Banking is becoming a buyer’s market for entrepreneurs, as financial institutions of all sizes court them with upgraded service and new products. The nation’s 23.7 million small companies account for 99.7% of U.S. employers and pay roughly 44% of the country’s private payroll, according to the U.S. Small Business Administration.
“Small business has become big business for banks,” says David Weinstein, president of the Chicagoland Entrepreneurial Center, a nonprofit group that helps entrepreneurs find funding and clients.
In addition to bread-and-butter checking and savings accounts, most major banks now offer payroll services, insurance, import/export services, tax filing and 401(k) plans to small businesses. J.P. Morgan Chase & Co., which last year acquired Bank One Corp., has 1,000 Small Business Financial Services bankers stationed across its 2,500 branches. In January, Bank of America Corp. launched online tools that for $15 a month let entrepreneurs pay taxes, initiate stop payments on checks and manage payroll and financial accounts, among other things, from a single Web site. And while checking-account fees are still common in many locations, some midsize institutions such as Washington Mutual Inc. and M&T Bank Corp. offer free business checking accounts with no minimum balance as an enticement.
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