SME Featured Southeast Asia

NTUC U SME launches new savings, benefits initiative for SME partners

Singapore – ​NTUC U SME, the NTUC unit that seeks to support SMEs in their business needs, has recently launched a new initiative called ‘NTUC In Your Workplace’, to help bring additional personalized benefits worth up to S$2,300 per worker into the SMEs’ workplaces.

‘NTUC In Your Workplace’ is NTUC U SME’s first foray into equipping and supporting local SME businesses and workforce by tapping on the products and services of the NTUC Social Enterprises (SEs) and partners. Eligible partner SMEs will be able to provide attractive savings and benefits to ensure that their workers’ daily needs and livelihood are covered. This is in line with NTUC U SME’s key focus to support the SMEs and enhance the lives of their workers.

The new initiative will be made available to eligible NTUC U SME partners to help them innovate the way they manage their workforce’s health and well-being. As the first SME recipient of the initiative, 60 workers will enjoy up to S$140,000 worth of total savings and benefits per year, which is inclusive of total NTUC Membership savings. This ranges from daily grocery savings to personal training, family care support, and support from the NTUC Membership savings, as well as the company’s regular staff benefits.

To participate in the initiative, the partner SME will have to achieve at least 80% NTUC membership coverage of its workforce and attain NTUC U SME’s 3B criteria – Better Workplace, Better Worker, and Better Job (Annex A). Currently, 10% of 400 partners SMEs have been assessed to be eligible for this initiative and NTUC U SME will be working with more SMEs to help them achieve the 3B criteria to ultimately bring better welfare, savings, and benefits to SME workers.

By achieving the 3Bs, eligible SMEs will be enjoying savings such as a sponsored refrigerator with pantry snacks from NTUC FairPrice, a free online learning LHUBGO account with more than 75,000 online courses, and complimentary trials at NTUC Health Senior Care Centers for staff, who require assistance for respite care. This is on top of the benefits that workers will be enjoying when they sign up for the NTUC Membership. 

“As NTUC’s representative to support local SMEs and their workers, NTUC U SME has come a long way in its engagement of SMEs and introducing win-win initiatives that will give partner SMEs an added support to hiring and retaining workers; and help SME workers enjoy better work prospects. I am pleased to share that NTUC U SME has surpassed their 400 SME goal and is on track to reach 500 by the end of 2021,” said Chee Meng Ng, secretary-general of NTUC.

Meanwhile, Wan Ling Yeo, NTUC’s director for U SME, commented that they are delighted to bring ‘NTUC In Your Workplace’ to their partner SMEs as this initiative will serve as a big support for them and help create ‘happy’ and ‘resilient’ SME workers. 

“As one of Singapore’s oldest manufacturers of local breakfast and snack delights, Lim Kee has worked with NTUC U SME to transform their staff welfare and business marketing needs to meet the demands of the market. With their positive feedback on this initiative, we look forward to helping more partner SMEs and their workers,” said Yeo.

SME Featured APAC

B2B marketplace Proxtera expands global network by joining SAP’s Ariba Network

Singapore – In its bid to make its client Asian SMEs reach a global network, business-to-business (B2B) marketplace Proxtera has announced that it will be joining Ariba Network, a global digital business network owned by technology company SAP.

Through the network endeavor, Proxtera will now be part of one collaborative, intelligent, global business network with access to new demand channels to grow its business in an increasingly digital and networked economy.

This recent endeavor by Proxtera aligns with the company’s goals to connect over 350,000 SMEs to new trading partners across a growing list of countries in Asia including Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia, Philippines, and India. With each trade, Proxtera envisions to offer a host of integrated digital tools and services that helps marketplaces, platforms and SMEs more quickly, access, evaluate and act on business opportunities.

“Proxtera’s mission is to enable SMEs around the world to thrive in the new normal of the digital economy and access new trade opportunities previously thought out of reach. Proxtera aims to help SMEs as they recover from the impact of the pandemic and to bring us one step closer to an open, more collaborative future where businesses of all sizes, including SMEs, have great trade opportunities afforded to them as a traditional corporate ecosystem,” said Lim Kang Song, chairman at Proxtera.

