Singapore launches one-stop BSB business platform for global B2B markets, SMEs

09, Dec. 2020

Singapore's Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat speaking at the Singapore FinTech Festival X Singapore Week of Innovation & TeCHnology (SFF X SWITCH) 2020 on Dec. 7. (Photo courtesy of Singapore Government)
Singapore's Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat speaking at the Singapore FinTech Festival X Singapore Week of Innovation & TeCHnology (SFF X SWITCH) 2020 on Dec. 7. (Photo courtesy of Singapore Government)

By Celine Chen

A Singapore-initiated platform to digitally link wholesale markets and SMEs (small and medium-sized enterprises) around the world and boost business opportunities tremendously has been launched.

Proxtera built the BSB platform which can connect different trading platforms seamlessly to help SMEs discover prices and sales opportunities immediately in a much larger marketplace using AI (Artificial Intelligence).

Aiming to remove the complicated process of cross-border trade, it also conveniently connects businesses to providers of logistics and financial services.

Speaking at the fifth edition of Singapore FinTech Festival X Singapore Week of Innovation and TeCHnology (SWITCH) on Monday (Dec. 7), Singapore's Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat urged global marketplaces and service providers to connect on the common platform to help their SMEs expand their markets and thrive overseas.

A private entity, Proxtera, was established also to run the BSB platform following two successful pilot phases of Singapore government's 'Business sans Borders' (BSB) initiative beginning in early 2019.

Heng, who is Coordinating Minister for Economic Policies and Minister for Finance, noted that SMEs account for 90 percent of businesses worldwide and 50 percent of global employment. However, many SMEs are not making use of digital technologies, much less train their workers for the transformative digital world, he said.

The Singapore government has been helping SMEs go digital and access flourishing business-to-consumer (B2C) platforms, such as Shopee, Lazada, Taobao and Amazon, to enable them to expand their consumer market beyond the city-state.

However, business-to business (B2B) platforms were sorely lacking. So, Singapore decided to launch the 'Business sans Borders' initiative to create an e-commerce platform to facilitate more wholesale trading across geographies.

DPM Heng said, "Small and medium enterprises form the backbone of the global economy. Some of them will inevitably be disrupted by technology. But many others simply need some help to use technology to raise productivity and boost their value propositions."

"As the digital revolution gains pace, helping our SMEs succeed will in turn create better opportunities for workers and communities," said Heng who opened the five-day fintech festival, which is mostly held online.

The BSB initiative is a collaboration between the country's Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) and Infocomm Media Development Authority (IMDA).

Supporting the BSB trading platform during its pilot run since last year, Proxtera has developed into a global public-private partnership which sees collaborative efforts involving Singapore, India, Philippines, and Africa, said Proxtera in a media statement announcing that its platform is raring to go further.

It has already hosted several pilot platforms and successfully facilitated live trades across different platforms and countries.

On how a single global platform with comprehensive support services will benefit small and medium-sized firms, Ravi Menon, Managing Director of MAS, said, "Unlike large firms, SMEs suffer from asymmetry of information, so pricing is not transparent. Supply chains are very complex for them to negotiate and navigate through. They lack access to digital finance solutions that can meet their particular needs. So, you need to expand the marketplace that they can tap on."

Explaining the 'Business sans Borders' initiative for a global platform in a webinar in FinTech Abu Dhabi Festival 2020 on Nov. 25, Menon said, "BSB will use artificial intelligence to enable SMEs to discover prices, diversify sales opportunities, access various supply chains, source for relevant digital and financial solutions, and so on. It'll be an open global platform available to participants, such as trade associations, SMEs and government agencies."

Speaking at the fintech festival yesterday (Dec. 8), he gave the example of how a Singapore SME selling kueh lapis, a local cake, was able to use the BSB platform during the pilot stage to trade seamlessly with SME buyers on platforms in India and the Philippines. It also intuitively matched the seller with a local fintech firm which provided pre-shipment financing support.

Meanwhile, MAS and the Bank of Ghana (BOG) have started talks on using the new platform to promote business between Singapore and Ghana, where there are many micro, small and medium enterprises (MSMEs).

Businesses from both sides stand to benefit from innovative fintech and digital tools necessary for their needs if they come onboard. MAS and the Ghana bank will also work on a complementary Financial Trust Corridor (FTC) initiative to enhance trust, trade and recognition between businesses and financial institutions of both countries.

