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Savvy small businesses are using high interest-earning online savings accounts to keep spare cash for a rainy day, new research shows.

Small and medium-sized businesses (SMEs) that used high interest online deposit accounts pumped $1.9 billion into these accounts in the six months to March, a report from independent consultants the Market Intelligence Strategy Centre (MISC) found.

SMEs that did not use these high interest accounts withdrew $28.4 billion from their “normal vanilla” deposit accounts over the same period.

MISC, which conducts research on behalf of the banks, said about 155,000 small businesses used high interest online savings accounts as part of their day-to-day banking.

“Clearly they did not appear to suffer the same liquidity crisis as those online small businesses with more traditional deposits,” the report said.

The report focused on SMEs that conducted day-to-day banking online.

This growth in deposits has occurred despite what was generally accepted as a difficult time for small businesses, as the full effect of the global recession and slowing domestic economy hit hard, particularly with managing cash flow.

A report from JP Morgan and Fujitsu Consulting found it was taking longer for firms to get paid by their customers.

The survey of 15,000 SMEs published this week found the average number of debtor days increased to more than 50 days in 2009, compared with less than 40 days in 2006.

A MISC spokesperson said the deposit statistics highlighted that not all small businesses were doing it tough, with many “smart operators” able to get their businesses in order and take advantage of the various government assistance packages available.

“There is a lot of bad stuff going around about how tough it really is,” the spokesperson said.

“I think it is encouraging for a lot of small businesses to see that there are certain sectors that are really weathering the storm quite well.

“They are in good shape.”

The return to deposits has occurred despite the reduction in interest rates.

The report said the best interest rate for these online savings accounts was about 4.7 per cent in the March quarter, compared to rates of roughly eight per cent in September last year.

The difference between the interest rate on those savings accounts and the official cash rate widened from about 75 basis points in September last year to about 145 basis points at the end of March.

“The margin is better that it’s ever been,” the MISC spokesperson said.