Private sector aid for firms amid virus crisis

UOB unveils $3b package, while StarHub facilitates remote work capabilities, among other efforts

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) yesterday.

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

It will allow affected businesses to rework their principal repayments and to 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 offer financing liquidity against mortgage security.

UOB deputy chairman and chief executive Wee Ee Cheong said: "We at UOB want to play our part in our commitment to caring for our clients' 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."

UOB said that for its retail customers affected by the economic disruption, 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 SmartUC Mobile - the softphone app of its cloud telephony solution - until Sept 1.

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 Company and real estate tycoon John Lim's JL Family Office announced the launch of a $5 million SME Help Fund.

The fund, targeted at helping SMEs that are facing a 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. Crowdfunding platform Minterest will assess credit scores and disburse funds efficiently and quickly.

The Singapore branch of Malaysia's CIMB Bank has also offered affected companies its e-supply chain financing programme. This will help firms that require longer credit terms from their suppliers to conserve cash flow, CIMB said.

Its consumer banking segment will also accommodate requests from customers affected by the outbreak to restructure or reschedule their loans and financing.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 13, 2020, with the headline 'Private sector aid for firms amid virus crisis'. Print Edition | Subscribe