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Visa Wants to Give 50 Million SMBs a Digital Leg Up

With online spend among its cardholders increasing more than 25 percent between January and April, Visa says it has committed to elevate 50 million small and micro businesses (SMBs) to promote digital commerce and economic growth in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. The financial services company is introducing a range of locally designed programs and solutions to enable SMBs to drive efficiency and sales through acceptance of digital payments, building online businesses and incentivizing neighborhood support.

Less than half of SMBs have any online business, Visa noted, which would be a major missed opportunity to capture the growing e-commerce market.

As part of the new programs, Visa has built localized online resource centers in more than 20 countries that provide tools, partner offers and information on how to start, run and grow digital-first small businesses. Across European markets, Visa is investing to increase the number of digital payment acceptance devices within shops by more than 50 percent. In the U.S., Visa is expanding its partnership with IFundWomen providing grants and digital training to U.S.-based black women-owned small businesses.

Citing Retail Systems Research data that 90 percent of shoppers are hesitant to shop in-store due to coronavirus, Visa said it was working with a range of partners to increase the number of locations where consumers can tap their contactless card or mobile device.

Starting in July, Visa street teams will visit merchants to provide “back to business” kits with new point-of-sale materials, branding, educational resources and special offers. The program will kick off in the 50 largest U.S. cities and expand globally to 15 countries including Singapore, Italy and South Africa.

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To incentivize neighborhood support of small businesses, Visa also has launched the Back to Business Project in the U.S., Australia and New Zealand. The project is an online resource that helps consumers identify businesses that may be open in the wake of the pandemic or a natural disaster. The company also has partnered with Shopify and restaurant delivery companies including Deliveroo in an effort to reward consumers for spending their money locally.

Visa also formed the Visa Economic Empowerment Institute (VEEI) as part of the global commitment. This new institute comprised of Visa experts and partners is designed to help address underlying problems and provide insights for SMB growth and closing racial and gender gaps. Key projects in the next six months will address topics including post-crisis recovery and resilience, urban mobility, closing equality opportunity gaps and insights into the gig economy.

“Small businesses on the frontlines of the global economy deserve extraordinary support in this extraordinary time,” said Al Kelly, CEO and chairman of Visa. “We are putting our network to work to help 50 million businesses globally not only survive, but also to thrive, along with the communities they serve.”

The announcement follows a global commitment from the Visa Foundation in April to provide $210 million in COVID-19 relief funding to address the longer-term needs of the small and micro business community over the next five years.

The moves come as more commerce giants seek to assist small businesses during the COVID crisis. In April, Mastercard committed $250 million in services and support, including cybersecurity and anti-fraud tools, to help SMBs in the U.S. migrate from brick-and-mortar to online over the next five years. The move is an extension of Mastercard’s overall goal to bring 1 billion individuals and 50 million SMBs into the digital payments ecosystem.

And Shopify, which powers more than 1 million businesses online, is looking to drive visibility for its small business clients throughout the pandemic, already launching a consumer-facing Shopify Shop app in April to give local businesses direct mobile access to more shoppers and rolling out a Local Delivery app that enables businesses to define a delivery area using a distance radius or zip codes.

Most recently, Shopify partnered with Walmart to bring 1,200 of its sellers onto the Walmart Marketplace, which heavily extends their reach by placing them in front of 120 million monthly visitors.