For many small- and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), business owners are battling on multiple fronts, including supply chain disruption, reduced local and overseas demand, workers who are sick or unable to get to work, and customers that are changing behaviour and/or purchasing priorities. We have taken a five-pronged approach to how we support them.
When the situation first began to unfold in China and then in Hong Kong, we set new objectives for our sales teams. We asked them to proactively speak to clients to make sure they were keeping safe, to find out how their businesses were doing, to see whether their supply chains had been impacted, and to ask what help they needed.
"Our bankers have been talking to clients over the phone or using video channels, carefully listening to their needs and challenges"
… but not that close
In talking with clients, we made sure they were properly set up to make use of our online and mobile channels so that they could continue to conduct their day to day business, even during lockdowns.
We’ve deployed social distancing measures and lockdowns in almost all of our markets. So not only are we encouraging our clients to make better use of digital options, but also our employees, to keep them safe as well. This crisis has made digital a necessity rather than an option for clients and for us.
While each client situation is unique, we want to ensure that all have access to a standard set of relief measures. These range from short-term payment deferrals for those that are unable to reach their offices, to medium-term options such as interest-only payments, and longer-term debt restructuring.
As the pandemic moves fast, so must government and regulatory responses. We’re in close contact with our regulators to make sure we are ready to support new relief measures such as those recently announced in Bangladesh, India, Malaysia, Singapore and Vietnam.
"This is that proverbial moment of truth. Our highest priority is to help our SME clients sustain their businesses through this period"
SME Guarantee Schemes
Several governments in Asia have launched or materially expanded the scope of SME loan guarantee schemes in response to the crisis. Our focus has been to ensure not only that clients are aware of the options available to them, but also that we are operationally ready to participate in these schemes and offer much-needed financing.
"When the 90% Government Guarantee Scheme for SMEs launched in Hong Kong, we were the first bank to make these loans available to businesses"
Enabling new growth
Understanding our client needs and supporting them during this difficult time is crucial, not just for their own businesses, also for the wellbeing of the markets in which they operate. While some clients are struggling with a lack of demand and need relief measures, others face a surging demand and require access to additional funding over and above their usual levels. We are working closely with our clients and risk teams to ensure that we are able to provide funding where it is needed to companies fighting the pandemic, in areas such as e-commerce, food delivery and medical supply, for example.
Our network across Asia, Africa and the Middle East has enabled us to take lessons we learned early on in the crisis and adapt them for the clients we serve across multiple markets. While the situation is fluid and continues to change on a daily basis, our commitment to our clients remains unwavering.
"It is in times like this that our corporate value of Better Together truly stands out. We have worked as one team across geographies and functions to do the right thing for our clients and other stakeholders"