Good time to look at setting up Exim banks

Local enterprises are struggling through the double whammy of a slowing economy and increasing business costs ("7 strategies to take economy forward"; Feb 10).

They operate in a tight labour market, and face headwinds when competing with online businesses and other direct and indirect players in an open and global environment.

One of small businesses' biggest challenges is the availability, affordability and accessibility of capital to help them compete and grow their businesses.

Perhaps, we should revisit the setting up of an Export Import (Exim) bank or a similar institution or initiative to help small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) enhance their financial position, stability and growth.

Exim banks fill export financing gaps through their loan guarantee and insurance programmes, when the private sector is unable or unwilling to do so.

It is more difficult for small businesses to enjoy priority and dedicated service from mainstream financial institutions and to access alternative financing.

They also face greater challenges assuring lenders of their financial position and credit-worthiness, and convincing lenders to invest in higher-risk projects, especially when it comes to new markets, technology, innovation and systems that generally fall outside the norm.

Mainstream financial institutions may not fully understand the practical needs of small businesses, nor be as willing to co-invest or share the risks with small businesses to capitalise on a project.

With their focus on the bottom line, mainstream institutions are not as predisposed to investing in helping small businesses develop their infrastructure, support and services, so as to grow their business and become the next generation of world-beaters.

An Exim bank or a similar venture can cover these essential gaps and also be more focused in meeting the other needs and requirements of small businesses.

Patrick Liew Siow Gian (Dr)

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 16, 2017, with the headline 'Good time to look at setting up Exim banks'. Print Edition | Subscribe