4 June 2020

What does the latest Fortitude Budget mean for SMEs?

Business owners have a huge amount on their plate right now. Looking ahead, there is no doubt that there is also more to come from the economic fallout of COVID-19.

The Singapore Government has thrown the kitchen sink at supporting local businesses; continuing to extend support to help with the challenges of today, whilst also equipping businesses with the tools to tackle the future.

With four Budgets delivered already this year, there are an array of options for business owners to seize.  Navigating what, how and why to use them can be tough though; in a recent poll of SME leaders during a client webinar, we heard that over 70% required some guidance in understanding how they could use the measures.

With so much to digest, here’s a quick guide on what business owners should know from the latest round of reliefs.

As the road out of circuit breaker remains fraught with uncertainty, many businesses and workers will need to adapt and stay resilient in a rapidly evolving situation. That was the key message from Minister Heng Swee Keat, Deputy Prime Minister of Singapore and Minister of Finance.

This package totalled SGD 33 billion; combined with the previous three budgets1, fiscal support from the Singapore Government amounts to almost SGD 100 billion.2

SMEs - and even large companies - are now mindful that as long as COVID-19 is here to stay, the cost of doing business is expected to increase, stemming from the need to take additional precaution, for example swab tests for construction workers, or safe distancing which means many establishments like restaurants, retail outlets cannot operate at full capacity. With the top line challenged, there is a pressing need to watch costs – which means increasing productivity, improving efficiencies through digitization and tapping on financing support to better manage cashflow and liquidity. 

Supporting SMEs in digital transformation

A defining feature of the Fortitude Budget is on rebuilding the economy in a different way; digitally and by upskilling.

The current pandemic has accelerated the need for digital transformation. To encourage more SMEs to make the shift, the Budget outlined additional measures:

  1. Businesses, such as stallholders in hawker centres and wet markets that make the transition to e-payments will receive a bonus of up to SGD 300 per month over 5 months.3
  2. Businesses that are ready to take their finance functions, such as payment and invoicing, digital will receive a payout of up to SGD 5000 for adopting PayNow Corporate and e-invoicing, as well as business process or eCommerce solutions. Businesses that adopt more advanced digital solutions will receive SGD 5000 more.4

This allocation will help businesses in all sectors diversify their revenue to access new customers and new markets. They will also enjoy significant cost benefits and efficiencies, by conducting payments online, managing accounts, liquidity and forecasting, and accessing finance and documentation easily in real time.

Additionally, supporting PayNow aims to protect employees and consumers from handling cash to minimise the risk of the virus being transferred. At HSBC, we have already seen a jump in PayNow Corporate users; in the first 2 weeks of April alone our application rate by corporate clients increased 35%.

Upskill and reskill

Supporting workers to secure opportunities and adapt skills that will power the workforce now and in the future was central to this Budget. The Government is aiming to protect every local worker as long as they are willing to pick up new skills and adapt to work.5

The pool of talent should therefore increase and it would be prudent of business owners to bear this in mind as they adapt their own business models. Whilst there were several programmes to support individuals announced, there were also a number of incentives for businesses to support the hiring of local Singaporeans who have upskilled.

Financing measures

The Fortitude Budget is a forward-looking package that also mitigates the challenges businesses are facing and protects them and their workers’ livelihoods in the long term.

Besides the enhanced Jobs Support Scheme and Foreign Worker Levy waivers and rebates, SMEs can take advantage of existing financing measures to help them get back on their feet.

The Government flagged that take up of the TBLP and ESG schemes6 have been high, catalysing around $4.5 billion in loans – three times the amount for the year 2019.7

There are some useful tools available to help business owners who are uncertain of how to utilise these and whether they qualify for them; check out Enterprise Singapore, SME Portal.SG, or the Government’s summary pages, or discuss with your advisors.

Activating support measures

The Budget spends the stimulus in a smart way, by encouraging the core of Singapore inc. to transform digitally whilst also clearly addressing business challenges head-on. It is up to SMEs to take it to the next level, by leveraging on the support measures that the Government has provided, and evaluating their own business requirements for additional short-term financing, so they can maintain liquidity, stay relevant and survive.

A contribution piece by Li Lian Ng, Head of Business Banking, CMB, HSBC Singapore. A version of this piece was first published in SIM’s Management360 portal on 4th June 2020.

1 https://www.singaporebudget.gov.sg/budget_2020/solidarity-budget

2 https://www.gov.sg/article/a-summary-of-the-fortitude-budget-2020

3 https://www.businesstimes.com.sg/government-economy/singapore-budget-2020/fortitude-budget-up-to-s5000-payouts-for-fb-retail

4 https://www.gov.sg/article/a-summary-of-the-fortitude-budget-2020

5 https://www.straitstimes.com/politics/in-full-dpm-heng-swee-keats-33b-fortitude-budget-speech

6 https://www.enterprisesg.gov.sg/financial-assistance/loans-and-insurance/loans-and-insurance/enterprise-financing-scheme/overview

7 https://www.gov.sg/article/a-summary-of-the-fortitude-budget-2020