Business owners dream up bank innovation

March 15, 2017 | GET MORE : Future of Banking

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What do a bar owner, home entertainment installer and manufacturer have in common? Cash flow pain.

Kylene Guse is a champion of all things small business, usually the smaller and more local the better.

Guse co-founded GYST Fermentation Bar, a wine, beer, cider and cheese bar in Minneapolis with her sister about two years ago.

GYST is focused on sustainability, working with a trio of urban organic vegetable farmers and local suppliers for things like lacto-fermented pickles, cheese, eggs, cider, wine and beer.

Guse was one of 10 small business owners who attended a two-day workshop hosted recently by U.S. Bank at the Brave New Workshop theater and comedy gallery in Minneapolis. The event was geared toward helping the bank get a better handle on the struggles that small businesses have managing their cash flow.

Guse said she initially preferred to work with a small local bank, but that the decision has given her some heartburn. "The technology we had at a small bank wasn’t lining up. It's a small bank focused on small businesses, but they don’t have the capability of hooking up with [our accounting software]. That’s been a nightmare, an absolute nightmare," she said.

The event provided a glimpse into the mindset of small business owners like Guse who want to spend time actually concentrating on their business, rather than worrying about the business of running their business, said facilitator Valerie Lancelle, vice president on U.S. Bank's innovation team. (Only two of the business owners were U.S. Bank customers. Each received a small stipend for participating.)

"Owners want a trusted banking partner that understands their business goals and objectives, provides guidance and advice and offers appropriate solutions," Lancelle said.

Uncover the roots of problems                  

The workshop validated some of the business banking work already being done at U.S. Bank and it uncovered some opportunities. Attendees arranged and re-arranged Post-It Notes to highlight features – such as accounting software integration – which they wanted to see in an ultimate small business banking app, website or software.

Last year U.S. Bank’s innovation team held two similar "co-creation" sessions, one with consumers and one with small businesses, to help understand issues from the point of view of a customer.

"Our innovation team has a unique set of skills that help uncover root causes and then build on concepts and solutions that will solve those problems," said Laretha Elliott-Hulse, assistant vice president in product development and innovation in U.S. Bank's consumer and small business banking division.

It was refreshing to speak with other small business owners about their companies and their experiences with banking said Mark Arendt, part-owner of Edina-based Innovative Media Systems, a 20-year-old firm that installs home theater, TVs, computers and internet.

The relationship part is a big deal for a small business owner, Arendt said. He'd like to see a bank solution that integrates taxes, payroll and retirement information and also strengthens the relationship between business owner and banker to the point he doesn't have to dig out his ID when he walks into a branch.

Business owner Jeff Kuberka cherished the opportunity to give feedback on his experience as a bank customer.

He owns Ham Lake, Minn.-based Accurate Creative Engineering (ACE) Design, which makes customized manufacturing equipment. Kuberka has worked as an engineer for dozens of companies in a wide variety of industries from autos and airplanes to Zamboni machines and diaper tape. Years ago, he also helped design the machines used to manufacture 3M Cos. lint rollers.

"It’s exciting to hear that a bank’s interested in talking to us to see what’s causing us pain and sleepless nights," he said. "The ideas that we’re talking about here, making life better for a small business owner, I love that. I think we all do here."

Sam Black is a member of U.S. Bank’s corporate communications team.