4 Things Businesses Should Consider When Expanding Overseas

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This story is sponsored by Standard Chartered Bank (Singapore) Limited (“SCBSL”). 

2016 has seen a very strong push from the Government for Singapore Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs) to move towards more productive business processes, as well as to continue to actively look beyond our shores to expand their business. This was strongly focused on at the Budget 2016 announcement, and was further reinforced at the National Day Rally 2016.

Many companies realise the need to expand overseas for continued growth, but this requires a significant outlay of resources and time. And when it comes to managing operations across various countries, having sufficient cash flow can often be crucial to the success of the expansion. However, as we learnt from interviewing two CEOs from long-running local SMEs, there’s more to getting working capital from a bank than just having a sufficient amount of cash.

Mr Andy Tan and Mr Kevin Liang are both clients of Standard Chartered. We had a chat with them on what they’ve learnt from their efforts to expand their businesses and how utilising banking facilities such as Business Working Capital (BWC) for various purposes has impacted their overall business.

Mr Andy Tan is the CEO of Sing Kee Kaya (Singapore) Pte Ltd and has been in the business for about 30 years. A family business established in 1985, the company not only operates in multiple countries across the region, but also supplies kaya to many franchises you might have eaten at in Singapore.

Mr Kevin Liang founded EPS Computer Systems Pte Ltd in 1993, and now oversees multiple business units under the EPS Singapore umbrella. This includes EPS Consultants Pte Ltd, one of the top IT staffing solutions and HR companies in Singapore. Their services include contract staffing, manpower outsourcing and recruitment process outsourcing (RPO) for a whole spectrum of IT-related jobs.

We wanted to not only learn more about how these companies utilised the capital they had received from the bank, but also some of the lessons they had learnt from expanding overseas. With that in mind, here are 4 things that a business should consider when expanding overseas:

 

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With the Government’s push towards overseas expansion, there are several grants out there offered by entities such as International Enterprise (IE) Singapore and SPRING Singapore that help companies with some of the start up costs involved in opening up a new business overseas. However, these might not always be enough depending on the scale of the operation.

According to Mr Liang, “We used one of the grants provided to start an office in the Philippines, but this only covered the initial office rental as well as the hiring of 2 staff. We still needed more cash in order to fully develop the business office there, and that’s where we were able to supplement the grant with the cash we got from Standard Chartered’s BWC solutions.” 

Ensuring the amount of cash you have enables you not only to start a business overseas, but also to get it running and generating cash as soon as possible. This will help the business to grow faster and in a sustainable manner, especially if it is human resource-intensive like Mr Liang’s.

 

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One of the first things Mr Tan mentioned when asked why he chose to bank with Standard Chartered was the fact that the bank had a presence in all the markets they were expanding to.

“Standard Chartered was the natural choice to bank with because it made handling money matters a lot easier. Going to a branch to sort things out was not an issue, and we were able to unify a lot of our internal processes easily as a result,” said Mr Tan.

Mr Liang pointed out that while they do still work with local banks in various markets for very specific purposes, having a bank that gives them the scale to standardize certain processes also makes life a lot easier.

“Besides dealing with local banks, we also work with Standard Chartered, which has a strong presence internationally. They are able to understand our overall overseas requirements better, provide guidance and support us,” added Mr Liang.

For companies entering overseas markets, time is certainly a key factor in whether or not the business can get off the ground successfully. Take too long, and you might end up burning more money than you can afford. The set-up process is one that can be very tedious and costly, and that’s where having a relationship with a bank that can help to unify these processes certainly shaves off a lot of the time spent getting the business up and running.

 

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As Mr Tan shared, “We chose Standard Chartered not only for their international presence, but also because of their willingness to understand our business needs. We spoke to a few other banks as well but they were less willing to listen to what we were planning to do.”

This sentiment was echoed by Mr Liang, who also emphasized how important it was to him that the bank he chose to work with understood how he was growing the business. As he pointed out, “Standard Chartered also understands what we are trying to do at a strategic level, so when we go to them to get capital for expansion, they understand the purpose and support us across the different markets we are in or going into.”

This might seem like an underrated factor to consider, especially when most priorities lie with acquiring the necessary cash for business needs, but developing that long term relationship begins with being on the same page about your business’ goals.

 

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One of the key mantras that Mr Liang lives by is that “you should get money from a bank when you don’t need it”. He explained that, “By the time you are in need of the money, it’s going to be very hard to get it from the bank. At the end of the day, they will look at your profits and losses, and your ability to pay them back.”

The point here is that you will be in a better position to manage your finances when you are not in a cash-strapped situation. This will also help you to build up a regular repayment track record and stand you in much better stead in the future. 

We previously spoke about how it’s not necessarily a bad thing for a company to get a loan from a bank, and one of the plus sides to this, as we heard from Mr Liang, is building up a strong repayment rhythm. Just as how individuals have their own credit record once they start fulfilling any debt repayments such as their credit card bill or personal loan payments, businesses can also show a good track record of credit worthiness through this.

When it comes to getting working capital, developing a relationship and a good repayment history with the enterprise bank you choose can also help them to better understand what sort of financial support is required when you need to increase your cash outflow during your expansion.

 

Conclusion

It’s evident that expanding overseas is more complex than making sure you have enough money to support the increase in business operations. Coordinating processes across different countries can be a logistical nightmare as well, when you need to manage internal transactions such as payrolls across various offices. These processes can easily consume a lot of precious time that could be better spent on growing the business.

That being said, as we’ve seen above, managing cashflow is still an extremely important part of the whole journey. At the end of the day, getting the banking support that your business needs for overseas expansion isn’t just about raising capital, but having someone that can support a variety of business functions and empower you with the freedom to expand your operations with peace of mind. 

 

This article is for information purposes only. All loan applications are subject to SCBSL’s loan approval process at its sole discretion. Visit Standard Chartered’s Business Working Capital page to find out more about the solutions that are available and how it can help with your business needs.

 

Mark Cheng

I rant and rave a lot, but when I'm not busy doing that, I'm managing the content for MoneySmart. I love Singapore, but I also believe in helping it to improve bit by bit, and that's where MoneySmart comes in. Have some thoughts? Drop me an email at mark@moneysmart.sg.

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