MARKETS & INVESTING | Staff Reporter, Singapore

Small businesses' growth in Singapore is the worst in Asia

Only 47.5% think they grew in 2017, significantly lower than the 68.5% average in the Asia Pacific.

The number of Singaporean small businesses that think their profits grew in 2017 hit a three-year low in CPA Australia’s Asia Pacific small business survey. In 2017, only 47.5% of them think they grew within 12 months, significantly lower than the 68.5% average in the Asia Pacific. They ranked last amongst the countries surveyed.

In 2014, 51.3% of small firms thought their businesses grew, whilst in 2015, 58.7% of them said so.

CPA Australia also reported that more firms are positive about business in 2018 (57%), compared to the 51.3% in 2016 and the 56.5% in 2014 and 2015. The figure is still lower than the survey’s average of 70.8%, however. It also ranked second to the last in the survey.

CPA Australia head of policy Paul Drum noted that whilst 2017 saw the lowest number of Singapore small businesses that reported growing since 2014, “many expressed a high level of confidence in the Singapore economy and in their own growth prospects for 2018.”

On the upside, CPA said that in comparison to Australia and New Zealand, Singapore's small business sector is more digitally capable, with a significant majority using social media for business purposes, and nearly four in 10 businesses earning more than 10% of their income from online sales.

Drum noted that Singapore's small businesses could, however, benefit from a stronger focus on new digital payment options, such as AliPay, ApplePay, and WeChat Pay. “Only 30.2% allow customers to pay for this technology, well below China (65.5%) and the survey average (42.7%). With Singapore's excellent communications infrastructure and world-leading support for small businesses, we expect Singapore's small businesses to move quickly to invest in new payment technologies,” he said.

Drum also noted that the results show investments into new technologies are likely to have a fairly quick and positive impact on the bottom line of many small businesses. “35.1% of Singapore respondents that invested in technology in 2017 stated that such an investment has already resulted in improvements in profitability," he added.

On cybersecurity, Singapore's small businesses typically do not believe that their systems will be cyberattacked in 2018, with only 35.4% believing it likely such an event will occur, which is higher than New Zealand, but well below Vietnam, where 80.7% of businesses expect an attack.

Despite this result, a significant majority (around 70%) are acting to protect their systems. CPA Australia said, “The most common steps Singapore's small businesses are taking to protect their systems include regularly backing up data and storing that backup in the cloud or offsite; making staff aware of the risks of downloading programs or opening attachments from untrusted sources, and using a spam filter on their email systems.”

CPA Australia also noted that the sector reported facing several challenges, including increasing costs and increasing competition. “Singapore small businesses were the second most likely of the markets surveyed to identify both of these factors as barriers to their growth, and were likely to nominate staff costs as most detrimental to their business, followed by costs for materials,” he said.

Despite the increasing cost of staff, 26.6% of Singapore's small businesses expect to add to their staff numbers in 2018, an increase from last year's survey, the firm added.

CPA Australia surveyed firms in eight Asia Pacific countries, which are Vietnam, New Zealand, Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia, Hong Kong, Mainland China, and Australia. 

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