Meanwhile, Paul Marriott, president at SAP Asia Pacific Japan, commented, “It’s clear that no business does business alone. This is part of our broader vision to reimagine how businesses, including SMEs, can collaborate with a network of global trading partners across supply chains, economies, and industries, and empower companies to move faster and smarter than ever before.”

As part of its network endeavor, Proxtera is currently developing Proxtera Plus for its network of 350,000 businesses and SMEs. Proxtera Plus aims to provide a smooth search, product match, and transaction experience for large buying organizations with a deep and diverse range of buyers and sellers from wholesale e-commerce platforms across Asia via Proxtera’s trade network of marketplaces, for example, Eezee, GlobalLinker, SGeBiz, and Sourcesage 99SME B2B. 

In addition, it also aims to help with compliance of purchases against internal corporate policies and enable quick digital approvals. Proxtera Plus is intended to make closing purchases accessible, supported with secure payment rails and integrated fulfillment options.

SME Featured ANZ

CBA extends financial support to pandemic-strained SMEs in NSW

Sydney, Australia – In response to some of its customers affected by the recent lockdowns due to COVID-19, financial institution Commonwealth Bank of Australia (CBA) has announced that it is extending its financial support to affected small businesses in the state of New South Wales in Australia.

Part of the main service CBA will offer is its loans, where they are provided through the federal government-backed SME Loan Recovery Scheme. This offers eligible businesses loans up to AU$5m with variable interest rates from as low as 2.6% per annum for secured loans, and from 2.85% per annum for secured loans with a repayment holiday from 12 months. Unsecured loans are available with rates from 3.25% per annum, and from 3.75% per annum with a repayment holiday from 12 months.

Other services include repayment deferrals on asset finance and eligible business loans; a refund of merchant terminal fees for up to 90 days for eligible customers; and a waiving of fees and notice periods on cash deposit and farm management deposit accounts for eligible customers.

For Matt Comyn, CEO at CBA, they wanted to assure any of their customers who need assistance during this difficult time that they have measures in place to support them including short-term repayment deferrals. He also added that their teams are here to help them and can tailor solutions to suit their different circumstances.

“We know this lockdown will have an impact on the Sydney-based business community and we’ve been speaking to our customers to understand if they need assistance. Our business customers have demonstrated great resilience throughout the pandemic and we’re committed to doing what we can to help them through this lockdown period and beyond,” Comyn said.

He added, “We have a range of measures to help businesses to free up cash flow and provide some certainty, whether it’s through loan deferrals, fee refunds, or new low-cost funding through the SME Recovery Loan Scheme. As well as helping to deliver vital cash flow and provide peace of mind during this challenging time, these funds have allowed many businesses to adapt and innovate their operations, such as transitioning online.”

SME Featured Southeast Asia

MY’s Employees Provident Fund rolls out e-payroll service for SMEs

Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia – The Malaysian arm of retirement fund Employees Provident Fund (EPF) has announced the launch of e-payroll, an enhancement of the i-Akaun (Employer) portal, to help facilitate employer’s statutory obligations, including EPF contribution, digitally.

The service launch provides a secure and seamless experience for employers, emphasizing on automated calculations of statutory deductions and contributions to regulatory bodies. This initiative is in line with EPF’s objectives of helping employers, particularly small-medium enterprises (SMEs), fulfill their obligations to employees while making it easier and seamless for them to operate their businesses.

In addition, the service also provides employers with the capability to digitally store the records of their employees including that of salary, helping to enhance process efficiency by reducing the time needed to manage activities related to statutory obligations.

For Tan Sri Ahmad Badri Mohd Zahir, chairman at EPF, they were well aware of the increasingly important role of digitalization in our lives, with the COVID-19 pandemic pushing many clients to adopt digital technology at a faster speed with greater accuracy.

