Karen G. Mills was a member of President Obama's cabinet, leading the Small Business Administration from 2009 to 2013. Now she is president of MMP Group, which invests in financial services, consumer products, and technology. She is the author of Fintech, Small Business & the American Dream: How Technology Is Transforming Lending and Shaping a New Era of Small Business Opportunity. In Inc.'s special report on the future of business, she shared insights about lending. --As told to Vickie An
What role have fintechs played in the lending space since the onset of the pandemic?
The really interesting thing that happened is that fintechs got approved for delivering loans. Fintechs are not banks. So Square and Intuit and Kabbage and PayPal needed to get special Treasury and SBA approval. That turned out to be very fortuitous, because they spent the three weeks while they were awaiting approval building the customer portals that allowed the very smallest businesses to upload documents quickly, to have a more seamless customer experience, to get a rapid response. This will have long-lasting implications for the future of banking and small-business lending.
What else will change in the future of small business?
We don't have specific policies for sole proprietorships. We should be thinking, how do we get these people more access to health care and technology so they can run their businesses more efficiently? Maybe they'll have more opportunity than bigger businesses. We need to give them more tools and support.
What can business owners do for themselves to be positioned for success in the post-pandemic world?
First, they have to find more customers. Small businesses report advertising and selling products online and through social media more now than ever before, and more than 80 percent say they'll continue to do so after the pandemic.
The second thing is to reduce costs. Look at all your costs and evaluate them in new ways. Lastly, look at what business lines or customers you want to keep, and which ones you want to get rid of because they take time and energy to service and they lose you money. Maybe you don't want them to go away because maybe they're big. But people should be more analytical about what products and services they can deliver with the resources they have and still make money.
What's your prediction for what the new normal will look like when it comes to lending?
Banks are going to have to decide if they're going to make small businesses a priority. If there's a gap, you can be sure that other institutions, like community banks or fintechs, are going to step up to fill it. That will change the game for small-business owners. There is a much more optimized world that technology can bring to small-business management and financing. I call it small-business utopia, and I think we're going to see it accelerate.