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Visa Navigate

January 2024


2 - 3 Minutes

Visa and AI: Accelerating the growth of small businesses

Artificial Intelligence has emerged as a potent force, reshaping industries and transforming how businesses operate – and this transformative power has been recognized by both the world's most notable leaders and influencers, as well as our collective culture. On October 30, President Biden issued an executive order to ensure that America leads the way in seizing the promise and managing the risks of AI. In the UK, Collins Dictionary recently named “AI” (Artificial Intelligence) the 2023 Word of the Year, a testament to its growing influence. Meanwhile, British Prime Minister, Rishi Sunak, hosted the UK's first international AI Safety Summit, reflecting the global attention this technology is commanding.

Amidst these happenings, small and medium-sized Businesses (SMBs) stand to gain significantly. As the backbone of world economies, these businesses are often tasked with doing more with less, making the efficiency and productivity gains offered by AI incredibly valuable. Recognizing the potential of AI, SMBs are increasingly looking to harness its power to drive growth and efficiency. However, the world of AI can be complex and intimidating, particularly for businesses that may not have extensive resources or technical expertise.

For AI to be effectively implemented, the technology needs to be understood and its potential recognized. Visa provides resources like its new AI Advisory Practice that help businesses navigate the complexities of AI, enabling them to harness its full potential. Through educational initiatives and practical resources, Visa empowers movement through the adoption process -- from awareness to understanding to implementation.

Awareness and Understanding of AI among SMBs

SMBs are off to a good start. According to a recent Visa survey, an impressive 90% of Gen Z and Millennials, 91% of Gen X and 70% of Boomer SMB owners are aware of AI and its potential business applications. This awareness spans generations, indicating that the understanding of AI's potential transcends age demographics and is becoming a common understanding among business owners.

With a deep understanding of the needs and challenges of SMBs, Visa is committed to exploring and advocating for ways in which AI can be leveraged to accelerate SMB growth. This commitment is reflected in ongoing research and initiatives aimed at demystifying AI for SMBs and providing them with the tools they need to capitalize on this transformative technology.

SMB Sentiment towards AI: Optimism and Expectations

The sentiment towards AI among SMB leaders is overwhelmingly positive, as Visa’s recent survey data shows that 84% of them believe AI will be beneficial for their business. This optimism is reflected in their future expectations, with 85% expecting AI to have a significant impact on their industry or sector in the next 3-5 years. This bullish outlook on AI's potential impact suggests that SMBs are not just aware of AI but are ready and willing to embrace it.

It’s also notable that 84% of the surveyed SMB leaders believe that AI could help them re-focus their human skills and talents in more effective ways. This indicates a recognition that AI is not a replacement for human talent, but rather a tool that can augment human capabilities, leading to more efficient and effective businesses.

AI in Action: Current Use Cases and Adoption Gap

Despite this high level of awareness and positive sentiment, however, there is still a significant gap in AI adoption among SMBs. Visa's recent survey data shows that 45% of SMB leaders have not used AI tools like ChatGPT or similar ones. Meanwhile, only 26% have used such tools for both personal and business purposes.

Among those SMBs that have embraced AI, we can see a range of innovative and effective use cases. For instance, some businesses are using AI-powered chatbots for customer service to provide 24/7 support and instant responses to customer queries. Others are leveraging machine learning algorithms for predictive analytics, helping them forecast sales, manage inventory and target marketing efforts more effectively.

AI is also being used for automating routine tasks such as scheduling, bookkeeping and email filtering, freeing up valuable time for SMB leaders to focus on strategic decision-making. In the retail sector, as an example, AI is being integrated into e-commerce platforms to provide personalized product recommendations based on customer behavior and preferences, significantly enhancing the customer experience and boosting sales.

The gap in adoption represents an opportunity for companies like Visa to provide SMBs with the education and tools they need to adopt AI effectively. By highlighting these practical use cases and providing tailored resources and support, Visa is helping bridge the gap and enable SMBs to reap the benefits that AI can offer. There is a clear need for ongoing education and support to help SMBs understand how AI can be applied in their specific contexts, a need that Visa is well-positioned to meet.

Visa's Perspective: The Future of AI for SMBs

Visa sees a bright future for AI in the SMB sector. Specifically, there are three ways in which generative AI will change commerce in the near-term (6 to 12 months): virtual assistance with - and automation of - administrative tasks, natural language interaction that allows users to interact with their technology in a human-like, conversational way and hyper-curated recommendations that understand consumer preferences and tailor to their unique interests.

This perspective aligns with the areas where SMB leaders think AI will have the most impact. According to Visa's survey, 44% of SMB leaders think AI will be most impactful in customer support or operations, 43% in marketing or accounting, 37% in financial management, 33% in sales, 29% in HR regarding current employees and 27% in recruiting and hiring.

AI is poised to help reimagine how SMBs operate, making them more efficient and effective. As a global leader in payments technology, Visa is committed to helping SMBs navigate this AI evolution, providing them with tools and insights they need to thrive in the age of AI. The future of SMB growth is intertwined with AI -- and with Visa's support, they are well-positioned to leverage the benefits of this transformative technology.

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All brand names, logos and/or trademarks are the property of their respective owners, are used for identification purposes only, and do not necessarily imply product endorsement or affiliation with Visa.

Data referenced is from Visa, in partnership with Maru. Data from this report is taken from 301 respondents from an online survey who are described as “Business Leaders” – this means they are at least senior decision-makers with the business, including roughly eight-in-ten who are the business’ primary owner. Responses come from across the United States, and represent a mix of revenue bands, business tenure, industry, etc. Fielding period: July 10-14, 2023.

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