Asia’s best bank for SMEs 2023: UOB
UOB is as committed as ever to serving small and medium-sized enterprises in its home base of Singapore – where it reckons it banks one of every two SMEs – as it is to clients in key markets across the region. From mid-sized corporates on the fringes of requiring capital markets services, to micro-enterprises, clients have come to rely on it for funding, financial advice and best-in-class banking services.
It has been two years since UOB won this award, and in that time the bank has been busy. UOB puts the total value of its SME loan book at over S$45 billion ($33.4 billion) at the end of 2022 – making it much larger in the space than any of its direct competitors. The average loan balance with SME clients in southeast Asia and greater China grew by 4.5% year on year in 2022.
This matters immensely because of increasingly robust flows of finance and commerce between China and the Association of southeast Asian Nations (Asean) region. Two-way Sino-Asean trade was valued at around $650 billion in 2022. Much of this is scooped up by multinationals, but a good amount is pocketed by SMEs, including startups that aspire to being the next Grab or Tencent. It is these firms that look to UOB, whether they are based in Shanghai or Singapore, for funding and advice.
“With in-market presence in eight of the 10 Asean markets, we help SMEs unlock [the region’s] potential as we have deep understanding of the opportunities and challenges of doing businesses within Asean and greater China,” says Eric Lian, head of group commercial banking at UOB.
SMEs in Asean have to stay relevant and this is why we invest in product and digital platform capabilities
New services are being rolled out with gusto. In 2022, the bank launched a dedicated SME application that serves firms in Singapore, Vietnam and Malaysia – with more Asean markets to follow. It provides smaller firms with a clear view of cash flow trends, accounting and HR data, and generates alerts for preferred FX rates. In April 2023, the 100,000th customer was successfully onboarded to the app.
The bank also unveiled UOB BizSmart, a set of integrated services that help smaller firms to simplify and automate business processes, driving efficiency, productivity and growth. It has gone live in Singapore, Malaysia and Indonesia already. So far, it has helped over 31,000 SMEs. It also rolled out new supply-chain management services on its UOB Infinity platform, helping clients connect digitally with suppliers, buyers and distributors, to exchange and validate trade documents.
“We understand that SMEs in Asean have to stay relevant and this is why we invest in product and digital platform capabilities,” says head of group business banking Lawrence Loh. “UOB has invested about S$500 million in building regional platforms for cash management, supply-chain management and payments, to ease SMEs’ access to financing and help companies diversify their supply chains.”
In October 2022, UOB launched a tool that helps SMEs create a clear and actionable set of steps toward sustainability. Its Sustainability Compass provides businesses with customized reports based on their individual environmental, social and governance readiness. As of the end of March, the bank had onboarded more than 1,100 SMEs in Singapore and is planning to roll out the service to clients in Malaysia, Thailand and Indonesia later in 2023.