Banks get creative with new ways to reach SMEs

It is no longer about offering corporate cards with the best perks

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BANKS are becoming more creative in the ways they woo small and medium enterprises (SMEs), whether in the form of partnerships with associations, enticing grants or accolades.

Reaching out to SMEs is no longer just about dangling corporate cards with the biggest perks, it would seem.

American Express (Amex), for instance, says that as the bank with the largest number of direct relationships with merchants in the market puts it in the unique position to be able to provide and analyse data on the market and industry level.

"American Express is the largest merchant acquirer globally and we have access to the global spend behaviour of clusters of card members . . . Only American Express has the ability to populate that data and use it in a way that merchants get greater benefit," says Kevin Alcott, Amex's vice-persident and general manager, merchant services in Singapore and Thailand.

This is but one of the services the bank offers, though on a consultancy basis.

It has also negotiated partnerships with various companies to provide services to its base of companies. These include Top3 Media, which builds websites and assists in online marketing like social media marketing and search engine marketing; Capillary Technologies, a CRM system that sells intelligent customer engagement solutions; and Perx, a mobile application which works with merchants to give instant mobile rewards to customers.

In August, Amex also launched a five-month Merchant Sweepstake Programme which offers the opportunity to win a S$5,000 grant and complimentary one-year affiliate membership to the Association of Small and Medium Enterprises (Asme) to two SMEs per month.

"Programmes that say spend and get 15 per cent off, spend and get a free dessert, often times those programmes are funded by the merchants. We're asking these small merchants, who are struggling with their revenues, to please partner with American Express and, by the way, please give 15 per cent off to our customers who walk through the door. We're actually asking them to give margin away," says Mr Alcott

"By teaching them about loyalty and giving them the tools, they have a better chance of helping them grow their business in a sustainable way. Offers in this market will not disappear and we will continue to operate in that space, but we're trying to shift our focus more to bring value to the merchants instead of just asking them to give discounts at the point of sale. What we're trying to do is provide tools that change consumer behaviour and change merchant behaviour."

It's not just via innovative programmes that banks are reaching out to SMEs. It is also about being easily accessible and having a comprehensive range of products.

Hong Leong Finance has, for instance, set up a large network of SME Centre @ Hong Leong Finance islandwide. It also has a suite of tailored programmes, ranging from productivity-enhancing loans, medical asset financing and factoring and accounts receivable financing.

Maybank, on the other hand, started a new retail-SME segment to better serve smaller enterprises. In addition to partnering Asme for the Singapore Prestige Brand Award, the bank participates at various networking events and SME clinics alongside the industry associations.

Extending beyond brick and mortar, DBS has entered the online space to attract SME customers. Launched in October, the DBS BusinessClass, a new programme delivered through a mobile app, allows entrepreneurs to consult and connect with industry experts, investors and fellow entrepreneurs. Members can also access news and articles on topics pertinent to starting and running their businesses and attend exclusive networking events. The programme and mobile app will be rolled out regionally so that entrepreneurs can meet other SME owners from DBS' other key markets of China, India , Indonesia, Hong Kong and Taiwan.

In the same vein, there is the UOB-SMU Asian Enterprise Institute which aims to offer local enterprises additional skills and expertise to grow domestically and regionally. It has launched an online resource centre for SMEs to exchange ideas.

SMES can also participate in the SME Development Series Talks and Workshops and annual symposiums organised by the institute.

Then there is OCBC Bank. It is the only bank in Singapore to offer customers a comprehensive suite of cash management and trade finance notifications via both SMS and email channels. This is delivered via eAlerts@ocbc, a notification service which keeps customers up to date about their cashflow and trade transactions. Customers are able to receive up to 11 types of notifications, of which seven are cash management notifications and five are trade finance notifications.

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