How UOB’s The FinLab plan to help Malaysian SMEs embrace the digital era

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The United Overseas Bank (UOB) introduced its Jom Transform Programme for small- and medium-sized enterprise (SMEs) in Malaysia.

Launched in Kuala Lumpur, the programme is run by the company’s own innovation accelerator programme The FinLab.

Having been previously introduced in Singapore and Thailand, the programme aims to help SMEs in the country to grow their business and improve productivity through digitalisation and innovative tech.

The three-month acceleration programme is inspired by the kind of programmes commonly found among global tech startup communities, The FinLab Co-Head Pauline Sim explains to TechNews in an interview.

“We have taken the accelerator format and catered it to help SMEs –that are more of traditional businesses  to help them to grow,” she begins.

In addition to a series of workshops by experts, the programme will also match the SMEs with tech solutions that they have sourced and curated, based on the problem statement that they have submitted.

The SMEs can then select the problem statement that they want to prioritise and select the relevant tech solutions to solve it; The FinLab will also facilitate the pilot project for the implementation of the tech solution.

“These facilitation of the pilot is meant to help SMEs the hurdles of adopting a new tech. We do it by the scope of a pilot, so it will be similar to a test to see if the solution delivers the result that they hoped, before going to full deployment,” Sim explains.

The programme aims to secure 15 SMEs in its first year with the criteria as follows: They have to be run by “open-minded, willing, and able” business owners.

“It’s the first thing that we look for when we select the companies into the programme. We want them to be a champion for their respective industries. At the end of the programme, we want them to go on stage together with their partners and talk about their journey … and help their peers embark on the same one,” Sim says.

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A regional focus

UOB names Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand, Indonesia, and Vietnam as their five key markets in the Southeast Asian region, and this provides a unique opportunity for SMEs who aim to expand their business regionally.

The opportunities for expansion can also be used by the tech startups.

“For example, for our programme in Thailand, we have called for tech solutions … and we did see quite many Malaysian and Singaporean companies applying to the programme. Eventually, if any of the Malaysian or Singaporean startups is selected, they will get to travel to Bangkok and reach out to potential customers of their solutions. If the SMEs in Thailand select their solutions for a pilot, they will also be able to enter the new market with a ready user,” Sim elaborated.

This is especially important considering Southeast Asia’s position as the sixth largest economy in the world with a combined GDP of US$2.8 trillion. Sim highlights that the region has become more attractive for companies to come and grow their businesses beyond their home market.

“The challenge for companies is the need to work on the fundamentals to improve their core processes, in order to be able to scale and do more with less … Understanding of local regulations can also be a challenge,” Sim stresses.

The programme is run in partnership with the Chinese Chamber of Commerce & Industry of Kuala Lumpur & Selangor (KLSCCCI), the Malaysian Association of Tour and Travel Agents (MATTA), Maxis, the Malaysia Digital Economy Corporation (MDEC), and SME Corporation Malaysia (SME Corp. Malaysia).

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