The first half 2020 has been undeniably hard on small- to medium-sized businesses (SMBs) forced to close their doors, rapidly reset operations around digital commerce and struggle to stay afloat amid what’s been an ongoing cash crunch for many.
“One of the things we've been saying [is] that recovery doesn't happen until we solve small business,” she said. “There is no recovery until they are back on their feet. The economy can’t thrive in a world where small businesses are failing — they generate an outsized share of employment and GDP. And we need to know what it means to them to thrive in our commercial ecosystem because the new ecosystems won’t work until they do.”
Helping SMBs is exactly what Visa is attempting to do with the launches of the company’s new online resource hubs, Visa small business street teams, local consumer incentive programs, and the new Visa Economic Empowerment Institute to rally recovery.
The goal, Kereere told Webster, is to leverage the power and scale Visa carries to help 50 million SMBs and microbusinesses globally get on the road to recovery following the pandemic. Their needs are myriad, from funding to providing the technical and operational expertise needed for digital expansion.
Visa launched its initiatives in America’s largest cities, but the company plans to soon expand them to 15 countries, including Singapore, Italy and South Africa. Kereere said that Visa operates on a massive scale, and helping SMBs get back on their feet in the post-pandemic period is among the best ways the firm can leverage its size to help the little guy (or gal).
“It’s our scale that gives us the ability to do things like we're doing now,” she said. “Of all the things we're doing across the company, this is one thing that unites every single unit across Visa. It's cutting across the various teams and through social impact — tying us together in a conversation that is both commercially and morally good.”
A ‘Team’ Effort
Among the efforts, Visa will send out “street teams” of advisers to help SMBs reopen their businesses and add things like contactless payments. Kereere said teams will prepare with pre-calls to investigate what help an SMB needs, from how to run a safe store to ways to build up an online-commerce presence.
“As a B2B platform, we rarely have a direct interaction with many small businesses,” she said. “So, the street teams give us the ability not only to show up in their greatest time of need, but also perhaps to build relationships with them and understand their needs better. One 10-minute conversation might inform, [but] 100 10-minute conversations means you can spot a pattern, [and] 1,000 10-minute conversations gives us a lot of solid information.”
Kereere said Visa can use the knowledge gained in constructing the SMB hubs that the company is building and keeping SMBs linked to the information and toolkits available there.
But helping businesses get digitally enabled and ready to reopen is just a start. Visa is also focused on helping merchants bring customers in using the company’s new Back to Business search tool.
The tool helps consumers identify businesses that are open in the wake of the pandemic or a natural disaster using Visa transaction data. The information is incorporated into Google maps and easily findable by consumers.
Kereere said Visa aims to help because SMBs need help. After all, the number of inactive businesses is three times what it was before the pandemic started. Key metrics to watch are how much and how fast that ratio comes down over the next few months, she said.
The Economic Empowerment Institute
Visa is also rolling out the Visa Economic Empowerment Institute to help address underlying problems and provide insights for SMB growth — including closing the race and gender gap among SMB owners.
She said Visa has long been engaging with governments on policy constructs and helping agencies leverage their payment rails to distribute funds.
“But that has never been formalized until today,” Kereere said. “So, one of the things we're most excited about is that formalizing this Economic Empowerment Institute allows us now to say, ‘We have a formal way now of leveraging the role and power of our network to do things that drive empowerment for people, businesses and societies.’”
That’s empowerment that Kereere said she is hopeful will actually lead to a blossoming in the market over the next year as SMBs recover. With luck, hard work, digital upgrading and cooperation, what comes next might just be a more functional, more consumer-oriented and more fair business world than what came before it, she said.
“I'd like to think that in a few years, the world will normalize, and we'll see the same coherent mix of small and large business,” Kereere said. “I do hope that this acceleration actually means more — not less — small business, and perhaps different [ones] because many more digital-first businesses will get to come online.”