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Speech by MOS Low Yen Ling at the SME Centre Virtual Conference 2020: New Normal, New Opportunities

Speech by MOS Low Yen Ling at the SME Centre Virtual Conference 2020: New Normal, New Opportunities

1. Thank you for having me at this conference today.

2. The past few months have been challenging for many of us as we battle against Covid-19. The pandemic has brought about unprecedented changes to the business landscape in Singapore and around the world. It has spared no one, including our micro and small enterprises. However, despite the disruptions and difficulties faced, many enterprises are putting up a good fight. We want to commend and thank all of you for your cooperation, especially during the Circuit Breaker period. We are also grateful for the safe measures you have put in place in your businesses.

3. As our economy continues to re-open, we are moving into a new normal.

a. While it can be stressful adapting to new demands and situations, there is a new potential and fresh pockets of opportunities to be tapped.

b. To seize these rising opportunities, SMEs will do well by strengthening capabilities – upskilling workers, digitalising operating systems and developing new business models.

c. We understand that this may be more difficult than before, and hence, we’re committed to ramping up more support for SMEs – from funding to expertise, rental subsidies and practical assistance.

Helping companies tide over this period of uncertainty

4. You can be assured that the Government will do its utmost to help companies tide over this uncertain period.

5. The Business Advisors at all our SME Centres have been busy familiarising business owners with the range of government support available. We know that one of the most immediate and pressing concerns for many SMEs is cashflow.

6. To help enterprises tackle this, Government is taking on 90 percent of the risk on loans supported by Enterprise Singapore (ESG). This support lasts till March 2021.

a. This has brought much relief to many enterprises. From March to June this year, more than 10,600 enterprises have taken up about S$9.4 billion in loans – this is seven times the credit extended through ESG’s loan programmes in 2019.

b. More than 80% of these loans were given to micro and small enterprises with less than S$10 million in annual revenue.

7. Rental costs is another immediate concern we are helping SMEs resolve. The Rental Relief Framework provides eligible SMEs with two to four months’ waiver of rent for units under qualifying properties. We hope this will alleviate financial stress from the impact of COVID-19.

a. SME tenants who have questions on these rental reliefs can attend the “Fair Tenancy Regulatory Clinic” organised by the Fair Tenancy Framework Industry Committee and MTI’s Pro-Enterprise Panel.

8. Besides keeping afloat, companies have to also think longer-term and position their businesses well by building capabilities and upskilling employees. The competition to stay relevant in the rapidly changing global environment is tough and demanding.

Embracing digitalisation to keep workers safe and improve competitiveness

9. Going digital and being digital is one of the key ways to survive. COVID-19 has accelerated the adoption of digital tools for businesses and consumers.

a. Because of safe distancing, more people are having to “work from home”. Companies are having to tap on technology to safeguard business continuity.

b. E-payment and e-invoicing systems will soon become the norm as companies and organisations continue to streamline and reduce physical contact.

10. SMEs do not need to go on the digital journey alone. You can tap on government schemes such as the Productivity Solutions Grant (PSG), to help your company digitalise. These funds can also help you put in place business continuity measures like virtual meetings or a queue management system.

a. The ESG has raised the support level of the PSG to 80% and expanded the scope of eligible digital solutions to make your businesses more efficient and competitive in the new normal.

b. As of July this year, we have received more than 18,000 applications from SMEs seeking to digitalise their business processes and expand their customer base.

c. At least 10,000 of these applications were for COVID-19 business continuity measures.

SME Centres’ vital role in supporting SMEs’ capability building

11. If you need help to digitalise, you can approach the SME Centres nearest you. The Business Advisors are there to guide you on how to grow and transform your business.

12. Long Pun, is an SME that sought help from SME Centre@North West. This manufacturing company for the construction industry sought assistance to adopt cloud-based accounting for its business.

a. Long Pun was advised to use the Productivity Solutions Grant to defray the cost of adopting remote working tools. The company also adopted cloud-based accounting software which lets its employee easily retrieve invoices and business information electronically.

b. Because of these tools, the company was able to easily switch to “Work from Home” arrangements during Covid-19.

c. Today, Long Pun continues to work with SME Centre@North West to explore new ways to digitalise its business.

13. To better support our SMEs, the SME Centres are always monitoring common pain points faced by businesses.

a. Once the problem statements for a sector or locality are identified, the centre’s business advisors will develop a Group-Based Upgrading project to address the needs and concerns of the SMEs.

b. ESG then works closely with the SME Centre to roll out productivity or capability building solutions to uplift the sector as a whole.

c. SME Centre@SCCCI, for example, has supported the transition of some 13 SMEs to overseas marketplaces. The SMEs are able to sell their products across several marketplaces in countries through a multi-channel e-commerce platform provider.

