Conference proceedings

Conference proceedings

Striving in the Time of COVID

The pandemic has changed the way we view business operations, more rapidly than ever before. Organizations across the globe, have had to reprioritize their processes and actively facilitate customer engagement, employee satisfaction, gender equality, and SME sustainability in these challenging circumstances. Many businesses have viewed this as an opportunity to fast-track existing operations and set innovative decision-making models that have had a positive impact on businesses across the map. In this panel, our speakers address how their organizations have navigated and strived during this global crisis.  
The pandemic has clearly awakened development challenges, including poverty and inequality in financial inclusion. This health and economic crisis have erased most gains in eliminating poverty that was witnessed over the past decade.  IFC’s strategic focus has been to increase financial access to SMEs that have been the most impacted during the pandemic, especially women-owned SMEs and vulnerable individuals living in frontier regions of their countries. Lastly, the pandemic has heightened the need for low-touch financial services and refocused strategies on better leveraging digital channels to increase financial inclusion across regions.  
The level of activity and engagement with customers has witnessed a drastic increase during COVID, however there were obvious challenges around physicality of services and products. Physical delivery of debit cards etc., needed to rapidly transition to online registrations and transactions. As e-commerce payments significantly fast tracked during this time, digital cards played a pivotal role in enabling digital transactions. Jesse shared his observations on the need for both financial and non-financial services during this time. Training, support schemes, loan advice, and business toolkits are some of the measures taken by FNB to support their customers.  
When asked about how organizations have supported their distributors and navigated the impact on supply chains, our speakers spoke about credit extensions and accelerating the transition of physical stores to digital commerce for future proofing distributor networks. The focus is enabling partnerships to support SMEs across the value chain. Lastly, collaborating with government agencies and education programs to find long-term solutions to support and thrive during crisis. Recognizing the pain points of the merchants and SMBs is critical as an organization. Identifying their needs, how can they digitize their business, how can they get access to capital, etc. to build value for SMEs in the short & long-term.  
  • Some of the biggest challenges faced by organization is how to increase financial inclusion and enable access to short-term working capital.  
  • People had a lot more time on their hands during the pandemic, so the level of activity and engagement with consumers has increased during this time.  
  • It was critical for organizations to understand how to transact digitally and effectively when physical processes struggled.  
  • Recognizing the pain points of the merchants and SMBs is critical as an organization. Identifying their needs, how can they digitize their business, how can they get access to capital, etc to build value for SMEs.  


Prepared by Aswathi Krishnan and Architaa Kasera, Communication Interns at SME Finance Forum.


Jay Singer, Senior VP, Global SME Products at Mastercard
"How do we deliver on the needs of the customers? Sometimes, individually as organizations we need to figure out what we are doing on our own and then come together to focus on the core needs of SMEs,"
Jesse Weinberg, Head of SME Customer Segment at FNB Business

"Very clear tracking of complaints with single reference numbers, while providing access to social media & email to make communication more accessible in these challenging times is what is needed to keep customers comfortable,"

Allen Forlemu, Regional Industry Head, FIG LAC at IFC

"We know that Asia has been hit hard and so there's been lots of learning from Asia that we are transferring to our clients in Latin America and the Caribbean in terms of supporting our SME clients through this crisis," 

Clive Allison, Global, Director of Innovation & New Business at Unilever
"We have a really successful partnership with Mastercard - a digital solutions for credit & financial education across over 20,000 of our small retailers in Kenya. There's a real positive impact on their sales & potential for global roll out with the project,"
Digital Transformation