“At the EPF, we have approached this with our members’ interest in mind, and have taken the initiative to continuously improve our offerings that would benefit both employers and employees. The e-payroll service is designed to assist SME users of i-Akaun (Employer) who are not using any payroll solution or do not have the financial means to utilize a payroll solution,” he stated.

Said solution was developed in collaboration with and endorsed by the Inland Revenue Board Malaysia (IRBM), Social Security Organisation (SOCSO), and Human Resource Development Corporation (HRD Corp). This close collaboration will ensure the accuracy and up-to-dateness of statutory requirements in the e-payroll.

The e-payroll was well-received by 600 SMEs that had enrolled in the pilot test and soft launch recently.

“The EPF continues to evolve in order to stay relevant in the face of rapid technological advances and dynamic changes in the job landscape. Digitalization will ensure that we are able to offer the highest level of service while meeting the expectations of our members and employers,” Tan Sri Ahmad Badri added.

SME Featured Southeast Asia

PH-based B2B e-commerce enabler GrowSari raises more than US$30m in funding for expansion

Manila, Philippines – GrowSari, a local-born business-to-business (B2B) e-commerce enabler, has recently concluded its Series B funding, where it has collected more than US$30m in funding, which will be used to expand its services across clients nationwide.

Said funding was led by Gokongwei-led listed Philippine retailer Robinsons Retail Holdings Inc. (RRHI) and JG Digital Equity Ventures, as well as Wavemaker Partners. Other participants included Pavilion Capital, a Singapore-based investment company focused on Southeast Asian and North Asian economies Tencent, China’s leading technology company, International Finance Corporation (IFC) a member of the World Bank Group, ICCP SBI Venture Partners, and Singapore-based growth fund Saison Capital.

GrowSari is a tech-enabled B2B platform that outfits Philippine sari-sari store owners with inventory, infrastructure, and tools to manage and grow their business while generating crucial data and market insights for manufacturers and distributors. 

For context, sari-sari stores in the Philippines are generally defined as mom-and-pop neighborhood stores in the country, and are considered the backbone of the local economy in their respective communities.

There has always been a great significance and dependence to sari-sari stores in the country, as around 84% of Filipinos purchase essential goods at the over 1.1 million stores across the country, with 60% of fast-moving consumer goods (FMCG) shopper spending happening in such stores. These sari-sari stores are hyper-proximal, with 90% of consumers having a store less than 100 meters away from their home. On average, consumers transact twice a day from their nearest sari-sari stores.

GrowSari primarily aims to tap into the sari-sari store’s potential to be the biggest and most accessible distribution channel in the Philippines by driving efficiencies in route planning while collecting valuable insights on store behavior. 

Through its app, sari-sari stores can double their earnings through access to better pricing for more than a thousand of fast moving sari-sari store stock keeping units (SKUs) from the largest brands across all the major FMCG categories. This is in addition to microfinancing support and assistance, and multiple e-services including telco, bills payment and remittance. 

This objective is supported by its co-founder, ER Rollan, who states that the company aims to empower and significantly increase the earnings of sari-sari stores in the Philippines by providing direct access to a wide assortment of affordable products, e-businesses, and financial assistance.

“With the fresh funds, we aim to more than double GrowSari’s existing coverage and service more than 300,000 sari-sari stores, including those in Visayas and Mindanao. This will also help us broaden our supplier marketplace with new third-party partners and scale our financial service pilots,” Rollan said.

Meanwhile, Siddhartha Kongara, CTO at GrowSari, commented, “Through GrowSari, we want to use proprietary technology to accelerate financial health for Filipino sari-sari store owners, helping them to use, protect, and grow their business in the long run and transforming sari-sari stores into comprehensive service hubs for the Philippines’ grassroots communities.”

SME Featured APAC

Axiata’s B2B unit ties up Google Cloud for new bundle for SMBs

Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia – Axiata Enterprise, the business-to-business (B2B) arm of Malaysia-based telecommunications group Axiata, has announced a partnership with Google Cloud in order to help accelerate digital adoption across companies and small-medium businesses (SMBs) across Asia.

