June 24, 2017

Tags Posts tagged with "SME"


Tengku Dato' Sri Zafrul Aziz (Group Chief Executive Officer, CIMB Group) and Shahnaz Jammal (Group Chief Financial Officer, CIMB Group) at the CIMB Group Holdings Berhad 2016 Full Year Financial Results Press Conference in Kuala Lumpur

by Daniel Yap

CIMB is setting their sights on the SME market with the new BusinessGo account, a high-interest current account which waives many banking transaction charges.

The announcement came just ahead of CIMB’s FY16 group performance report, which was headlined by a record group revenue of RM$16.07 billion (S$5.09 billion). CIMB’s Singapore profits shrank by 36.2 per cent to RM241 million (S$76.32 million), however, on the back of slower loans growth and higher commercial banking provisions.

The Middle Ground needs your support to continue serving up credible, balanced and independent news. Help us make a difference by being our patron! Thanks!

In Singapore, CIMB hopes to capture SMEs with attractive terms under BusinessGo. It offers 0.78 per cent interest on accounts that meet the minimum monthly average of $30,000 and an additional 1.1 per cent on the first $100,000 as long as the company makes $20,000 of outward telegraphic transfers a month. This beats typical business current account interest rates that hover at or are barely above 0 per cent.

Fee waivers are also part of the BusinessGo offer. Cheques are free, as are GIRO and payroll transactions, while outward telegraphic transfer fees are waived on transactions above S$5,000. Banker’s guarantee commissions, which can be as high as 1.5 per cent at other banks, will also be waived if the client places an equivalent-sum fixed deposit.

Ms Ng Wee Lee, Head of Commercial Banking at CIMB Bank Singapore, said that the bank is able to offer this deal to customers because of its low overheads – CIMB runs only two retail branches in Singapore. She added that the bank would “just barely break even” on this offering.

Ms Ng said that SMEs are typically unable to access better banking terms because they are considered too small for banks to spend time customising solutions for, and that CIMB hopes to be able to offer them cost savings in hard times so that they will remain loyal customers when times get better.


Feature image courtesy of CIMB Group.

If you like this article, like The Middle Ground‘s Facebook Page as well!

For breaking news, you can talk to us via email.



PMETs Budget
Illustration by Sean Chong

by Yoong Ren Yan

THEY say you won’t know how it feels until it hits you. There have been signs of an economic slowdown for some time now, but the warnings remained warnings – until now. According to the latest manpower report, 15,580 workers were laid off last year, the highest number since 2009 when 23,430 were made redundant at the height of the global financial crisis.

Why is all this happening? A combination of a gloomy global economy, and restructuring efforts in Singapore, none of which show any sign of changing. Layoffs are actually picking up with a third of last year’s layoffs happened in the last quarter. Our relatively low unemployment rate – 2.9 per cent for Singaporeans – may not hold steady for much longer.

But what might be a cause for greater concern is whose jobs are at stake. Of those made redundant last year, 71 per cent were professionals, managers, executives, and technicians (PMETs), many from the professional services, wholesale trade, and finance industries. About 65 per cent were aged 40 and above.

It’s little wonder that Silver Spring, a social enterprise which focuses on professionals, managers, and executives (PMEs) aged between 40 and 70, has seen applications on its job portal spike 50 per cent over the last six months. Also, the National Trades Union Congress (NTUC) helped 50 per cent more PMEs over the past year than the year before.

But targeted job portals or programmes can’t solve the problem if there aren’t enough jobs.

Prospects for those laid off aren’t rosy. Vacancies fell to their lowest level in four years. There are still more vacancies than unemployed people, but only just with 1.13 vacancies per unemployed worker. And just half of those laid off could find jobs within six months, down from 59 per cent a year ago.

As always, PMETs and older workers face the most difficulty in getting another job. PMET vacancies fell by 23 per cent between March and December last year. A quick check on Silver Spring revealed just 39 PME jobs available.

So the skills of those jobless don’t match the jobs available, and thus they are staying out of work longer. These are classic indicators of a structural problem in our labour market – one that the G is already aware of, and is responding to.

West Coast MP Patrick Tay, who is also NTUC assistant secretary-general, has suggested a “sectoral approach” to help industries where job losses are concentrated. NTUC is also giving PMEs union representation to better serve their needs. For instance, as part of NTUC’s U PME programme, the Association of Banks in Singapore now has a jobs portal for retrenched workers to find employment at other banks.

Of course, if banks are retrenching en masse, it’s difficult to see how a jobs portal would help. Instead, workers may need retraining to join other growth industries, including healthcare and information and communications technology.

