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MARKETS | Cesar Tordesillas, Singapore
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A guiding partner for SME development

Everyone acknowledges the SMEs important role in economic growth, social cohesion, employment and local development, accounting for over 95 percent of enterprises and 60 to 70percent of employment. However, few can suitably assist SMEs in many of traditional problems it faces such as lack of financing. Leading the way is the United Overseas Bank (UOB) which has been supporting SMEs before everyone else took notice. And since the 1930s, they have skillfully guided many of their partner SMEs during their early start-up to help them grow into major corporations with an international presence.UOB has a strong management team with vast experience in the SME industry and an in-depth understanding of SME businesses. The bank runs the business by taking on a customer-focused approach since they understand the ever-changing needs of the SME market and offer a comprehensive suite of products and services to SMEs. “Many of our customers have banked with us for over 20 years, starting with small clean working capital financing in the early days when there were no government assistance schemes, and from there they have grown into major companies,” said Mr. Yeo Eng Cheong, Executive Vice President and Head Commercial Banking of the United Overseas Bank.Even as the first-generation business owners retire and pass the baton on, UOB knows that succeeding generations would continue to engage their services. It comes with establishing close relationships and understanding their long-term business goals and objectives. “Our close and strong relationship with our customers is key to this. These second or third generation entrepreneurs did not appear suddenly; they started by assisting their parents and they grew with the companies. During that period, they also started building a strong relationship with us; it is only natural that we continue the mutually-beneficial relationship when they eventually take over their parents’ businesses,” Mr. Cheong explained. “I firmly believe that’s what makes us different and possibly the reason why we’ve been accorded the Best SME Bank for two years,” he further noted.Having been in the SME business for many years and seen many financial crises, UOB has guided SME customers not only to weather the storm, but to surface as stronger organisations. And during difficult times such as the current global financial crisis, a true banking partner will work closely with the customers and help them access existing credits and new credits such as the Government Assistance Schemes.Furthermore, as SMEs become increasingly sophisticated, they want a financial advisory partner with the capabilities and network to offer a comprehensive suite of financial solutions. In response to this, UOB organises in-house seminars for its SME customers as a value-added service. The seminars help them understand the latest market developments and better manage their risks by hedging their exposures, for example, against interest rate movements or foreign currency exposures.Besides providing products and services for their business, UOB also has personal financial services, private banking, trust services, investment banking, corporate finance, capital market activities, and treasury services to meet both the company as well as the directors’ individual needs.“As a premier bank in the Asia-Pacific, UOB has a strong cross-selling culture in place it works closely with our product specialists to offer value-added solutions to our SME customers,” Mr. Cheong stated. “For example, we helped a particular customer to finance his business infrastructure set-up and collaborated with our Cash Management, Trade Services and Treasury colleagues to provide the customer with a comprehensive suite of other products to address his business objectives.” Another strong feature of UOB is its well-established regional and international presence that enables it to provide effective and efficient service to their SME clients across geographies. A Global Business Development (GBD) team was also set up as a one-stop resource centre for SMEs who are going regional.The bank has also established the UOB-SMU Entrepreneurship Alliance is to support the growth and development of local enterprises and academic excellence in Singapore. “This partnership with SMEs is over the long haul as we are a long-term player,” Mr. Cheong pointed out. He added, “In a way, we are honoured to have been a partner to these SMEs and to have played an instrumental role in their development and progress.”

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