Turning to digital solutions in times of crisis

A survey shows Malaysians’ preference for paying online rose from 30% pre-pandemic to 51% over the period


THE last 19 months have been defined by the ongoing global health crisis and its consequent lockdowns, shutdowns and disruptions, resulting in a seismic shift in the way people live and work.

In Malaysia, where most have been confined to their homes for over a year with extended Movement Control Orders (MCOs), more people are going online for their goods and services. According to the e-Conomy South-East Asia 2020 Malaysia report by Google, Temasek and Bain & Co, more than one in three Malaysians used digital services for the first time over this period.

It is unsurprising that in the face of restricted mobility, the Internet has become the great facilitator of productivity and remote work, entertainment and life’s necessities such as groceries and deliveries. This proliferation of online activity has also resulted in a corresponding increase in digital payments.

Standard Chartered Global “Cashless and Careful” survey revealed that Malaysians’ preference for paying online rose from 30% pre-pandemic to 51% over the period, with 64% of respondents globally anticipating that their countries would go fully cashless in the next 10 years.

This shift in customer behaviour is not just a hint for businesses that have yet to adopt digital solutions to catch up but indicates that failing to do so could result in losing business. Mastercard reported that three-quarters (74%) of shoppers in Asia Pacific would buy from small

and medium enterprises (SMEs) more frequently if more payment options were available. In the “new normal” of social distancing and demands for more hygienic practices, consumers and businesses are looking to contactless digital payments as an additional benefit to protect customers and employees.

Digital payments also provide SMEs with greater, up-to-date visibility on their financials, with every transaction automatically recorded and stored.

These records, accumulated over time, can further aid businesses in predicting outgoings and revenue and improving their financial health.

Payment is just one area where digital solutions are creating immense value. Shifting to the cloud has proven vital to many SMEs throughout the pandemic, assisting them in navigating various MCOs.

For example, InTune Outsourcing was able to switch to a remote working model to keep operations running within one day of the government announcing the first MCO in March 2020.

The cloud-based accounting and financial advisory asked clients to send their physical accounting documents via couriers to InTune Outsourcing’s staff, who were working remotely from home. Using a cloud-based data automation tool, employees then digitised and processed the documents, providing clients with the financial information they needed to keep their business running.

Under the National Economic Regeneration Plan (Penjana), the government has allocated RM700 million to assist and encourage SMEs to digitalise their operations and trade channels. To apply for funding, SMEs must provide financial statements showing revenue, cashflow and payroll numbers.

By digitising these processes through platforms like Xero, SMEs can easily collect and share that data to apply.

While the future remains uncertain, adopting the right digital solutions can help SMEs maintain business continuity, even in times of crisis.

Kevin Fitzgerald is the MD for Asia at Xero Ltd.

The views expressed are of the writer and do not necessarily reflect the stand of the newspaper’s owners and editorial board.