HSBC Egypt, a division of its global parent company HSBC, and the Financial Services Volunteers Corps (FSVC), a not-for-profit financial organization, launched YallaBusiness.com on Oct. 4 as part of a strategy to better serve the needs of small- and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) in emerging markets.
The web portal will allow HSBC Egypt to “maximize” the potential of the SME sector, which is currently one of the top priorities for many banks and financial institutions in Egypt.
“With YallaBusiness, we have a very clear vision: ‘We are spreading the seeds for a solid future harvest,’” Bassam Azab, the assistant general manager of business development at HSBC, told Daily News Egypt at the fourth annual Egyptian Banking Institute conference this past week.
“This will be for all banks involved, and definitely HSBC will benefit due to having taken the first step in this direction.”
After its trial launch in June 2010 and barely a month after its official debut, YallaBusiness — available in both Arabic and English — has received over 1.5 million hits from web users in Egypt and the rest of the Middle East, in addition to users from outside the region, like India.
YallaBusiness was first developed in Egypt, and Egypt was the very first country to test the portal. The idea for the web portal came after the realization that, with over 4 million SME clients spread across bank branches in 64 different countries, HSBC could and should be doing more to service the SME sector, Azab stated.
SMEs contribute significantly to Egypt’s GDP and provide an estimated 80 percent of total employment.
Although unable to disclose an exact financial figure as to the amount of capital that was required to create YallaBusiness, Azab stated that HSBC — who financed the portal — invested a “very high” amount of capital.
The website offers a wide array of services for SMEs, each of which are categorized according to the different stages of a business’ development.
Starting with a page entitled ‘Run your Business,’ this subsection of the website helps SMEs develop business plans, explains applicable laws and regulations, and outlines how to obtain initial financing for a start-up business.
Once a business is on its feet, the website provides advice on how to push sales forward through marketing and sales strategies, along with proper financial planning and an explanation as to how a business owner should address insurance issues.
The portal further explains how SMEs can interact with banks, which includes issues like opening a bank account, applying for credit, and banking electronically.
For SMEs looking to go international, the portal provides a page that explains international trade issues, customs duties, shipping documentation preparation, and even provides import and export control tools.
Azab predicts that as SMEs expand and begin to target international markets, the portal’s international trade tools should become increasingly popular.
Finally, the portal provides a page called ‘Business Intelligence,’ where SMEs can obtain country information, market studies, information on import-export flows, as well as learn about upcoming trade shows within a database of more than 3,000 professional associations worldwide.
A small online survey is also on the web portal, designed to help HSBC identify needs and opportunities by asking SME clients what they think are the most important concerns they have for their own businesses.
To date, the online survey has demonstrated that online banking as well as ATM and credit cards ranked the highest as issues of interest, receiving 33 percent of votes. Interest-bearing deposit accounts and international trade and guarantees received 17 percent of the SME vote, while credit facilities have yet to receive any votes from SME clients.
Based on the results of the survey that shows a strong desire for both ATM and credit cards, HSBC is currently “looking into” introducing both products, which would be tailored to small businesses.
HSBC is “currently assessing the outcome of the experience,” stated Azab, but so far the first indications are proving to be “very encouraging.”
To be sure, Azab explained that the educational aspect of the website “is very popular, indicating the huge gap and the keenness of SMEs to learn and develop.”
Given the popularity of the portal, HSBC and FSVC have already begun kicking around ideas on how to expand the project. In the next six months, HSBC may introduce “SME advisory programs, whereby we use the site for collecting applications and screening interested candidates to be involved in SME advisory,” said Azab. “This will be the preparatory stage for our project with FSCV to provide more … assistance and support to selected SME candidates.”
FSVC is a private-public partnership that enables developing and emerging market countries to realize economic opportunities by recruiting financial, legal and regulatory experts as volunteers to work with in-country partners.
Azab believes that HSBC, with the support of FSVC, has set a precedent through YallaBusiness.com that no other company replicated as of yet for this market. Azab expects that the “new initiative will open more eyes in the coming period to the power of e-applications to business.”