That’s the objective of the multi-billion dollar SkillsFuture initiative, which may be put to an early test given these employment numbers.

And to incentivise companies to hire middle-aged PMEs, the G is piloting wage subsidies as part of the Career Support Programme. For a 50-year-old PME unemployed for more than six months, for instance, the G is offering a year-long subsidy for jobs that pay more than $4,000 a month. It will pay up to $2,800 for the first six months, and up to $1,400 for the next six months. It already funds PME retraining through the Professional Conversion Programmes.

The G’s response will be clearer come tomorrow (March 24), when Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat presents his first Budget. Mr Heng has promised a “strong focus” on the economy, including help for the “variegated landscape” of small and medium enterprises here.

But what about workers? While the global financial crisis was far more severe, the 2009 Budget might offer clues on what the G has planned. As part of the Resilience Package, then Finance Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam announced a temporary Jobs Credit, which subsidised the wages of all employees by up to $300 per month. Such a broad-based policy can weather a recession, which we may be due for this year. But it is very costly seeing as the G tapped into the reserves to fund it, and may not even be appropriate if jobs and workers are mismatched.

In 2009 as well, Mr Tharman rolled out the Skills Programme for Upgrading and Resilience – the predecessor to SkillsFuture – with highly subsidised PME-level courses. Some tweaks to SkillsFuture, targeted at middle-aged PMEs, may be on the cards this time round.

These are trying times to be presenting the first budget of a new term. Mr Heng has already said the G plans to be “particularly prudent”. So while the spike in layoffs is a concern, expect any policy changes to be targeted and incremental for now.


Featured illustration by Sean Chong

If you like this article, Like The Middle Ground‘s Facebook Page as well!

For breaking news, you can talk to us via email.

by -
0 743
SkillsFuture Credit
SkillsFuture Credit illustration by Sean Chong
SkillsFuture Credit
SkillsFuture Credit illustration by Sean Chong

by Kwan Jin Yao

ENCOURAGING employees to go for training may boost productivity, but small and medium enterprises (SME) – it would appear – should not be using the SkillsFuture credit for this purpose. Last Saturday assistant secretary-general of the National Trades Union Congress (NTUC) Cham Hui Fong called on companies to allow their workers to use the credit for courses which may not be directly relevant to their jobs (TODAY, Jan. 23). “We hope to get more like-minded employers to also allow the employees to make full use of their SkillsFuture credit and go for courses,” Ms Cham said. And if employees are to expand skills “then I think we should allow them to pick up new skills.”

Yet, if there is no training culture in these companies, could the SkillsFuture credit first spur individual learning, and subsequently stress the value of training?

The aims of the $500 credit, to strengthen individual ownership of skills development and lifelong learning, have also been emphasised by the Workforce Development Agency (WDA). Deciding how to spend the $500 should be left to the employee. In its list of frequently asked questions, the WDA further notes subsidies of 90 or 95 per cent for training courses under the Enhanced Training Support Scheme for SMEs as well as the Workfare Training Support scheme for companies in Singapore.

“Employees who are sponsored by their employers to go for training should not have to tap on their own SkillsFuture credit to pay for course fees, as their course fees are already paid by their employers,” the WDA added.

But in the first place, how many of the 189,000 SMEs in Singapore have used these subsidy or assistance schemes? Or how many have even made any provisions for the training and development of their workers? A common lament is the lack of manpower and resources for human resource functions – especially for startups just looking to grow or gain traction – and in February last year then-NMP Thomas Chua argued that smaller SMEs such as micro-enterprises do not have adequate human resource capabilities or professional human resource managers. “Many of them are facing tight manpower constraints, so it is not possible to send their staff for training,” he said. Mr Chua is also the president of the Singapore Chinese Chamber of Commerce and Industry (SCCCI).

SMEs are enterprises with operating receipts not more than $100 million or employment not more than 200 workers. And in a survey in September last year, the SCCCI found that there was a 6.8 per cent drop – from 92.1 per cent – in SMEs adopting programmes to improve productivity. Most productivity efforts were focused on IT and automation equipment, so further information on indicators such as the People Development Standard, a mark conferred by SPRING Singapore to recognise organisations which invest and develop its people, could provide more evidence of staff development in Singapore.

In this vein, it may not be a bad idea for SMEs without the capacity to provide or sponsor training to encourage employees to use their SkillsFuture credit, especially if the courses are relevant to work or responsibilities. Unfortunately, present awareness is limited. In the same SCCCI survey, 56 per cent of respondents were unaware of the SkillsFuture movement, and of the others who were aware, 48 per cent said they were only slightly interested or not at all interested in it. In other words, SkillsFuture – including the credit – could resolve manpower challenges, but many employers are not cognisant.

