Businesses need access to long-term capital if they are to invest, expand and move into new markets. In doing so, they also create employment. Small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) need reliable financing partners to guarantee investment capital on affordable terms.
Firms in developing countries, especially SMEs, often have limited access to financing. This is due to a combination of factors, such as macroeconomic risks, the absence of tailored financial products, and a lack of credit scoring information for banks to make a loan appraisal. As the risk of lending to SMEs is more difficult to assess and transaction costs are high, banks are more interested in offering credit to larger, well established businesses. Many otherwise promising SMEs in developing and threshold countries are impeded by the lack of financing.
Finance where it is most needed
SECO offers start-up capital and technical assistance and trains local banks in small-business loans. It aims to show banks that investing in SMEs can be profitable.
With better access to finance, SMEs can create more jobs.
Two of SECO’s key instruments in this regard are SIFEM, the Swiss Investment Fund for Emerging Markets, and the SECO Start-up Fund. Women face specific obstacles in business development, such as a lack of collateral or the existence of legal or cultural barriers to owning land. Switzerland partners with other donor organisations, e.g. in North Africa, to deepen the financial market and develop services specifically designed for women entrepreneurs.
Paying water bills by mobile phone
SECO also fosters the introduction of innovative financial services to integrate poorer segments of the population into the financial system. It is doing this in Ghana, for instance, with the support of a functioning mobile payment system. This makes it easier for people to pay bills, without having to take a bus to the local bank. Migrants and their families also enjoy lower transfer costs for remittances sent abroad by mobile phone.
Only one-third of Ghana’s population in 2015 had a bank or savings account and access to lending facilities. Meanwhile, some 90% of the population now has a mobile phone, and reception is generally very good. There is therefore huge potential to provide a mobile payments system to people with no other means of accessing financial services. This programme operates at two levels: it aims to improve the regulatory environment while also working to make the payments system compatible with mobile phones. Supported by SECO and implemented by the IFC, the programme will make it easier for all segments of the population to access new and affordable financial services.
SECO engages at a systemic level to reduce lending transaction costs in partner countries. For example, it is helping to set up credit bureaus keeping a database of companies. With such reliable data at their disposal, banks can assess the business risk more easily and accurately and offer firms more attractive lending rates.
Investing in jobs
When a company has access to capital, it can use it to invest in machinery, for example, and maximise its growth potential. Companies then create new jobs and, in doing so, contribute to poverty reduction.