Singapore SMBs cite high cost as barrier to digital adoption, want more government help

Local small and mid-sized businesses recognise the need to adopt digital tools, but 41% point to high investment costs as a barrier while 57% say financial support from the government could help lift barriers in their adoption.

Small and mid-sized businesses (SMBs) recognise the need to adopt digital tools, but see the high cost of investment as a key barrier and want the government to offer up more financial support to help them overcome such hurdles. The majority of these businesses also do not have insurance to protect against unauthorised access, even though 34% express concerns about such system breaches. 

Some 41% of SMBs in Singapore pointed to high investment costs as a main barrier for adopting digital tools, while 39% highlighted the lack of financing and funds as their main obstacle. 

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More than half of these businesses, at 57%, said financial support from the government would be key to helping them overcome barriers in their route to digitalisation, according to QBE Insurance's annual survey of Singapore SMBs, which polled 400 respondents in the city-state in December 2019. 

The fifth iteration of the study revealed a 4% year-on-year increase in SMBs that were keen to expand their businesses beyond local shores, with 22% indicating their intent to globalise. Malaysia, Thailand, and Japan were amongst the most popular markets these organisations were keen to branch out into.

In its recent budget announcement, the Singapore government had pledged to offer SMBs more support this year via an Enterprise Grow Package. The programme aimed to help these organisations identify business needs, adopt pre-approved digital technologies, and enter new markets. Initiatives targeted for launch under the package included a GoBusiness platform, which was described as a single touchpoint for businesses to transact digitally with the government. 

However, the QBE study found that while 71% of SMBs were aware of support available from the government, just 31% had tapped into such schemes last year. 

In addition, 17% of such businesses had insurance coverage for unauthorised access to systems or computers, despite 34% expressing concern for such breach incidents. The survey also revealed 19% had insurance protection for theft of sensitive data via the internet, although 37% were concerned about such data loss. Another 18% had insurance coverage against online customer fraud and fraudulent payments, and 16% were insured against infringement of intellectual property rights. 

QBE Insurance Singapore's CEO Ronak Shah said: "SMBs are the key driving force for Singapore's economy. It is, therefore, critical for them to understand the importance of digitalising and scaling up to become more competitive in the marketplace. 

"Assistance provided by the government, especially more so in the recent Budget announcement, should provide SMBs with the resources to establish proper contingency plans," Shah added. "This helps to ensure their overall long-term growth is both sustainable and safe." 

The survey also revealed that 20% of SMB respondents agreed the impact of climate change was one of the most relevant social and environmental issues to their businesses. 

More concern, though, was shown towards their staff, with 53% of Singapore SMBs pointing to employee safety and wellbeing as being the most relevant to their organisation. Another 37% cited labour conditions and 27% highlighted the need for diversity and inclusion as the most relevant social and environmental issues to their business.

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