Working through the SMEs in this regard can also be useful to workers, for a few reasons. If encouragement is given by the employer, who explains how training courses may be relevant for the company or sector, completion rates may end up higher. At the moment, for instance, the completion rates for massive open online courses – some of which are listed on the SkillsFuture directory, offered by providers such as Coursera and Udemy – hover around 10 per cent.

Related to completion rates is participation, which could be hard for employees juggling work, family, and other commitments or responsibilities. It is not clear how many SMEs allow employees to take leave for these courses. Figures from NTUC show that of its 900 active collective agreements signed with employers, 320 “stipulate the provision of allowing employees to take five days of leave on average for examination or training for courses relevant to their work and approved by the company.” With the SkillsFuture credit, if employees in other SMEs can prove that – likewise – their courses are relevant to their work or development, should relevant provisions be made?

It also speaks to the flexibility of the SkillsFuture credit, since Singaporeans can pick and mix different courses they may prefer. $500 is not necessarily a small sum, and with top-ups in the horizon, perhaps the ideal would be for Singaporeans to take on courses for both personal and professional development throughout their lives. As such, the concern by MP Chia Shi-Lu – expressed in Parliament last year – over a possible mushrooming of courses of “widely varying merit” may not be as pertinent. Variety of the courses seems to be the intent, for individuals to make informed decisions on their own.

Ultimately the SkillsFuture credit could spur individual endeavour, and in turn galvanise SMEs to invest more in their employees. In the long run it should, therefore, be impressed upon SMEs that training and development is necessary for both productivity and human resource management, and securing their active participation in SkillsFuture and the SkillsFuture credit could be a constructive start for the government.


Featured image by Sean Chong.

If you like this article, Like The Middle Ground‘s Facebook Page as well!

For breaking news, you can talk to us via email.

by -
4 660

by Bertha Henson

SO WHAT should be in the Presidential Address on Friday and what will Members of Parliament (MPs) talk about? Two weeks ago, The Sunday Times canvassed MPs for their views – and it’s all too predictable. It’s about economic growth, meeting the aspirations of young people and dealing with the needs of the old. These are evergreen issues and you can bet that whether it is the new 13th or the next 14th Parliament, they will crop up again.

Perhaps, the MPs are saving their best bullets for their responses to the Address the following week but it seems same old, same old.

The difference between this Parliament and the last one is really this: the People’s Action Party (PAP)’s near 70 per cent vote. It behooves the G to do better and the MPs to hold the office holders to greater account. The Government Parliamentary Committees should do a better job of scrutinising the ministries under their charge because it is beginning to look like that’s more the job of the Auditor-General or the Accountant-General. Parliamentary committees, such as the Public Accounts and Estimates committees, shouldn’t be coy about chairing press conferences and taking questions either.

There is actually plenty of unfinished business from the last Parliament which should be carried over to this year.

Firstly, it’s the review of the Town Council Act so that we don’t have a repeat of the Workers’ Party and the PAP or G crossing swords over town council accounts. It’s safe to say that people are tired of the court appearances over who is responsible for what aspect of town council management or audit of accounts. People went to the polls in September last year without a clear idea of how their money will be managed at the town council level, especially if there is a change of political party.

Secondly, it’s the review of the Broadcasting Act, which seems to have been on the backburner for so long that MPs have forgotten about it. None of the MPs who spoke of the need for greater consultation referred to this legislation, which is a couple of years late. Yet the use of media, old and new, must be part and parcel of fostering consultation and yes, forging bonds between the governed and the government.

Then there are the fairly new “issues’’ that should be put on the agenda. It appears that everyone is applauding the post-GE2011 move to the left, but is it not also time to take stock of how far “left’’ the country should move and whether the dollops of money expended by the treasury are being poured down a black hole or producing some results – whether it is pulling up the lower income families, prodding small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) to become more productive or pay-offs in the investment in research and development?  Very simply, it is easy – and popular – to say “not enough’’ in such matters, rather than it’s “too much’’.

Then there is the matter of how we should dispense grants and subsidies. Much was said during the GE2015 campaign about how the Pioneer Generation Package was well-liked because it was egalitarian. Rich or poor, you get the same amount of money. It is the same for hospitalisation – rich or poor, you get the same subsidies depending on ward type.

And now there is SkillsFuture Credit, where it is the same amount of money for everyone regardless of whether they can afford to pay the training fees. A more recent example of largesse is that Edusave bursaries, which used to be for primary and secondary schools, have now been extended to polytechnic and Institute of Technical Education students. What’s the bet that junior college students will get them soon?

