Small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) today face new challenges, even as they’re recovering from over two years of pandemic disruptions

“Managing cash flow is one of the biggest priorities for us, and for SMEs in general,” says Mr Brando Tan, director of Band World (Asia), “with global challenges such as high inflation and rising interest rates that will continue in the months ahead, and the rising cost of goods and utilities.”

Band World is a Singapore-based wholesaler and retailer of musical instruments. The company purchases woodwind and brasswind instruments from across the world and distributes them across South-east Asia.

“As an SME, we have limited cash,” he says. “While we definitely want to grow our business and capture opportunities when they arise, we also need to be prudent with our business decisions.”

Mr Tan’s sentiment is echoed by others. The ASEAN SME Transformation Study 2022, launched late last month, found that maintaining a healthy cash flow is an immediate business concern for 44 per cent of SMEs in the region.

UOB, professional services firm Accenture and business analytics company Dun & Bradstreet collaborated on the study. It surveyed 1,500 SMEs from Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia, Thailand and Vietnam, with equal representation from each country.

Over half (54 per cent) of SMEs surveyed said that their existing cash flow can only sustain them for less than six months.


5 things to know about SMEs in ASEAN

UOB, Accenture and Dun & Bradstreet collaborated on the ASEAN SME Transformation Study 2022. It surveyed 1,500 SMEs from Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia, Thailand and Vietnam. Key insights include:

  • 55% of SMEs are optimistic about the economic outlook, despite global challenges including rising costs
  • 45% feel the need to transform their business, particularly in the areas of digitalisation and sustainability
  • 3 in 5 SMEs surveyed plan to continue their digitalisation efforts and tap digital economy opportunities
  • 66% expect to spend more on technology across areas including digital marketing and operations
  • 74% of SMEs want to be connected to a strong network of partners that can provide other business services, beyond financing


Grow and manage cash flow

To help SMEs manage cash flow more effectively and address other business needs, UOB launched the UOB SME app last month.

The all-in-one banking platform was designed based on insights from the ASEAN SME Transformation study, says Mr Lawrence Loh, managing director and head of Group Business Banking, UOB.

Through the platform, SMEs can now conveniently view their cash flow, apply for loans, make and approve transactions, and create personalised foreign currency watch lists. They can also access personalised insights and find industry events that are relevant to their business.

“We want to help SMEs stay on top of their business, and focus on their strategies for growth,” he says.

Band World is one of the SMEs that took part in the pilot programme of the UOB SME app in June this year. Managing cash flow has been much more convenient since he started using the app, says Mr Tan.

The app has an interactive dashboard that displays transactions over the past six months.

He shares he can now easily check in on the daily, weekly and monthly cash flow statements of the company. “I am able to have a real-time view of our accounts and cash positions, without the need to outsource to external vendors,” says Mr Tan.

Based on the cash flow data, the app also generates curated solutions such as loan financing options, and tips on how SMEs like Band World can improve their business performance.

Mr Tan notes that the real-time view of business transactions helps him to make strategic business decisions much more efficiently. “These capabilities ensure that we are able to maximise growth without stretching our cash flow,” Mr Tan says.


Banking on the go

Singapore-based fashion retailer Decks is another SME that has tried out the UOB SME app. Mr Kelvyn Chee, Decks’ CEO and founder, appreciates the ability to transact on the go. The platform is available on both desktop and mobile.

“The fast-paced nature of my job is such that I’m usually moving between different outlets and ensuring that everything runs smoothly,” he says. “The UOB SME app provides me with greater convenience, financial control and personalised insights that are useful for my business.”

Decks has over 40 outlets across Singapore, with fashion brands such as M)phosis, Surfers Paradise, and Island Shop. The company also has presence in Malaysia, Myanmar and Brunei.

“We source supplies from multiple countries, so managing foreign currency risks is very crucial to the business, given the changing currency environment,” Mr Chee says. He uses the FX Watchlist feature on the UOB SME app to help him automatically track foreign exchange (FX) rates.

“By setting up a personalised watchlist, I will receive alerts when the currency pair I’m monitoring has reached the desired rate pegged,” explains Mr Chee. “I am able to seize the best possible rate even when I’m on the move, and this helps to improve our bottomline.”


Empowering SMEs through ecosystems

Through the UOB SME app, fashion retailer Decks has managed to digitalise 90 per cent of its manual transactions. “This has helped us to save on charges relating to cheque issuance,” says CEO and founder Mr Kelvyn Chee.

More and more SMEs are moving onto digital platforms, spurred by the pandemic, observes Mr Lawrence Loh, managing director and head of Group Business Banking, UOB.

“While the brick-and-mortar world will continue to exist, a bulk of SMEs’ revenues are now being channelled through digital platforms. They're also looking at how they can manage their business operations in a more digital way.”

The ASEAN SME Transformation study found that about 45 per cent of SMEs in the region feel the need to transform their business, particularly in the areas of digitalisation and sustainability. Over three in five (66 per cent) said they are keen to invest more in technology, especially in areas such as digital marketing, customer management, network management and operational processes.

“In the past, digital tools and initiatives were considered a good-to-have. But now, it has become an imperative,” says Mr Loh. UOB is committed to empowering SMEs on their digitalisation journeys, he adds.

The bank is helping to connect SMEs in the region with the wider ecosystem by organising industry events. These events are often held in a hybrid manner, so SMEs can join and share insights no matter where they are. They can also take this opportunity to network with others.

Beyond that, UOB has a team of digital specialists who focus on helping SMEs enhance their digitalisation efforts by connecting them with service providers through UOB BizSmart.

UOB BizSmart, which is integrated into the UOB SME app, comprises a suite of digital solutions to help SMEs manage multiple core business processes such as sales, invoicing, payroll and accounting.

“Embarking on the digitalisation journey with UOB has been enriching for our business,” says Mr Brando Tan of Band World (Asia). He believes digitalisation is key to thriving in the new normal, “especially if we want to tap on the ASEAN market for expansion”.

“Digitalisation is essential for SMEs because digital channels offer new opportunities, including new distribution channels and customer bases,” he adds. “This enables SME owners like me to focus on decision-making and developing growth strategies.”

The Future of Finance is a series that explores how digital solutions can empower individuals and businesses, creating a smarter, more sustainable world.

This article was originally published on The Straits Times and was written by Kareyst Lin, Content STudio.


Source: The Straits Times © SPH Media Limited. Permission required for reproduction