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Blockchain: A game-changer for Small and Medium-sized Enterprises?

In many countries Small and Medium-sized Enterprises (SMEs) are the backbones of their economy. Their role is crucial to worldwide economic and social developments, with more than half of the overall world population working in such companies. In the Netherlands for instance, more than 90% of the Dutch companies are SMEs and together they produce 60% of the added value of the Dutch Economy. SMEs however are confronted with a number of important challenges. including limited access to bank loans, inefficient procedures and lack of information necessary to conduct business efficiently.

While most people relate blockchain to large companies, blockchain also opens new opportunities to SMEs in every sector to solve existing challenges and enable them to optimise their business and develop new business models. Up till recently there were several obstacles which led to slower adoption of blockchain and other distributed ledger technologies by SMEs. But that is changing.

Let’s have a look!

SMEs and present challenges

Despite their status as the backbone of any major economy, SMEs face many challenges. They have a great problem in finding  financing, scale their operations, process payments and recruit other ancillary services that are both necessary to grow or go global. For emerging economies, increasing access to credit is key to generate of new jobs and economic growth.

Bank loans

 A big problem for SMEs, esp. for beginning entrepreneurs is to get a loan from banks for starting or growing their business. This is why many of the new or ongoing small and medium-sized businesses disappear. Almost 30% of SME companies shut down in the first three years of operation due to lack of funding.

Since the banking (credit) crisis of 2008, banks are inherently risk averse, so their tolerance for SME lending has become relatively low. Last year’s report from the World Bank estimated that 70 percent of small, medium, and micro-enterprises are unable to access the credit they need. While the global demand for SME credit stand at $2,38 trillion, the truth is, only a fraction (about 15%) of businesses actually get the loan that they request from banks.

Trade finance

 Another challenge for internationally operating SMEs is to get trade finance. Trade financing, much like many forms of credit providing, is a key component of the success of SMEs, but that key is not always easy to obtain. SMEs face lots of hurdles in their quest for funding, especially when it comes to accessing traditional trade finance products. Trade has changed dramatically in the last 10 years. But trade finance has not. The $1.5 trillion trade finance gap is driven by data shortfalls. The industry is still heavily paper-based and follows outdated processes and procedures. Typical trade finance operations are as a result still time-consuming, bureaucratic, and simply too expensive for new SMEs. This disproportionately impacts small- and medium-sized firms and firms in Asia and the Pacific.

Cash flow issues

 Inability to bring in capital continues to cause enormous harm to small businesses–stifling growth and causing cash flow difficulties. In fact, 40 percent of small businesses reported cash flow issues within the past year. Businesses need cash flow to pay for materials, start the production process, pay employees, or cover any other business expenses. For smaller companies a late payment can be the difference between success and failure.

Limited alternative financing

 These SME companies nowadays often turn to alternative forms of financing to obtain funds and ease their cash flow issues. In recent years, the peer-to-peer (P2P) lending system emerged as an alternative to the bank loans. And this segment is growing. Crowdfunding has also emerged to fill the gap in the market, but is mainly focused on technology start-ups. This new funding route is closed to most SMEs from other sectors.

Personal identity

Personal identity and data control are major concerns for online retailers as most of the interactions between customers, and online retailers are controlled via usernames and passwords stored in centralized platforms. Such platforms are vulnerable to hacking, and user data can be accessed and misused by hackers. Next to that people can easily falsify documentation and identity proofs.

Adoption of new technologies

 Another major challenge for many SMEs is how to deal with new trends in digitalization and automation. While large corporates often have the resources to react promptly, experiment and develop new products and services and thus benefit from the new technologies like blockchain, this is not the case for many SMEs.

This while they are experiencing problems for which these solutions including blockchain could be a solution. Many small- to medium-sized companies find it difficult to get started with new technologies since the scale of SMEs is often too small, among other reasons. Most SME’s miss the manpower, skills and knowledge to develop new strategies on such new trends.

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