The implementation will come in the form of offering Google Workspace as part of their integrated ICT portfolio and solution bundles to small and medium businesses (SMBs). Telecoms across Axiata’s group will spearhead the implementation, with Dialog in Sri Lanka leading the initiative, and with implementation scheduled for Q2 this year.

This will be followed by Celcom in Malaysia, XL in Indonesia, Robi in Bangladesh, Ncell in Nepal, and Smart in Cambodia by the second half of the year.

Axiata’s digital telcos will also continue to leverage Google Cloud’s core compute, storage, and networking capabilities to modernize their infrastructure and drive their digital transformation initiatives. 

Said initiative comes in retrospect to the fact that Asia is home to over one million SMBs all looking for the best possible way to tap the immense opportunities in some of the world’s fastest growing Internet economies. Axiata’s controlling interests in six mobile operators cover over 157 million mobile subscribers across its footprint. 

“Axiata and Google Cloud have a shared vision of helping businesses digitize and grow as they build greater resilience for the long haul. With nations increasingly stepping up on digitalization for economic recovery and growth, we stand at a critical juncture to support businesses, especially small and medium players in their efforts to adjust and adapt to new digital norms for survival,” said Gopi Kurup, CEO at Axiata Enterprise.

He also added that the power of Google Cloud’s advanced technologies combined with Axiata’s market intelligence enables companies to access advanced tools to boost their collaboration and productivity and generate data-based insights to strengthen their evolving customer engagement strategies.

Celcom, which is under the Axiata Group, is leveraging Google Cloud’s infrastructure and solutions as well to run its payment gateway and advance its modern digital customer journey. The Malaysian telco also has plans to use Google Cloud’s AI tools to build personalization and recommendation models to further enhance customer experience. 

Ruma Balasubramanian, managing director of Google Cloud in Southeast Asia, said, “To resource-strapped SMBs, cloud technology is a game-changer that enables them to compete with larger players in the market. We’re thrilled to partner with Axiata to accelerate the digital transformation of millions of companies in the region, and help them solve their complex business and technology challenges.”

SME Featured ANZ

Open banking platform BankiFi expands presence in Australia for SME support

Sydney, Australia – Realizing the need to serve its small-and-medium enterprise (SME) clients, UK-based open banking platform BankiFi has announced its expansion to the Australian market, fostering a new diversity in the country’s financial services ecosystem.

On top of the expansion, BankiFi has also appointed Lloyd Parata as the country manager for BankiFi in ANZ. He has been in the information technology industry for more than 25 years. He has spent more than 20 years as a sales director selling enterprise software solutions to banking institutions across Asia and ANZ.

BankiFi’s technology platform ensures banks remain relevant by offering SMEs an innovative solution to operate their business, whilst avoiding common challenges like late payment.

Parata explains that a combination of both regulation and advances in technology have lowered the point of entry enabling new entrants such as non-bank platforms like Stripe, Square and Shopify to erode bank revenues.

“For these new entrants, small businesses are the low hanging fruit, because they contribute massively to the economy, there are lots of them, and they have been underserviced thus far. However making payments is actually just a seat at the table. Small business owners now also expect reduction of the time they spend on manual administration and chasing late payments,” he stated.

BankiFi offers banks a set of configurable integrated services – accounting, invoicing, payments and cash forecasting – designed around the workflows of their small business customers, and embeds them in the most appropriate bank channel. The solution is built using a range of business microservices that small businesses can subscribe to.

Parata adds that small businesses are the backbone of Australia’s business landscape, accounting for 98% of all Australian businesses, and employing over 4.7 million people, more than 40% of the business workforce, making it Australia’s biggest employer.

“SMEs typically wait longer to get paid than bigger businesses, with late payments and time spent on burdensome financial management placing immense pressure on their survival. Being an SME ourselves, we wanted to create a service that helped business owners simplify collecting money from their customers, automate invoicing and bookkeeping, and to receive the money directly into their account – all through a mobile experience that reflects how they operate,” Parata commented.

