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GB Talks: Understanding SME financing in the UAE

GB Talks: Understanding SME financing in the UAE

Featuring an expert panel discussion on alternative means of financing as well as motivational talks, the event offered plenty of insights for SMEs

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‘Get a strong business plan, and ensure your fundamentals remain solid’. That was the main message that experts from the financial industry had to give to the small businesses that participated in Gulf Business’ The SME Breakfast session on December 13 at the One&Only Royal Mirage in Dubai.

The in-person event, held in association with Tradewind Finance, saw 15 small businesses in attendance. Starting off with a panel discussion on SME financing in the current environment, Peter Maerevoet, global CFO of Tradewind Finance and Gavin Kwas, senior manager – Platform Commercialisation at National Bank of Fujairah, elaborated on the liquidity challenges in the current environment and how regional entrepreneurs should approach funding.

“Liquidity is a challenge for everybody in the current environment. While you can still get funding, you have to go through more hurdles to prove substantively that your business is going to be able to repay the debt,” explained Kwas.

Discussing the importance of diversifying their financing options, Maerevoet said that unlike banks, which have tightened lending procedures and require some complex procedures, trade financing companies are more flexible and can offer bespoke credit solutions to small businesses – while also providing them cash-in-bank without the associated debt.

“Non-traditional export financing provides specific solutions so that you can continue to grow,” he said. “For funding, look at all the opportunities that are out there. There are ways to improve your balance sheet – very easy ways – that will help you to use your funds more efficiently,” added Maerevoet.

Regulatory changes in the region will certainly support the growth of non-traditional lending platforms, helping the local financing ecosystem match what exists in several international markets.

“I do believe that a good regulatory environment will help bolster the business further because you don’t want to work in a market where there are no rules and there are more risks. So it’s always good to have a regulatory framework,” said Maerevoet.

While the situation has been tough, Kwas also pointed out that “SMEs are resilient and nimble”, with many businesses managing to grow and perform very well – especially in sectors such as e-commerce.

With growth slowly expected to pick up again this year, panelists urged small businesses to ensure that they had their financials in place before they approached financiers. “Set up a business early and correct from day one. Make sure your accounting is set up correctly and that your P&L balance-sheet is all smooth and correct. Your financials should be very solid and that’s the same with your paperwork. Also make sure that you have it all done in advance,” advised Kwas.

“I think the important thing is to keep your efficiencies as you go into next year,” he added.

Maerevoet meanwhile counselled entrepreneurs to diversify their product portfolios and client base. “Also always be positive and keep your spirits high and things will work out,” he concluded.

The panel discussion was followed by a motivational session on ‘Selling like SME Rockstars’, conducted by Motivate Academy head Mark Dickinson, who urged entrepreneurs to focus on sales to expand their brands.

The session ended with legendary actor and comedian John Cleese discussing the concept of creativity, and giving practical advice on how business owners can nurture creative thinking within their organisations to promote growth and inclusivity.

Drawing on his lifelong experience as a writer, Cleese deep-dived into the nature of creativity and how traditional education undervalues out-of-the-box thinking. He also explained what people need to do to get in the right frame of mind – including removing all distractions and creating a unique space to let the creative juices flow.

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