High banking charges are a big problem for small businesses

22nd February 2024

High banking charges are a bigger blocker to international expansion for businesses than Brexit red tape, according to survey research by Wise.

The analysis found that UK small businesses lost £2.8 billion to hidden fees, preventing 69% from expanding further.

Business owners said they struggle to compare the market due to a ‘corporate opt out’ that allows banks to hide their fees in the exchange rate.

Two-thirds of business leaders agree that the opt out should be removed and that regulation should encourage banks to be transparent about international payment costs.

With seven in ten business owners stating they have been prevented from expanding by the complex international payments system.

Steph McGovern, TV presenter, host of The Rest is Money podcast, and small business owner of “Gootopia”, who is backing the campaign, said “As a small business owner myself, I know that operating in the current climate is tough.

“The fact that businesses are being ripped off when it comes to international payments is not only bad for them – but it’s bad for consumers and the economy. That money could cut prices, create jobs, be kept safe for rainy days, or deliver investment.

“Our business is operating across various cities in the UK, so we know that this is a problem for businesses up and down the country.

“There are so many things that can be done to aid SMB growth. Ending the opt out, and improving legislation to ban hidden fees, is a simple, cost-free way of helping the country’s small businesses. Sign the petition now.”

Further research of 1,500 SMBs found that, if the cost of international banking services were to be reduced, more than a third (34 percent) would enter new markets, including the EU (58 percent), North America (41 percent), and the Middle East (31 percent).

Just over a quarter (27 percent) would hire more staff, and 21 percent would reduce the price of their goods and services.

Two-thirds (66 percent) of SMBs surveyed agreed that the opt out should be removed, and the majority (82 percent) said that regulation should encourage banks to be transparent about international payment costs.

Magali Van Bulck, head of EMEA policy at Wise, said “For too long, financial providers have been charging grossly unfair fees and inflated exchange rates.

“This needs to end now – and the Government can do so without costing the taxpayer a penny. Everyone loses out to hidden fees, but the problem is most acute for SMBs.

“Existing legislation is weak and patchy, but it doesn’t even apply to SMBs due to a corporate opt-out. This drives up costs, dims competition, and costs SMBs money, growth, and opportunity.

“It’s time to end the opt out, tighten legislation – and put a stop to hidden fees once and for all.”