He goes on to explain further that a lot of micro and small businesses suffer tremendously as a result of high transaction fees, delayed or late payments, complex financial admin tasks and cash-flow disruption. He also noted that when it comes to managing cash flow, small business owners tend to be stuck between two offerings within a bank: consumer functionality that is too basic, and commercial and/or treasury functionality that is too complex.

“Rising expectations from sole traders and micro-business owners ramp up the pressure for banks to step up and provide services they never did before, such as invoicing, reconciliation, and bookkeeping options. Dropping the ball right now may mean losing touch with a vital customer base — and, of course, there is no guarantee those customers will come back once they leave,” Parata added.

He concluded, “Small business has been desperate for a solution like BankiFi provides for far too long. By offering BankiFi to their small business customers, banks can help their customers manage their business while they can get on with doing what they do best.”

SME Featured ANZ

This newly-registered NZ stock exchange caters specifically for SMEs

Auckland, New Zealand – In a move to cater to small and medium enterprises (SMEs) in the country, stock exchange platform Catalist has announced that it has now acquired a license to open a public market for SMEs who are too small to be indexed by the New Zealand’s Exchange (NZX).

Previously operating under the private investment sector, Catalist’s platform is designed to raise up to NZ$20m a year from the public.

Catalist’s public market targets SME listings with an initial value of between NZ$6m and NZ$60m – considerably lower than what would be expected for a traditional stock market listing.

According to Colin Magee, CEO at Catalist , the green light to start trading with retail investors came after the Financial Markets Conduct (Catalist Public Market) Regulations 2021 were passed late last month.

Catalist has worked on the licence and legislation with the Ministry of Business and Innovation (MBIE) and the Financial Markets Authority (FMA) over the past two years to simplify the public listing process, creating a considerably lighter regulatory environment

“SMEs make up a majority of New Zealand businesses, so there’s a real need for those with growth potential to have better access to capital, and equally for investors to have better access to SME investments, to increase economic growth and job creation. Catalist’s public market means smaller businesses can now access public investment, with significantly lessened costs and administrative burdens – and without compromising investor protections,” Magee stated.

He also added that they are already working through the listing process with a number of businesses – and investors can sign up for an account on their website, so they can trade when there’s an auction running.

Differing from a traditional stock exchange, Catalist uses regular auctions, rather than continuous trading, allowing for fairer pricing and increased liquidity for financial products that don’t trade very frequently – often the case with smaller businesses. 

Regular auctions also allow for alternative disclosure provisions, a key difference with Catalist’s new market, where businesses only disclose information for each auction, rather than continuously.

Magee explains that traditional stock markets don’t work for SMEs because the costs, time spent on compliance, continuous disclosure obligations and focus on short-term share price get in the way of day-to-day operations and focusing on the long-term health of the business.

“In the past, we’ve seen growth markets, such as NZX’s ‘NXT’ take a traditional continuous trading approach and fail to meet the needs of SMEs. We’ve taken the learning from that and use periodic trading and disclosure instead, which has proved successful in other jurisdictions. Investors can now access well-regulated investment opportunities in SMEs, where they can be confident in the standard of information they receive,” Magee added.

The platform will act as a stepping stone for these registered SMEs to slowly transition into the traditional stock exchange, such as the NZX.

SME Featured East Asia

Payment systems Octopus aids HK SMBs’ digital transformation with latest support scheme

Hong Kong – In support of the growing number of small and medium business (SMB) merchants across Hong Kong, payment systems Octopus Card Limited (OCL) has announced the launch of its support scheme called the #NeighbourDOOD Merchant Support Scheme, targeted at helping local SMBs in their digital transformation strategies.

Furthermore, said support scheme also helps participating SMBs to take advantage of the Government’s Consumption Voucher Scheme (CVS). CVS is a local initiative by the Hong Kong government to stimulate consumer sentiment towards supporting local businesses by releasing said vouchers for local products and services.

The goal of Octopus’ scheme is to encourage citywide support of small businesses and bring together neighboring communities to create more business opportunities.

