The Role of Technology and Data in Facilitating SME Finance in Latin America
Technology, particularly the Internet, has opened access to information resources that allow SMEs to share their experiences, connect to different networks, and operate in a world without the limitation of geographical barriers. As a result, SMEs are finding better and more effective ways to place their products in the international market and showcase their businesses; they are increasing their access to knowledge; and optimizing their products in this new reality. In addition, social networks are increasingly becoming an important tool for companies to position their brands. In fact, social media in Latin America will near 300 million users by 2017. In summary, technology helps SMEs increase their competitiveness and is facilitating new ways for SMEs to get financing.
The Inter-American Investment Corporation (IIC—the private sector arm of the Inter-American Development Bank dedicated to SME finance), sees technology as a key component for SME development, and is using new technologies to engage with SME clients in Latin America. The creation of live SME communities, the access to knowledge resources, the ability to assess strengths and weaknesses by comparing against peers, and the chance to connect directly with potential investors shows how technology can play a fundamental role in SME development. I would like to present four examples of innovative initiatives designed to facilitate SME finance through technology in which the IIC is currently involved:
ConnectAmericas is the first social network for businesses in the Americas dedicated to promoting foreign trade and international investment. Developed by the IDB, it seeks to help SMEs strengthen their businesses, by providing them with access to communities of clients, suppliers and investors in the region and all over the world, segmented by industry. It also provides useful and simple information about procedures and regulations for international commerce, and about the financing opportunities available in IDB Group member countries. Since it launched in March 2014, ConnectAmericas has seen over 6,550 registered users and more than 30,000 visitors.
FINPYME e-Learning Tools
For the past 10 years, the IIC has trained thousands of SMEs in the region through workshops and seminars under its well-known FINPYME program. Today, though, we’re in an era of MOOCs—Massive Open Online Courses. New technology platforms for e-Learning offer the opportunity to dramatically expand the reach of high-quality training. According to a recent study conducted by The Research Institute of America*, e-Learning has the power to also increase information retention rates by up to 60% because the student has control over the learning process and an opportunity to revisit material as needed. That means that, not only is e-Learning more cost efficient to deliver, but also it's also more effective. Over the past year, the IIC has begun the process of transitioning much of its learning content online. Today, the IIC is offering five free eLearning MOOC-style courses within ConnectAmericas on topics relating to improving SME competitiveness to complement our in-person capacity building agenda. Although the impact of MOOCs is still unproven, and a subject of much discussion, if we get it right MOOCs offer great potential to democratize access to education and provide new opportunities for social learning.
InvestAmericas is a recently launched dynamic online platform which facilitates the flow of capital to the LAC region by simplifying the due diligence process between potential investors and enterprises in Latin America and Caribbean region. An investor using InvestAmericas will have access to a network of possibilities including; an active pipeline of debt and equity investment opportunities, a streamlined due-diligence process (i.e., access to local third-party service providers, and built-in due diligence templates), and connection with other users in the platform to explore co-financing opportunities. InvestAmericas is currently commencing operations in Costa Rica and will be subsequently rolled out to Colombia, Trinidad and Tobago, and Uruguay as pilot countries. During 2015, InvestAmericas will be gradually available to enterprises in all countries where the IIC operates.
Online Business Tools
In 2008 the IIC started its FINPYME Diagnostics program which provides companies with an objective review of their current competitive position, a sort of health checkup for business. Armed with this information, businesses can focus on strengthening areas of weakness in order to become more effective, efficient, and ultimately more attractive to investors.
In 2013, the IIC moved aspects of the evaluation to an online self-assessment tool, the first of a series of self-assessments for SMEs that it is developing. The IIC sees great value in online tools and platforms in order to reach and impact far more SMEs than traditional methods alone such as workshops and seminars. As a small institution, this shift is critical for us to achieve scale in our operations.
Big data and technology is enabling financial institutions to better make decisions. These products will help us better understand the behavior of our clients, the way they communicate with each other, the way they prefer to conduct business, as well as provide deeper insights into their knowledge gaps. As we continue to accumulate data and information we will be able to formulate new and improved products and services to better suit their needs all while contributing to build a stronger SME ecosystem.
* 15 Facts and Stats That Reveal the Power of eLearning. 27 June 2013.