14. Over the next few months, we hope to see more businesses embracing and investing in digitalisation for their long-term future. Drop in to your nearest SME Centre if you have not done so. Let us help you future-proof your business and build deeper capabilities.

Creating a Pro-Enterprise environment through streamlining of processes

15. We want to see businesses thrive and today, more is being done to create a pro-enterprise environment.

a. MTI’s Pro-Enterprise Panel proactively seeks out feedback from businesses to review and streamline government rules and regulations. This effort not only cuts red tape, it helps businesses reduce compliance costs; supports new innovation and offers more chances for local companies to scale up.

16. Come 11 August or next Tuesday, we will launch the GoBusiness Gov Assist, with an e-Adviser, for companies seeking government assistance. One common feedback we have received from SMEs is their difficulty navigating the suite of available government schemes. They find it hard to find the schemes they can qualify for and know which ones are best suited for their needs.

a. To use the e-advisor, users just need to answer a few short questions on their company’s business needs online. Based on that, the e-Adviser will suggest a selection of schemes that are most suited for the company. This business-centric approach is focused and customised to meet the SME’s needs. It makes it easier and faster for companies to find the right government support schemes that can help them.

b. The GoBusiness Gov Assist / e-Adviser will be available 24 by 7 online and it will complement the efforts of our Business Advisers at the various SME Centres islandwide

c. The GoBusiness Gov Assist and its e-Adviser will also complement the efforts of our 80 Business Advisors at the 11 SME Centres. Businesses can book an appointment with a Business Advisor via Gov Assist for a more holistic diagnosis of their business needs with the e-Adviser’s suggestions.

d. The Gov Assist will also let businesses subscribe to Government Procurement notifications, so they can be in-the-know of the latest opportunities.

17. This online adviser is part of the Government’s larger GoBusiness platform and similar to the GoBusiness Licensing Portal. These enhancements were developed by the Government in collaboration with businesses, SME Centres and TACs to streamline and digitalise transactions between Government and businesses.

a. For instance, the Guided Journey feature in the licensing portal simplifies the application process and helps applicants understand the rules and licenses required by different agencies, as well as what it takes to start a food shop.

18. A big thank you to everyone, especially the SMEs that have contributed your time and feedback to co-create these enhancements with us.

Partnerships for stronger business outcome

19. Given that the global COVID-19 situation will continue to remain in flux, we must be prepared for a slow and uneven economic recovery.

a. This is the time to invest in not only your firm’s capabilities, but also your employees – for they can help your company ride the upturn.

b. I am greatly heartened that many SMEs have chosen to retain their employees and use this period to send them for training.

c. You have done the right thing and this will empower your employees to deliver greater value to your business. You recognise that employees are the most valuable assets of a business. A well-equipped and trained team of workers is critical to help your businesses grow or diversify successfully.

20. Covid-19 has accelerated the growth and opportunities in e-commerce in new ways. The time to tap on that potential is now, if you haven’t already done so. Get your company equipped with the right digital capabilities, experience and product knowledge to ride the wave.

a. E-commerce capabilities are more critical than ever. With safe distancing, consumers are shift towards online shopping and this trend is likely to persist even after Covid-19.

21. Let me tell you about how a goldsmith successfully pivoted their business to the e-commerce space by investing in their employees.

a. Merlin Goldsmith is a traditional brick-and-mortar store in Little India.

b. When circuit breaker measures were introduced, the firm made a bold step to focus on online sales.

c. As Merlin Goldsmith had been sending its employees for training even before Covid-19, it was able to swiftly put together a team equipped to handle digital sales.

d. In the last few months, Merlin Goldsmith successfully grew its online sales by 50 percent through social media and cultivating a loyal customer base.

e. This experience has not only validated the decision to invest in staff training, but also overturned the owners’ previous assumption that customers would not be willing to buy luxury goods online. Going digital has created a new revenue stream for the SME, and this is likely to continue to grow even after the pandemic.

Conclusion

22. Covid-19 has undoubtedly disrupted and affected businesses in unimaginable ways. However, it has also brought forth new opportunities that can redefine our future.

a. The Government is fully committed to helping our SMEs not only adapt to the new normal, but to take hold of the potential before us.

b. We can rise to the occasion and emerge stronger from this crisis.

c. You are not alone in this battle. We are here to support you, I am confident that our collective strength and resolve will pull us out of this to build a better future.

23. I wish you Happy National Day in advance and look forward to your questions during the Q&A segment.

24. Thank you very much.
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