Through the initiative, the company will have a professional digital marketing agency to assist each merchant with setting up a social media business account and provide each of them a tailored digital promotion strategy. At the same time, OCL will offer each merchant HK$8,000 worth of online media placement and marketing budget for promotion of their unique story and signature products. 

In all, the scheme aims to help preserve and promote the city’s distinctive cultural and culinary heritage.

Speaking about the initiative, Rita Li, sales and marketing at OCL, notes that the company understands the challenges for small merchants and they see the need to go digital in order to sustain and thrive. Therefore, they want to help them by reaching out to the community and getting customers to find their way to them through digital marketing.

“OCL has been offering fast and convenient electronic payment solutions for small-and medium-sized merchants for over two decades. Through the Scheme, we hope to support even more neighborhood shops to keep pace with the trend of digital transformation,” Li stated.

She added, “This will not only increase visibility for small merchants and enhance their competitiveness, but also help people from all walks of life meet their shopping needs. OCL will promote these shops, their stories and features on Octopus social media platforms and the Octopus App.”

During the first phase of the scheme, OCL will also launch the event webpage “#NeighbourDOOD-Nomination of My Favorite Shops”, where visitors or shop owners can nominate their favourite “hidden” specialty shops in the city*. A total of 108 small shops will be selected using the following three criteria: business size, based on operating years, size and employee number; locality, where the shop is locally registered in the city; and speciality, where it is all about the unique history of the shop, its products or services.

This initiative is targeting those whose historical and cultural values contribute to the city’s identity including traditional local shops, handicraft shops and value-for-money specialty shops.

SME Featured APAC

APAC’s Plug and Play unveils new programs to accelerate startup, SME growth

Singapore – Global innovation platform Plug and Play has recently concluded its APAC-centric summit last 1 to 2 June, in which the firm introduced three new programs for startups and SMEs. 

The three new programs are the ‘Sustainability Program’, ‘Business Solutions Accelerator by Facebook’, and its ‘GK – Plug and Play Program’. 

In the virtual event, it was announced that the ‘Sustainability Program’ seeks to provide the tools and network for startups with disruptive technologies that will allow them to empower big corporations to meet their green initiatives.

Part of the solutions instated include equipping SMEs forward thinking into creating sustainable supply chains, implementation of digital technologies for sustainable production, training and advisory for sustainable practices, and compliance or certification of sustainable practices. 

Jupe Tan, managing partner at Plug and Play APAC, commented, “This year we celebrate our 15th anniversary with a global team of almost 600 across 35 cities around the world. We will look to actively invest in technologies that focus on enhancing our living environment and address our resource constraints in a sustainable manner that reduces emissions and efficiently uses natural resources.” 

Meanwhile, the ‘Business Solutions Accelerator by Facebook’ will be made possible by Facebook and the Asian Development Bank (ADB) to which Tan describes as an innovation catered to looking into areas such as cleantech and clean energy, sustainable agriculture, inclusive fintech as well as inclusive healthcare.

Through the accelerator, Facebook is looking forward to nurturing and collaborating with technology partners that share Facebook’s commitment to improving the merchant experience for businesses across the Facebook family of apps. Program benefits include product education, dedicated Facebook mentors for guidance on product development and business growth, networking with fellow startups and ecosystem enablers, insights into industry and innovation trends.

Lastly, the ‘GK Plug and Play’ aims to make innovation within reach for enterprising groups and individuals. Plug and Play aims to build a smart future by connecting innovation to the brightest minds, as well as building a unique ecosystem as their mission that connects change-makers and leading organizations. So far, the accelerator program has run 8 batches and accelerated 123 startups giving them enhanced access to mentors, investors, and corporations.

On the program with Facebook and ADB, Tan said, “I am proud to announce that we have embarked on a regional partnership with the Asian Development Bank through ADB Ventures, the new venture arm of the ADB. Together with ADB Ventures, we hope to source for and invest in bold technology startups that are working to solve Asia Pacific’s biggest unsolved problems.