenience features like reporting, expense management, and savings products. Many digital banks and alternative lenders in the fintech space have begun to specialise in a specific service area, such as payments or a type of lending-like factoring. This kind of specialisation has its place, but it also creates an environment where SMEs need to engage multiple lenders and banks in order to meet their needs. Human-centric solutions are comprehensive solutions.

Meeting SMEs’ needs is not about striking upon some fundamental financial innovation. It’s about keeping things comprehensive and people-centric. In a way, that’s keeping it simple, and it’s certainly keeping it smart.

Nemira Palaimienė is the Chief Strategy and Growth Officer at CapitalBox, a leading European fintech lender for small- and medium-sized enterprises