UOB, other private firms offer help to SMEs hit by coronavirus outbreak

United Overseas Bank said it has allocated $3 billion for its affected Singapore corporate clients, particular the small- and medium-sized enterprises. PHOTO: ST FILE

SINGAPORE - Banks, telcos and asset managers are stepping forward to help businesses, especially smaller ones, tide over the disruption caused by the coronavirus outbreak.

The biggest relief package was announced by United Overseas Bank (UOB) on Wednesday (Feb 12).

The bank said it has allocated $3 billion for its affected Singapore corporate clients, particular the small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), to have more flexibility in their cash-flow management.

UOB will allow affected businesses to rework their principal repayments and service only their loan interest for up to one year. It will also extend up to one year working capital financing of up to $5 million and offering financing liquidity against mortgage security.

Mr Wee Ee Cheong, UOB's chief executive officer, said: "We at UOB want to play our part in our commitment to caring for our client's businesses. For most companies, especially the SMEs, cash flow and financing are key to them sustaining their business.

"As their long-term banking partner, we believe our added support can help alleviate the business disruption and pressure from the ripple effect of the epidemic."

For its retail customers affected by the economic disruption, UOB said it will assess on a case by case basis how it can help them.

SMEs also got a helping hand from StarHub.

The telco said it will offer SME customers free subscriptions to the softphone app - SmartUC Mobile - of its cloud telephony solution till Sept 1 this year.

The service may help companies put in place business continuity plans for remote work capabilities, StarHub said.

Several companies across Singapore have split their operations, with some of their employees working from remote locations.

Meanwhile, ARA Asset Management, The Straits Trading Co and real estate tycoon John Lim's JL Family Office announced the launch of a $5 million SME Help Fund.

The fund, targeted to help SMEs which are facing temporary liquidity crunch in their business because of the outbreak, will provide low-cost borrowing and quick access to funds for working capital needs, a joint press release by the three firms said.

Loans of as much as $50,000 for up to a period of six months at a preferential monthly interest rate of 0.5 per cent may be approved within 48 hours, upon receipt of all completed documents, the release said. Minterest, a crowdfunding platform, will assess credit scores and disburse funds efficiently and quickly.

Malaysia's CIMB Bank's Singapore branch also offered affected companies its e-Supply Chain Financing programme.

That will help companies that require longer credit terms from their suppliers to conserve cash flow, CIMB said.

CIMB Consumer Banking will also accommodate requests from its customers which are affected by the outbreak to restructure or reschedule their loans and financing.

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