With economic uncertainty as their top challenge, more than half of small businesses would consider taking an online loan if they need capital this year, according to a new survey from JPMorgan Chase.

But despite economic challenges created by the pandemic, most small and midsize businesses expressed optimism about their performance in the year ahead, according to the annual JPMorgan Chase Business Leaders Outlook released this week. The survey found that 77 percent of midsize businesses and 63 percent of small businesses remain optimistic about their own performance in 2021.

The survey included responses from 2,100 business leaders from various U.S. businesses. It was conducted online from Nov. 11 to Nov. 24 for small businesses with annual revenues between $100,000 and $20 million and from Nov. 13 to Dec. 1 for middle market companies with annual revenues between $20 million and $500 million.

While most businesses have an optimistic outlook, fewer small businesses anticipate revenue and sales growth this year, down to 47 percent from 60 percent last year. Midsize businesses had a brighter outlook, with 69 percent expecting to see revenue and sales growth in 2021, similar to their outlook last year before the pandemic started.

“Businesses have weathered many storms over the past year, displaying impressive levels of creativity and adaptability as they shifted to new operating models, distribution channels and technologies,” Jim Glassman, head economist for JPMorgan Chase Commercial Banking, said in a statement. “The challenges aren’t over, but their tenacity has helped sustain economic momentum and offers optimism for recovery in 2021.”

Online lending is one option small businesses have considered during the pandemic for accessing capital. Last year, 44 percent of small businesses explored online lending, with 25 percent taking an online loan. For the upcoming year, 56 percent said they would be open to procuring an online loan if they need of capital.

Other steps businesses have take to respond to the economic environment created by the pandemic include:

  • Building up Cash Buffers: Nearly two-thirds (65 percent) of midsize businesses and one-third (31 percent) of small businesses have increased cash reserves as a cushion for potential future disruptions, with 33 percent of small businesses expecting to save more in 2021.
  • Digitizing Payments: More than half (56 percent) of midsize businesses have increased their usage of online banking and treasury tools, including electronic payments. Small businesses have moved towards contactless payment options, with 23 percent already implementing them and another 20 percent expecting to do so in 2021. Over one in 10 small businesses (14 percent) have changed their business model to have 100 percent of sales come from e-commerce in 2020, with 12 percent planning to do so in the year ahead.
  • Shifting to Remote Work: The majority of midsize (84 percent) and small (72 percent) businesses have moved some or all of their workforce to remote work over the past year.

“Businesses were forced to make new and unexpected pivots last year, including accelerating their adoption of new processes, technology and contingency plans,” said John Simmons, head of Middle Market Banking & Specialized Industries at JPMorgan Chase. “Companies best positioned for success in 2021 will be those that focus on remaining nimble amidst continued volatility and evolving consumer demands.”

For 61 percent of midsize and 47 percent of small businesses, the economic uncertainty created by COVID-19 is the top challenge they’re facing. Generating sales and revenue growth remains a key challenge for midsize and small businesses, with 42 percent of midsize and 34 percent of small business leaders citing it as a concern.

Other findings from the survey included a modest decline in employment projections, as only 45 percent of midsize businesses and 34 percent of small businesses expect to increase full-time personnel in the next year. Another hiring challenge is the limited supply of qualified candidates.

In addition to operational shifts, 47 percent of small business leaders say their core business values have changed since the start of the pandemic, including placing a greater value on their community, relationships with employees and digital solutions for their businesses.

“Like many of us, the events of the past year have shaped many small business owners’ perspectives about what’s most meaningful to them,” Business Banking CEO Jennifer Roberts said in the statement. “Business leaders have a deeper appreciation for quality time with family and friends, and the importance of good health for themselves, their employees, and their community. These are likely to be permanent mindset shifts.”

Survey: More Small Businesses Considering Online Lending

by Banker & Tradesman time to read: 3 min