Continued wage support tops Budget wish list for SMEs: UOB survey

The number of SMEs that UOB's group commercial banking team helped to access government assistance schemes more than tripled in 2020. PHOTO: ST FILE

SINGAPORE (THE BUSINESS TIMES) - Continued wage support is top of the Budget 2021 wish list for small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) in Singapore, according to a survey by UOB released on Wednesday (Feb 10).

About 30 per cent of the SMEs polled said they applied for the Jobs Support Scheme (JSS) and Wage Credit Scheme (WCS) in 2020, and more than half of the total respondents want the schemes to be extended in 2021 (59 per cent for the JSS and 53 per cent for the WCS).

Companies in the wholesale trade and real estate and hospitality sectors were more keen on government assistance to protect jobs, while SMEs in sectors that are already on the road to recovery, such as manufacturing and professional services, were more interested in industry partnerships.

The SME Outlook 2021 study was conducted from late November to early December last year, polling 782 local SMEs with revenue of less than $100 million.

Smaller SMEs with turnover of less than $10 million indicated a greater need for financial support to ease short-term cash flow issues. They placed tax incentives, easier access to funding and grants, and assistance to apply for such grants and schemes at the top of their Budget 2021 wish list.

They also had a slightly more negative outlook for their businesses in 2021, compared with larger SMEs with turnover of between $10 million and $100 million. Three out of five of the larger SMEs said they have a positive outlook for 2021, while only half of the smaller SMEs agreed.

In line with their more upbeat sentiment, larger SMEs displayed a longer-term view in their wish list items. Their top three requests were for more public and private collaboration opportunities, easier access to funding and grants, and collateral-free loans for business transformation.

Mr Eric Tham, UOB's head of group commercial banking, said: "Given the pressures on revenue that many SMEs in Singapore faced during the Republic's circuit breaker period and subsequent gradual reopening of the economy, it is not surprising that they are seeking support to ease the pressures on their margins."

He noted that the study shows a continued need to support such businesses in their road to recovery, so they can retain their employees, boost long-term resiliency and capture growth opportunities.

The number of SMEs that UOB's group commercial banking team helped to access government assistance schemes more than tripled in 2020. The bank also received more queries about its green loans, which Mr Tham sees as a sign that companies are prioritising sustainability considerations.

A total of 20,000 smaller SMEs received help from UOB's group business banking team to apply for government reliefs, grants and funding last year, and the number of small business loans provided rose by more than 1.5 times year on year.

Mr Lawrence Loh, UOB's head of group business banking, said the bank will continue to work with ecosystem partners such as Google, Shopmatic and Getz to help small businesses enhance their operational efficiencies and move online. Since September last year, it has helped more than 250 business-to-business SMEs access trade opportunities in China via the OneSME ecosystem in collaboration with Ping An OneConnect and the Infocomm Media Development Authority.

"With the green shoots of economic recovery growing stronger in the year ahead, it is important that SMEs be part of industry ecosystems so that they can have immediate access to current and future business opportunities," Mr Loh said.

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