Of all the suppliers, customers, and other stakeholders with which the typical small business works, never does the list of favorites start with “the bank.”
And yet for every small business, a bank is invariably a necessary evil. Their most basic functions include simply having a way to pay the bills and keep paychecks going to employees, but banks can also help when it comes time to expand, by offering mortgage services or lines of credit. Eventually every small business owner will need to ask for money one way or another.
Business owners will also find themselves ending up almost daily at their banks’ websites, which have become robust enough to make most trips to the teller window obsolete.
But how do the online and mobile experiences at the country’s biggest business banks measure up?
We polled eight banks--some major operations with national presences, some more regional but well-regarded when it comes to small business support--about the features their accounts offer small business customers. We chose a representative sample of banks, both large and midsize, with a (mostly) national presence. While you certainly have many more financial institutions to choose from, we wanted to make sure businesses throughout the country could pick from several options on our list. We sifted through hundreds of pages of documentation, scoured the banks' websites, talked to their representatives, and digested all the information for you here.
In this table, you’ll find a specific examination of the following areas:
- The number of users each account can have, and whether you can customize security for each of those accounts.
- Whether and how you can receive alerts regarding your accounts (such as for low balances or large purchases).
- In what formats account information can be exported.
- For how long statements are available online.
- Whether a mobile application for the bank exists and for which operating systems.
- What payment and money transfer formats are supported.
- How many physical branches the bank has.
- Fees for account management. (Note: These vary widely based on a large number of factors, and only representative charges are noted here. Online service is invariably included with all bank accounts at no additional charge.)
Additional details follow for each bank discussed. Which bank offers the features your small business needs? Read on.
Bank of America is one of the largest banks in the country, and its vast array of banking products should be attractive for any business, provided you’re willing to pay à la carte for the account options you need.
Basic accounts feature a simple bill payment and money transfer system, but once you move up the line to the Online Business Suite ($16 per month), you can add more goodies, including options to add more users, integrate with QuickBooks, and manage multiple business accounts with a single sign-on. From here, you can add online invoicing ($10 per month), payroll ($20 per month), remote deposit ($40 per month) via a check scanner you hook up to your computer, and more. The payroll system is especially nifty, even letting you manage sick and vacation time and overtime from right inside the online application. BofA also has the most options for native mobile access, supporting iOS, Android, BlackBerry, and--alone in this roundup--Windows Phone.
BofA boasts that it has 4 million small business customers and has been ramping up its small-business lending in the last year, loaning $7.8 billion to small companies in the first half of 2011, up 35 percent from the first half of 2010. Interest-bearing checking is available with a $5000 minimum balance, and BofA of course offers a wide range of CDs and other short-term investments, plus credit card processing accounts. The large number of physical branches is also a big plus for customers who need access to live tellers.
If BofA doesn’t kill you with a thousand fees, it seems to cover the bases for any small business operation.
BBVA Compass is easily the smallest bank in this comparison (though it’s part of a much larger financial services empire), with about 700 physical locations primarily in the Sun Belt. Despite its size, it competes with the big guys thanks to a robust set of mobile OS offerings--for iOS, Android, and BlackBerry--and affordable account management fees.
The bank’s most popular account, Business Build-to-Order Checking, is $11.95 per month, which is waived with a nominal balance. The account comes with two “Premium Features,” such as more transaction items or cash processing, a free wire transfer each month, or ATM fee rebates. Additional selections from this platter cost $10 per feature per month. Interest-bearing checking is available for sole proprietors and nonprofit organizations, and credit card processing accounts are also available. BBVA Compass also has affiliated 401(k) and small business insurance offerings.
If you're near a BBVA Compass outlet, you don’t need a lot of extra features like online payroll processing, and if keeping fees and other costs down is an issue, this bank could be a good choice.
Capital One is overwhelmingly known as a credit card provider and processor, but it also offers a range of banking services, including a small-business banking service.
Compared to most other banks we examined, however, Capital One’s offerings are limited. In fact, it doesn’t offer traditional business checking at all, only a business money market account. It’s also one of the few banks that does not support adding more users, making it a lesser choice if you have complicated security needs for multiple people accessing the account.
That said, export options are robust, as it’s one of the few banks that supports Microsoft Money, and it offers mobile apps for iOS and Android. Best of all, Capital One’s Business Money Market is free of all fees no matter what balance you hold--and it even bears interest on that balance, no matter how small it might be. That’s a deal you simply can’t beat anywhere else. Remote check deposit service is offered in some states.
If what you’re looking for is more of a savings plan for a one-person shop--or, of course, someone to run your credit cards--than a daily checking account, Capital One makes a compelling case for itself.
Next page: Five more banks, and our conclusion...