Sopnendu Mohanty, Chief FinTech Officer of MAS said, “We are excited to partner BOG to create the world’s first SME financial trust corridor as well as welcome Ghana into Business sans Borders, an innovative global infrastructure initiative. Together we can start to build increased trade flows and enhance financial trust and services support between our economies through both the FTC and BSB initiatives."

He added, "Proxtera, a new private entity supported by MAS and IMDA, will help to operationalize BSB and the FTC. With time, these efforts will scale towards a new global paradigm where our SMEs and financial institutions are trusted internationally and have seamless access to wider financing, new trade opportunities and intuitive digital tools.”

Yesterday (Dec. 8), Singapore also reported that its Global Innovation Alliance (GIA) network to support SMEs has already expanded to 15 cities, with Shenzhen being the latest to join. It will enable Enterprise Singapore to support the entry of more Singapore innovative startups and SMEs into China from Shenzhen.

In addition, the Singapore-China (Shenzhen) Smart City Initiative will also create more opportunities for businesses as they will be given greater access to new markets through digital trade connectivity. The pilot phase of this initiative will be implemented in 2021.

At the fintech festival on Monday, DPM Heng reaffirmed Singapore's commitment in innovation investment and keeping the tech eco-system vibrant. Each year, the government allocates about 1 percent of the GDP for research and development.

He reiterated that Singapore can contribute to global recovery by continuing to invest in innovation and working in collaboration with Asia and the world. He was happy to note that global venture capital investments have remained resilient during the COVID-19 crisis which have shattered economies around the world.

In Singapore, the tech sector continues to shine a bright spot for businesses and workers, he said. Fintech is a key segment which will help Singapore to continue developing as a global financial hub.

Last week, Singapore issued its first four digital bank licences. The new banks will strengthen Singapore’s financial sector and boost the digital economy, as well as improve lending access for underserved businesses and individuals, he said.

On Monday, the deputy premier also launched the Asian Institute of Digital Finance which will nurture global fintech talent to serve the needs of Asia.

Set to take in its first batch of post-graduate students next year, the institute is hosted by the National University of Singapore, and backed by the Monetary Authority of Singapore and the National Research Foundation. One of the institute’s immediate projects is building a data-sharing platform to help lenders make better credit assessments and offer better rates.

"This will improve the financing of small businesses to enable a stronger post-pandemic recovery," said DPM Heng.

He also announced that Singapore will also launch the Singapore Blockchain Innovation Programme, the country’s first major blockchain research and translation programme.

"The programme will expand blockchain research to the needs of the industry, and will also look into scalability and interoperability of blockchain solutions," he said.

On the need for stronger capabilities, Heng said, "Blockchain technology enables transactions, even in a zero-trust environment. In the last few years, the blockchain eco-system in Singapore has grown significantly. But there are also known limitations, such as the energy efficiency of processing blockchains and the ability to connect different blockchain systems.

This week's fintech festival, which is the biggest so far, is featuring more than 600 sessions,1,000 exhibitors, and 27 international pavilions. The round-the-clock digital and physical event has attracted more than 60,000 enthusiasts who have registered their participation. They come from over 7,000 companies across 130 countries.

Apart from online speeches and discussions, there are satellite events held in cities around the world such as Uganda, New York and Shenzhen, where people can visit displays such as technology showcases.

Among the luminaries invited to speak are Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates, Google CEO Sundar Pichai and New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern.

Singapore products such as these soy sauce brands might find favor with more buyers in foreign markets seeking Asian flavors on the BSB platform which will go 'live' this week at the Singapore FinTech Festival. The soy products seen here are sold at a supermarket in a mall in southern Singapore. (NNA)
Singapore products such as these soy sauce brands might find favor with more buyers in foreign markets seeking Asian flavors on the BSB platform which will go 'live' this week at the Singapore FinTech Festival. The soy products seen here are sold at a supermarket in a mall in southern Singapore. (NNA)

Singapore products like this award-winning Singapore tea brand can reach more markets on the BSB platform created to help small businesses around the world to seek new opportunities. The tea products seen here are sold at a supermarket in southern Singapore. (NNA)
Singapore products like this award-winning Singapore tea brand can reach more markets on the BSB platform created to help small businesses around the world to seek new opportunities. The tea products seen here are sold at a supermarket in southern Singapore. (NNA)