‘How can our Small & Medium Enterprise (“SME”) members in Singapore help themselves in the current environment?’

GOB Grainne O’Brien is the Treasurer of the Irish Chamber of Commerce and is an Irish Chartered Accountant. She has       advised numerous businesses on how to optimise their finances through good times and bad.


 We asked her,

‘How can our Small & Medium Enterprise (“SME”) members in Singapore help themselves in the current environment?’

COVID-19 undoubtedly represents the largest humanitarian crisis our generation has ever seen. Whilst our healthcare professionals have been feeling the pressure on the frontline for some time, in recent weeks the contagion has also spread to the broader economy. Unfortunately, SME’s do not have the luxury of a Business Continuity department (or any other department!), however now is the time to take action on certain areas of your business to ensure it is best prepared to transition through this difficult time. As a first step, the Singapore government has issued some useful guidance for businesses on business continuity here.


Employees are the backbone of any business. After the Sept 11 attacks in 2011, the US airline industry was affected more than almost any other airline. A study found that airlines that pursued the most lay-offs recovered less well in the following 4 years after the crisis. Unfortunately some businesses will be left with no option, however in advance of laying off staff, one might consider employee furloughs (also known as work sharing or short-time work) and speaking to employees to understand what non-financial benefits they value. The Singapore government launched the Jobs Support Scheme (JSS) in Budget 2020 which was enhanced in the Resilience Budget. The JSS provides tiered wage support to employers to help them to retain their local employees (Singapore citizens and Permanent Residents) during this period of economic uncertainty. Further details can be found here. It has also issued some useful guidance for employers which is worth bearing in mind, further details are here

Strategic Plan

Things are changing on a daily basis, however in his public address on 12 March 2020, Prime Minister Lee said that we should prepare for a year of this or worse. Take this time to write a business plan for the next 30 days, next 90 days, next year and next 5 years. Consider 3 scenarios – business continues as is, things get worse (households get locked down for all but essential services, borders closed etc.) and things recover to “normal”. Consider ways that your company can adapt to an environment where businesses and consumers are less mobile.


Once you have a plan, and assuming you are forecasting a decline in revenue, consider what parts of your business you can turn off. Don’t assume all fixed costs are fixed. Contact your landlord/ supplier....ask for reduction/discount. Don’t delay, if you are first in the queue you are more likely to achieve a favourable outcome. If the price is indeed fixed, try and negotiate on other things – payment terms, minimum orders etc.. Equally when it comes to your own customers, be flexible and potentially offer a credit against future business. Better to keep and delay a sale than loose it. Ultimately the best way to retain customers, at any point in the economic cycle, is to build strong personal relationships with them.


Cash-flow is king. If you have undrawn credit facilities, consider drawing them down now in full, even if you don’t need them straight away. If you have external debt, take out your loan agreement and read it from start to finish. Once you have a clear understanding of your rights and obligations, consider contacting your lender and having an upfront conversation if you think you may have difficulty meeting repayments. It is too soon for banks to be discounting loans, so any debt forgiveness is unlikely. So for now, if cash-flow is going to be tight, concentrate on (i) pushing repayments out and (ii) rolling up interest payments i.e. rather than paying cash interest, interest payments are added to the capital amount owed, delaying payment and freeing up short term cash. If debt is potentially a significant issue for your business, consider bringing a professional adviser on board to help. Given the global scale of the problem, it is not unlikely that financial institutions will be supported in some way by local governments to ease the ultimate burden on borrowing companies, so it will be important to monitor how the government is assisting local banks and businesses. To date, several support and stabilisation measures have been introduced by the Singapore government to help certain businesses to be found here. Further measures are likely to be announced.

Lives over Livelihood

The situation is very fluid and businesses need to constantly reassess the situation. Whilst this is a global pandemic, it is likely that the economies of different countries will be affected in different ways. Ultimately though, the health of all our community is our primary concern and businesses need to do all they can to support the government’s strategy to contain the spread of the virus. The membership of the Irish Chamber of Commerce of Singapore have always been extremely supportive of one another and I have no doubt that our membership will continue to assist and support each other through these uncertain times. Please reach out to the Irish Chamber of Commerce of Singapore if you think we can help you or your business.