06 November 2013

New Research Paper – Financing the SME Value Chains

Work has now been completed on the research grant focusing on SMEs in Asia and how they obtain financing.  The paper proposes a framework for financial lending to allow formal lending organizations to compete with the alternate sources of finance SMEs seek.

The working paper is available for download here.

Financing the SME Value Chains

Asad Ata, Manish Shukla and Mahender Singh – Malaysia Institute for Supply Chain Innovation

Asia’s economic miracle is often associated with large, multi-national companies. While these organizations have been important drivers of the region’s growth, small and medium enterprises (SMEs) accounting for more than 98% of the enterprises have played a key role. These SMEs contribute around 40% to their country’s GDP in the ASEAN region. In developed nations such as the USA, UK, France and Singapore, SMEs contribute more than half of their country’s GDP.

Addressing SMEs’ needs for finance, it is assessed that formal financial lending organizations represent a weak link in the financial supply chain for SMEs in the region. The problem also hinders the physical supply chain in that SME’s are key drivers of business growth in the region. This paper proposes a framework for financial lending to allow formal lending organizations to compete with the alternate sources of finance SMEs seek.

This research work is built upon case studies from Malaysia and India, and surveys conducted on the supply and demand of SME finance in Malaysia. A lack of collateral and limited access to venture and growth capital are some of the obstacles that SME owners face when seeking finance for their businesses. Cash flow shortages caused by long or delayed payment cycles exacerbate the problem. On the supply side, a number of issues including high transactions costs, inadequate information about borrowers and weak governance, deter large banks from developing SME lending portfolios. In the absence of bank lending options many SMEs turn to other sources of finance such as unregistered money lenders that charge high interest rates. It is realized that the local money lenders are accessible and understand the SME business model better. They are also able to keep a tight rein on costs and have developed ways to make sure that investment funds are used by borrowers for profit-making purposes.

This work identifies nine areas of demand for capital, including funds to pay for fixed assets and raw materials, to pay for seasonal periods of low demand, and to ramp up operations ahead of product launches.  In addition to money lenders, SME’s typically use eight types of financing options including family and friends, micro finance institutions and owner’s equity. There are also various government schemes to help SMEs find the financing they need, but the research finds that that penetration is a key challenge to these interventions. These programs only reach a relatively small fraction of the total population of businesses.

The lack of affordable financing options stymies the growth of SMEs in Asia. This work suggests that banks in the region need to redesign their lending portfolios so that they are better able to evaluate and manage the SME’s needs for finance. To help clarify the risks, this paper includes a grid showing how the different sources of SME financing are weighed in terms of the so-called 5Cs: capacity, capital, character, collateral and condition. It is recommended that banks should adopt more innovative ways to analyze SME loans, and gain a deeper understanding of how these enterprises fund their supply chains.

This does not necessarily require a complete overhaul of current practices; financial institutions can tap into the SME market by learning to work within current financing systems. To this end, MISI describes 11 key devices that can be leveraged to catalyze the lending process. For example, Joint Liability Groups comprise farmers with compatible businesses who come together to borrow from financial institutions. Group members can borrow individually or collectively by offering mutual guarantees for each other. Technological advances such as the growth of internet banking and electronic funds transfers can also be harnessed to facilitate SME lending. New standards such as the Bank Payment Obligation (BPO) rolled out by SWIFT and the International Chamber of Commerce (ICC) are helping to unlock IT-related advances in banking.

With mass customization and fragmentation of manufacturing, creating a viable market for SME financing benefits both the financial institutions and the enterprises involved. Regional and global supply chains also benefit in that there is an increasing need for sustainable and financially viable SMEs in Asia. This work thus addresses the factors responsible for widening the supply–demand gap for SME finance by studying the flow of finance through SME supply chains.

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