Choose the Best Bank for Your Tech-Savvy Business: 8 Banks Compared
Like Bank of America, Chase is another megabank that makes a compelling case for being your small business banking provider--complete with loads of extra features that smaller players can’t offer.
The basics are all there: Detailed user management, three mobile OSs supported (iOS, Android, and BlackBerry; Chase was the first bank to accept check deposits via smartphone camera shot). Plus, it offers a full seven years of historical statements available online, while most banks cut out at 18 months. One of the real highlights is a robust alert system that lets you not only be notified of potential security issues but also sends a daily text message, phone call, or email with your account balances and activity--handy for the serious micromanager. Interest-bearing accounts are also available.
The only chink in the armor is the data exporting system: Quickbooks is supported, but it costs $6.95 a month to connect to the software.
Chase sets itself apart with other above-and-beyond features like payroll services for $30 per month, online invoicing at $25 per month, and a full-fledged online storefront builder for retail operations at $39.95 per month. A check scanner like BofA’s is also available for between $25 to $50 per month. In addition, a free mobile app called Jot lets Chase customers tag purchases made using a Chase credit card by job, customer, or other criteria to make tracking expenses and billing customers easier. It’s a small thing in the grand scheme of Chase’s exhaustive offerings, but kind of a nifty one.
As retail banking goes, Citibank is smaller than most, with its 1000 or so physical locations--a number roughly in line with many smaller, regional banks. But Citi has a very large footprint, with branch offices in 14 states spread across the country.
That said, a couple of problems with Citi’s business accounts immediately give one pause: Only 90 days of historical statements are available on the Citi website, and Citi doesn’t offer account alerts or a mobile app. If you’re willing to wait a day, Citi can get you a copy of a statement up to seven years old, but who has that kind of time these days? (People without a smartphone, I guess.) A remote deposit system is available for $60 per month.
Despite its limitations, Citi certainly has its fans, with 260,000 small and medium business customers and a large volume of small business lending: $6 billion in 2010 and up 30 percent so far in 2011. The company says it works hard to get loans and credit approvals into the hands of small business customers, and now looks at rejected applications a second time in order to make sure it hasn’t turned down a customer unfairly.
Citi’s account management fees are affordable: $18 per month for its most expensive plan, and interest-bearing accounts are available. Also available are some interesting specialty accounts, including escrow, security deposit, and other accounts designed for businesses that require retainers or manage trusts and that have special rules regarding the way funds are spent.
This regional bank serves the southeastern and mid-Atlantic states, where it manages to pack in over 1600 retail outlets. Its business banking services are largely par for the course, with average offerings for statement retrieval, account alerts, and data exporting features. It’s missing a mobile app, but otherwise it has similar features to most national banks.
SunTrust offers a daunting collection of account options: Primary, Total, Select, and Analyzed are among the modifiers to the available Business Checking plans. But account maintenance fees can climb up to $50 per month for some plans. Some free plans are also available, though, including at least one free plan that has no minimum balance required. A variety of interest-bearing and other investment-grade accounts are available, as is an online check deposit service.
Among the extra account features available is an online payroll service for $40 per month, and SunTrust also offers 401(k) services and business insurance. It even promises to be able to aid in “transitions” ranging from mergers to IPOs.
All told, SunTrust appears to have a solid set of offerings, particularly if you live in the southeast.
“America’s Most Convenient Bank” is another large regional concern that spans nearly the entire eastern seaboard from Maine to Florida. In keeping with its motto, its offerings are largely no-frills and affordable. It has no mobile app for business customers (just for retail consumers), and you can get account alerts only via email. Otherwise the bank has a full range of the usual, expected services, including the elusive support for Microsoft Money.
Beyond the basics, TD offers interest-bearing account options, credit card merchant services, remote check deposit, and a “preferred” link to Paychex payroll processing (pricing varies). Otherwise, the service offerings are largely straightforward, and the fees are low (TD waives the $25 monthly maintenance fee on the basic account if you have a paltry $500 minimum balance).
TD Bank’s biggest selling point actually has nothing to do with its online offerings: Most of its 1275 retail outlets are open 7 days a week, 361 days a year--with, the company says, an average of 50 percent longer hours than its competitors. Live telephone service is also available 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.
With more than 9000 branches nationwide, if you can’t find a Wells Fargo nearby, you’re not looking hard enough.
Wells is a monster-size bank with a vast array of small business offerings. It features mobile apps for four OSs, and is the only bank we examined to support Palm. It offers seven years of downloadable statements, along with exceptional alert options (you can even send alerts to two phone numbers). Interest checking is available, along with remote deposit services.
Wells is weak, strangely, only in the realm of setting up additional users to access your account. While an account can have an unlimited number of owners, these accounts all get full access. Each owner can in turn configure 25 read-only subaccounts--but no security settings are available in between the two account types.
In keeping with its stature, Wells offers a host of extra services, including merchant services, payroll ($10 and up per pay cycle), and even workers’ compensation insurance. The company’s Business Spending Report breaks down purchases into categories, and IRA and 401(k) services are on offer, too.
All told, Wells advertises features that make it appear as robust a bank as you’d expect, both online and off.
Which Bank Fits Your Business?
While mobile capabilities tend to vary pretty greatly for small business banking customers--and you'll have to make your own analysis as to what suits your needs--we were on the whole pleased that banks both large and small have taken substantial steps to bring their online offerings up to speed for the 2010s. We were especially happy to see that, for the most part, a small business will feel right at home with a smaller bank: There’s no need to jump to a larger institution if you’re happy dealing with someone closer to home.