Large firms step up to help SMEs with relief and training

Some companies are helping SMEs reinvent themselves through technology. PHOTO: ST FILE

SINGAPORE - Several large companies are helping small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) stay afloat as the coronavirus outbreak continues to take a toll on their finances and operations.

The initiatives involve providing much-needed relief and training to firms at a time when some government assistance tapers off as the economy gradually reopens.

American software company Salesforce has partnered the Singapore Business Federation (SBF) to hand out $960,000 in cash grants to eligible SMEs. The programme is expected to benefit 120 firms, which will each receive a grant of $8,000.

They can use the funds for their immediate cash-flow needs, such as rent and operating costs, to pay staff wages and to upgrade their skills or to digitalise.

Singapore-registered SMEs with at least 30 per cent local shareholding, an annual revenue of $150,000 to $2 million, and who employ between five and 50 employees, are eligible to apply.

Applications opened last Monday and close on Dec 23. Firms can go to this website to find out more.

Salesforce Singapore vice-president and general manager Cecily Ng said it is the right time for Singapore businesses to tap the grant money to fuel growth, given the economy is beginning to recover.

"This also presents a critical opportunity for larger and more established businesses to step in and give SMEs the support and resources they need to overcome challenges posed by Covid-19 and speed business transformation," she said.

Meanwhile, financial services firm American Express is helping to drive foot traffic back to stores by bringing its global Shop Small campaign to Singapore.

Card members can get $5 cashback when they spend at least $10 at participating businesses from tomorrow, for up to three times.

Around 2,000 businesses - at 11 CapitaLand malls and in areas such as Kampong Glam and Telok Ayer - are participating.

American Express, which has committed US$200 million (S$268 million) worldwide for its Shop Small campaigns, did not disclose how much it has set aside for the initiative here.

Mr Elroy Lim, vice-president and general manager for merchant services at American Express in Singapore, said: "While Shop Small encourages people to spend, we want them to consider where they spend, not how much they spend, and to place more emphasis on spending on local businesses."

Home-grown pastry shop Tong Heng is among the shops featured in the campaign.

General manager Ana Fong said Tong Heng's main challenge as a traditional small business has been to evolve to stay relevant.

The shop had to cease operations for three weeks during the circuit breaker and was lucky that it had adopted a digital strategy in recent years that allowed it to update customers, added Ms Fong.

SMEs - generally defined as companies with an annual turnover of less than $100 million or fewer than 200 staff - form a significant part of Singapore's economy, accounting for about 99.5 per cent of the country's enterprises and 70 per cent of the workforce.

Besides financial assistance and incentives for shoppers, some companies are helping SMEs reinvent themselves through technology.

Mr Dilip Roussenaly, senior director of deliveries at Grab Singapore, said: "Even as the economy gradually reopens, we believe that the current challenges faced by SMEs such as resource limitations and the lack of know-how in the digital arena will persist."

Grab's recent initiatives to address this digital gap include its Grab Merchant Academy, an online training programme launched in September with modules for businesses in areas such as online store management, menu optimisation and online marketing.

Firms can access these modules through the GrabMerchant app.

Efforts by larger companies to offer a lifeline to SMEs come as some government assistance for these firms tapers off in the coming months.

Support measures were earlier extended to allow businesses in sectors most affected by the Covid-19 outbreak to defer 80 per cent of principal payments on secured loans granted to them by banks or finance companies, until June 30 next year.

Firms in other sectors can apply to defer 80 per cent of such payments until March 31 next year.

Loans granted under Enterprise Singapore's enhanced working capital loan scheme and temporary bridging loan programme are also eligible for deferment.

Correction note: This story has been edited for clarity.

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