SMEs in Bahrain ‘need strong digital presence’

Businesses need to invest in the right digital platforms and tools to ensure they can still service their clients and provide them with the optimum customer experience

  
A young businessman working late in the office. Image used for illustrative purpose.

A young businessman working late in the office. Image used for illustrative purpose.

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MANAMA: Most small and medium enterprises (SMEs) in Bahrain have key weaknesses in terms of being purpose-fit for the future, a leading consultant has warned.

According to KPMG in Bahrain managing partner Jamal Fakhro, most businesses lack a strong digital presence and identity, making them vulnerable to crises like the pandemic.

Besides liquidity, supply chain and operations, the outbreak of Covid-19 has also highlighted risks like cyber security with the acceleration of digital transformation; data privacy with the new Personal Data Protection Law in Bahrain; and new regulatory disclosures including compliance with the Economic Substance Rule and the Ultimate Beneficial Owner (UBO) as per OECD requirements, he told business leaders during a webinar hosted by the Bahrain India Society.

Precautionary measures like social distancing, working from home, reduced physical contact, have changed the way businesses provide vital products and services to their clients.

The pandemic has also changed the way in which businesses engage with their customers with the experience they would like for them to have.

Mr Fakhro said in light of these changes, businesses need to invest in the right digital platforms and tools to ensure they can still service their clients and provide them with the optimum customer experience while enhancing operations internally and securely.

Checking and monitoring readiness is critical to survival of companies as they navigate the changing landscape, he said.

The expert has flagged liquidity risk stemming from Covid-19 as a significant pressure point, pushing a number of businesses to seek new investment, and some even towards bankruptcy and liquidation of current operations.

“This may provide entrepreneurs with the opportunity to acquire additional businesses to help build on their growth strategy, while also improving positioning in the marketplace,” said Mr Fakhro.

He also advised owners and managers to explore opportunities like mergers, acquisitions, or even restructuring existing operations to ensure financial effectiveness.

“Businesses need to prepare now for future restructuring that might be required to help them survive the pandemic,” the expert added.

As part of the government’s initiatives to offset the impact of the Coronavirus (Covid-19) pandemic on individuals and businesses, the Central Bank of Bahrain has ordered banks to offer their customers deferment of instalments till end-June this year.

It has also directed banks to amend the tenure of loans to take into consideration the additional profit/interest owed by the customer and to be amended in a way wherein the repayment amount is not amended, but the tenure increased to cover the additional amounts.

“Business leaders need to understand that while this provides some relief during the crisis period, they need to have a strategy and a vision for their enterprises beyond July 1 this year,” warned Mr Fakhro, adding, “They need to prioritise actions to ensure sustainability of operations after the support stops.”

This ties in with companies’ financial obligations to stakeholders like staff, suppliers and shareholders, said the consultant.

“A number of businesses have not been able to support their people and suppliers appropriately during the crisis, and while it is important to manage our expenses, we also need to remember that our stakeholders are also with us in the same crisis, and their survival at times depends on partners being responsible,” opined Mr Fakhro.

avinash@gdn.com.bh

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