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MADISON, Wis. – Credit unions can expect to see a number of notable small business lending and services trends in 2005, particularly modeled after their community bank colleagues. In the Dec. 2 issue of The Point, a CUNA & Affiliates research publication, Steve Williams, a principal with Cornerstone Advisors, highlighted some of those trends. Among the trends to watch are small business deposit accounts. Like their consumer account brethren, these may soon become free for members. Williams said banks are offering no transaction fees, no balance requirements and no monthly fees and the market is expected to follow their lead. He also cited a recent Greenwich Associates survey that found 40% of businesses (with annual revenues of less than $10 million) are willing to switch banks to eliminate checking account fees. Small business owners will also request more flexibility to accommodate their often non-traditional working hours, Williams told the publication. That includes new branches and extending deposit cut-off times beyond 2 p.m to 5 p.m. Automated lending will also be more widely available; Check 21 will have an impact on revenue; relationship managers will be used to bring a more “personal” touch to members; and training of frontline staff will be beefed up. “I would also strongly recommend developing a testing and certification program on these skills,” Williams told The Point. On the lending front, Williams said scoring technology will make notable strides. “Commercial loan officers are still managing portfolios with tiny (under $100,000) loan relationships – a situation that’s barely if at all profitable,” Williams told the publication. “To be profitable in the small business lending arena, stronger small business lending productivity and more technology-based portfolio management capabilities will become high strategic priorities. “With scoring technology from companies like APPRO, Baker Hill, and S1, smaller banks will position small business as more of a retail lending operation, including credit scoring,” Williams predicted.

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