Welcome to ‘Tough Challenges, New Possibilities’, the interview series that asks world-class business advisors and executives to reflect on success and key challenges for small businesses in difficult times. We spoke to Rupert Keeley, a leader with over three decades of leadership experience in payments and banking across the world.

About Rupert Keeley

Former Group President, Visa Inc. and CEO, PayPal Europe

With an extensive professional background leading businesses at Standard Chartered, Visa and PayPal, Rupert is a Board Director for NewDay Cards and advises a range of technology businesses including SumUp, United Overseas Bank (UOB) and WiZink. He is currently a Member of the International Advisory Board at Pollinate.

What’s the biggest challenge small businesses face coming out of the pandemic?

Most businesses have been adversely impacted by Covid-19 with many facing a very uncertain future. It’s not clear whether we’re in the first stages of something that will go on for several years or whether by the middle of next year medical advances will have helped bring about a more predictable outlook. This makes planning very difficult as businesses seek to adapt what they’re doing to the new environment. For small businesses, in particular, resources are often very tight and resilience low, so the challenge for them is to find a way to succeed while continuing to generate enough cash to see them through to better times.

How important will leadership be in coming out of this crisis?

Leadership is always important whether in times of stability or stress. In the current climate, it’s critical, as people need clear direction and a sense of purpose at a time of tremendous uncertainty and change. This applies in every organisation whether small businesses, large corporations or a government. It’s been interesting to watch how different governments, for example, have addressed the current pandemic and how the actions taken have played out. It’s clear that leadership makes a huge difference.

How can banks and financial services companies do a better job in helping small firms?

Banks are critical in providing payment infrastructure and finance and provide huge support to small businesses across the country. They played a key role dispersing funds from government through the crisis and were very quick to respond to this need. Payment rails established and operated by banks are often used by innovative new entrants to offer a broader range of payment services, while the banks’ ability to lend money provides oxygen so businesses can keep going. Banks that stand by their customers and enable them to breathe more easily in this crisis will command great future loyalty.

How can technology enable small businesses to make a difference?

Cloud computing, inexpensive data storage, the Internet and new commerce and payment platforms are enabling business in ways that couldn’t have happened even five years ago. It’s fuelling a massive boom in start-ups which can get started with a fraction of the capital and resources previously needed. Businesses can now list their products, start selling and collecting payments locally or to a global audience within days.