Bento aims to help SMBs keep cash flow going during coronavirus

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Bento for Business, a spend management system, is looking to assist small and midsize businesses with surviving through the COVID-19 pandemic.

With the growing number of small businesses devastated by the novel coronavirus, that’s a tall order. The reviews site Yelp reported last month that 55 percent of the small businesses that have closed since March 1 have shut down permanently. In New York City alone, more than one-third of small businesses aren’t expected to survive the pandemic, according to a report this week from the Partnership for New York City.

“Our platform is a really good barometer as to how small and medium-size businesses are doing,” said Bento for Business CEO Guido Schulz. “We have clients in pretty much every industry. What we have seen is overall spending is alive and well, but we’ve seen a shift in terms of our platform utilization. We’re back to pre-COVID levels.”

He is seeing businesses placing more controls on their spending. “Everybody is cash constrained,” said Schulz. “Cash is king. Credit is eroding. So we actually see a lot of new clients, or prospective inquiries, specifically looking for identity card-based solutions because they don’t want to increase their credit profile. Generally they just want to work with the cash that they actually have. And then it’s all about cash preservation.”

Bento for Business provides online debit cards that companies can give their employees that limit spending to specific timeframes or types of purchases. While the spending patterns confirm a downturn in spending on travel and transportation amid the pandemic, Schulz has seen an upturn in spending on e-commerce and professional services.

“We’re seeing a general upswing in businesses that are in any shape or form in the distributed workforce,” he added. “Now, due to COVID, the number of businesses that are dealing with a distributed workforce has increased considerably because people are working from home, but they still need to do their daily job.”

Companies are using the controls in the system to focus their spending on necessities from approved vendors. “One of the big issues that many CFOs will tell you is that if you allow an organization’s employees to spend, either on their own credit cards, or if you have a process where there are no controls in place, in general employees will tend to spend on items that are not necessarily approved or within the expense policy of an organization,” said Schulz. “Not only on T&E, but also in the purchasing card scenario, where you’re looking at supplies or various items that need to be acquired to keep the business going. That could be an employee using company money to buy unapproved office equipment or whatever that would be. With these controls, you keep them within their lane in terms of what they can actually buy and buy from, and limit the spend categories as well.”

Putting a stop to unnecessary spending has become more of a priority for companies during the pandemic. “I think beforehand that wasn’t as high on people’s minds because the economy was doing well in general,” said Schulz. “The efficiency of cash flow management wasn’t as high on the list as businesses were much more flush. Now we can see a definite trend of financial professionals that have that responsibility within an organization to manage cash flow, to look for tools to help them to maximize cash flow and solve cash leakage in a business. It’s taken a higher priority level on the rungs of financial professionals. Then on the other hand as well is the double cash management aspect of trying to avoid credit at all costs and just managing the cash that you have, making that last as long as possible.”

He is seeing a huge transformation underway in the economy. “There is a shift in the U.S. and probably global economy, and that shows that distributed services, professional services and e-commerce are actually growing in some respects,” said Schulz. “We see some of the more traditional branches, such as hospitality and travel, are suffering at this point in time. For us, the encouraging part is as people are becoming more aware of the need to effectively manage their cash, we can actually see some bright lights in the darkness as well. There are companies that are actually thriving and growing in this economy.”

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Small business Coronavirus Expense management software Expense management Business continuity