ARTICLE by Michele Hacksall
After spending more than a decade building a successful iced tea business, Jeng Cortes was earning profits – but she also had a big paperwork problem.
Last year, Cortes found she had so many records and receipts piled up that it was difficult for her to actually run her company.
“Everything was on paper,” says Cortes, co-founder of the Philippines-based beverage company Marventure. “It was taking a lot of time to dig through boxes for the files we were looking for.”
Every hour Marventure’s team spent shuffling paper was an hour of lost productivity for the small company.
This is where Kiu, a cloud-based business management platform (BMP), came in. After a university friend recommended the platform, Cortes and her co-workers used Kiu to digitize and categorize their records. Now, “it’s easy to quickly get the records, such as monthly reports, that I need,” Cortes says.
Kiu’s setup is simple: users select the modules (there are many, but some of the most common ones are Sales, Accounting, and Purchases) they need from the platform’s home screen, and enter the relevant data.
Cuong Pham, who runs the Vietnamese agriculture business Green Farms, also uses the Kiu BMP, and he says his “business is increasing rapidly.”
Keeping it central, keeping it simple
Kiu CEO Steve Landman says he launched the platform in response to a survey of 600 micro and small businesses in the Mekong Delta. One of the problems “that absolutely everyone had”, Landman reports, was digitization.
Kiu (which means “bridge” in Cantonese) designed its platform to be a simple tool for busy entrepreneurs who don’t have extra hours to devote to the admin side of a business. The platform groups customer relationship management (CRM), accounting, sales automation, and inventory management tools all in one place.
Users can access the BMP platform on Kiu’s website, and they can also download Kiu’s smartphone app so they can enter financial data and pull up reports on the go.
Sounds standard – but what’s Kiu’s USP?
Landman noticed that another problem that every small business had was access to finance – and it’s this problem that Kiu was specifically created to solve.
Kiu first launched in Vietnam, where SMEs (small and medium businesses) make up about 90% of the private sector and constitute 40% of the national GDP. Credit scores do not exist for SMEs in Vietnam, and Vietnamese banks tend to be risk averse. As a result, 78% of business loan applications in Vietnam are rejected.
In lieu of a credit score, small businesses owners can choose to put down the deeds to their homes as collateral – but for entrepreneurs who don’t own property, this simply isn’t an option.
“A lot of these business owners have no credit history, and they don’t have records that they can present to banks that are standardized or in the right format,” Landman explains.
Kiu’s AI credit-scoring algorithm addresses this by analyzing a business’s financial data against several hundred risk factors to generate advisory credit scores for banks. This eliminated a major barrier to finance for SMEs.
In late 2019, the Asian Development Bank’s venture capital platform ADB Ventures made a convertible grant to Kiu, which Kiu used to adapt its BMP for small agricultural businesses in Vietnam and Myanmar.
“Big data and AI have dramatically decreased the cost for financial services providers to analyze SMEs’ financial information and make credit decisions,” says ADB Ventures Principal Investment Specialist Dominic Mellor. “ADB Ventures saw Kiu’s potential to accelerate SME digitization, thus unlocking a large new market for the Asia Pacific’s financial services sector while increasing the availability of credit for those who need it, especially rural and women-owned businesses.”
Landman says that “about 30,000 SMEs” now use the Kiu BMP, “and about half of those companies have gotten loans through the platform,” with the average loan size ranging from US$ 5,000 – 6,000.
Cortes now says she plans to apply for a business loan through Kiu to help grow Marventure.
Easing access to finance throughout the region
Since its launch in Vietnam in 2015, Kiu has expanded into Myanmar, Cambodia, Thailand, the Philippines, Hong Kong, and Bangladesh.
Chhoem Rotha of the Cambodian consultancy firm SEB Enterprises uses Kiu to help his clients expand their businesses.
Rotha was introduced to Kiu by a partner at the USAID Harvest program, and now he trains Cambodian entrepreneurs who aren’t the most tech-savvy to “make sure that they know how to invoice in line with proper accounting guidelines.”
Rotha, who mostly works with small agricultural and retail companies, says that “Kiu helps them figure out how much capital they need to borrow from financial institutions.”
He adds that he now sees small businesses in Cambodia “doing great things” with their new capital.
Southeast Asia’s recovery from the pandemic hinges largely on the success of SMEs. And if entrepreneurs have access to modern, intuitive tools, this path to recovery will become far easier.
ARTICLE by Michele Hacksall
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