Should we continue on this route or should we have a consensus on how to dispense State money and the use of that unpopular measure called means testing because the money pit isn’t a bottomless one. (By the way, politicians should really stop saying things like the G will foot the bill and so forth, as though it is doing the people a favour. It only encourages people to ask the G for more, forgetting whose money it really is).

The other issue worth discussing is the new shift in thinking of education as a continuing journey which does not just end with a university degree; and looking at every job or career or profession as skill-based rather than degree-oriented. The SkillsFuture programme empowers the adult individual, a shift from letting corporations decide what training courses to go. But this requires plenty of buy-in and maturity from the people, who should not just see it as a way to start a new hobby.

Here’s hoping for fresh views from the new Parliament – from both the PAP and the opposition MPs.


Featured image by Chong Yew. 

If you like this article, Like The Middle Ground‘s Facebook Page as well!

For breaking news, you can talk to us via email.





by -
0 466
Black clock showing 8.30.

Good morning! We hope you’ve had a restful holiday yesterday.

Ms Aung San Suu Kyi believes that her National League for Democracy (NLD) party will win enough seats in Myanmar’s first election to form the government. Even thought the result is a big step forward for political reform, Ms Suu Kyi must manage the relationship with the military carefully, as they constitutionally still are entitled to 25 per cent of the seats in parliament, and have the right to appoint three key ministers.

It seems, as with so many other things, that you can go online to get your hands on the freshly-banned e-cigarettes, also known as vaporisers. Even as the authorities work to prevent the import and sale of these products, the anonymity provided by online selling still allows some retailers to evade the new strictures.

Money no enough for small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), many of which find that banks offer them loans that are too small or which come with conditions that are too onerous. Surveys by DP Information Group, Visa and Deloitte pointed out lower confidence levels for securing loans in the next six months and that more companies needed funds to mitigate cash flow problems and manage working capital.

On the other hand, money seems to be enough where Singaporeans’ charitable acts are concerned. The World Giving Index, using 2014 data from Gallup’s World Poll, ranked Singapore 34th and showed that close to 60 per cent of Singaporeans gave money to charity in the month before the poll, but less than 30 per cent volunteered for charity, and about 40 per cent helped a stranger. Still, not a bad showing, considering that Singapore ranked 64th in 2013 and 114th in the 2012 index. Corporates are no slouch either, with some, like watch retailer The Hour Glass, donating $5 million and caterer Neo Garden pledging to donate all its January 1 revenues each year.


Featured image by Chong Yew. 

If you like this article, Like The Middle Ground’s Facebook Page as well!

For breaking news, you can talk to us via email.


by -
0 541
Rolex watch on a table with clock faces pointing at 8:30
Rolex watch on a table, time: 8:30

GOOD morning. It’s Thursday August 20 2015 and today’s buzzword in the news is “U-turn”.

As in: the National Solidarity Party’s Yes-No-and-Yes-again decision yesterday to contest MacPherson was a U-turn (or was it a WRONG turn, TNP asks). This last particular turn proved too much for secretary-general Hazel Poa, who appears to have lost control of the wheel. Rather than going along for the ride, she has decided to make a quick exit. Mr Steve Chia will be the party’s candidate in the SMC, against the PAP’s Ms Tin Pei Ling and a yet-announced candidate from WP, resulting in possibly the only three-way in GE2015.

U-turn, as in the G’s announcement yesterday to allow some SMEs to “hold on” – as if for dear life! – to some of their foreign workers yesterday was NOT a U-turn from its recent efforts to ease the flow of cheap foreign labour into the country. Said Manpower Ministry Lim Swee Say: “There is no intention for us to make any U-turn on our foreign manpower policy… given that this is going to be the new labour landscape.”

The decision will allow SMEs to keep more of their better-skilled foreign workers temporarily, and let them hire “experts” who will not count towards their foreign workers quota. SMEs can start applying to the ministry to join the two-year scheme from October. On a completely unrelated topic, the General Election is still rumoured to be held next month.

Other turn-arounds in the news today: The Housing and Development Board (HDB) is going to allow seniors to extend the lease of their studio apartments, which before were capped at 30 years, for five, 10 or 15 years. This is part of the board’s new Two-Room Flexi scheme, which offers two-room housing options without the standard 99-year lease to flat applicants aged 55 and older. For families and singles, it’s still 99 years.

COE prices for cars across categories A, B and E (Open) are up after a drop last month drew car-buyers to showrooms in droves. Premiums for motorcycles, however, dipped slightly.


Featured image by Abraham Lee. 

If you like this article, Like the Middle Ground‘s Facebook Page as well!

For breaking news, you can talk to us via email.