Girish Nanda, Country Manager – UAE & Oman, Mastercard talks about the SME sector in the UAE, what lessons can be learned from the year that was, and what he anticipates for the year going forward.
What has 2020 really taught us about SMEs and its sector?
Without question, the biggest lesson 2020 has taught us is the power of technology in ensuring that economies keep moving, and people’s lives remain as uninterrupted as possible. For SMEs who traditionally relied on cash dominance and physical engagement with customers, the change in the way they had to do business going forward was stark. It is no wonder that the sector became the most vulnerable to the negative impacts of COVID-19.
Yet, in every challenge, lies an opportunity. And the biggest opportunity for SMEs today is their ability to take advantage of the paradigm shift in consumer behavior, moving their businesses online and enjoying the benefits that the digital economy can bring them.
Mastercard is determined to leave no small enterprise behind and in our efforts to drive digital inclusion for local businesses, we launched our ‘SME-in-a-Box’ solution to help small and micro merchants in the UAE and across the region expand their customer base through digital platforms. With intuitive tools that can be accessed through a smartphone, we are working to ensure that businesses can move online with ease and simplicity.
How do SMEs keep up with these changes and ensure that they are adapting to the new normal?
Like every other sector, staying aware of the latest disruptions and using them to your benefit is crucial. Today, the speed at which the digital economy develops is at an unprecedented pace and SMEs need to work with their banks and financial partners to stay aware of the latest updates.
By understanding the various tools available, they can identify what best suits their needs and will support their shift towards digital.
It is also equally important to understand how your environment can support you. We are lucky to be in the UAE, where the government is determined to enable the aspirations of business owners and introduce regulations that cultivate a culture of entrepreneurship.
The biggest opportunity for SMEs today is their ability to take advantage of the paradigm shift in consumer behavior, moving their businesses online and enjoying the benefits that the digital economy can bring them.
For instance, the Dubai Chamber of Commerce launched Business Connect, a new platform that aims to help businesses in Dubai to overcome the economic repercussions of the spread of the virus with news, economic and educational resources and economic viewpoints related to the existing challenges, and ways to confront them.
Only through the power of collaboration and partnerships, can everyone in the ecosystem work for the benefit of all. Mastercard has long believed in the power of partnerships and we continue to connect with small businesses through our various incubator and mentorship platforms, such as Start Path, to ensure that we can help entrepreneurs scale up and grow their ventures to successes. With a simple, single entry point to eCommerce solutions, Start Path offers businesses the tools and expertise to make the most of the latest in these offerings including AI functions, chatbot and virtual avatars so that companies can take advantage of the opportunities inherent in the 4IR.
What do SMEs need to keep in mind for 2021?
Consumers no longer face traditional barriers in terms of interacting with competitors in order to affect a sale. Online access, the way that products can be researched, and how people can interact in a secure and safe manner across different platforms, allows them to reach out for the best price. I would encourage SMEs to think about differentiation and specific value propositions, and how to adapt this to particular consumer expectations.
To remain competitive, SMEs now know that being enabled in the digital space is essential. If they transition effectively, they will also position themselves well to benefit from mobile commerce, especially as m-commerce increases its share of overall digital commerce. Mobile checkout is crucial because it’s no longer just about the web browser anymore, it has expanded across most of the channels that are available to us today.
SMEs should also remain vigilant about cybersecurity. In partnership with the Global Cyber Alliance, Mastercard offers a free toolkit online for small businesses and our digital payment products also deploy our advanced patented tokenization technology to keep transactions secure. We remain committed to powering small businesses and helping them to continue adapting to and embracing new technology, additional channels, helpful insights and new methods as they position themselves for growth in 2021.
What role do SMEs play in Mastercard’s business strategy in the UAE?
SMEs represent 94% of registered companies in the UAE and are the lifeblood of its economy. Their success story is the nation’s success story and is at the heart of Mastercard’s digitization efforts in the country. Through our global commitment of US$ 250 million to protect the financial security of small businesses worldwide in the wake of COVID-19, we are focused on designing solutions that speak to the real needs of SMEs here, and are working with our strategic partners to roll them out as fast as possible in the upcoming year.