Companies in the UAE are calling for continued financial support and greater flexibility on loan repayments in light of the impact of Covid-19 on their revenues and cash flow.
In a survey of 63 companies in the UAE conducted by MEED and Mashreq, nearly 88 per cent of companies said that their banking needs have changed as a result of the pandemic, with over 50 per cent saying that they have an increased need for financing.
“Companies across all areas of the economy have been knocked by the impact of Covid-19 on their business,” says Hind Salim Eisa, Executive Vice President and Head of Services and Manufacturing at Mashreq Bank.
“Many have had revenues hit by lockdowns and travel restrictions. While others have seen productivity levels fall and costs rise as a result of the disruption,” she adds. “In order to continue through these challenges, new, more flexible and more responsive finance solutions are essential.”
Supporting through the challenges
Nearly all companies, regardless of their size, have seen a shift in their financing needs as a result of the pandemic.
“Medium-sized companies, who are considered as the backbone of the UAE economy, constitute the largest segment of customers in our corporate banking portfolio in terms of number of customers – and by extension number of transactions too,” explains Eisa.
About 57 per cent of medium-sized companies surveyed, those with annual revenues of between $30m – $270m (AED100m -AED1bn), reported increased need for financial services as a result of the pandemic.
Mashreq supported this segment and others through initiatives including extended debt obligations, longer loan tenors, providing top ups for existing loans and delaying collection.
“Throughout the crisis, our focus remained on providing our customers with as much financial flexibility as possible, by relaxing the terms and conditions around tenors and credit facility,” says Eisa. “A lot of this was ultimately possible thanks to the support that we in turn received from the Central Bank.”
Refining the digital response
In addition to the increased need for financing, companies in the UAE have also called for more responsive digital platforms and increased access to expert advice, as they seek to respond to a significantly changed market.
For instance, about 31 per cent of mid-sized companies called for more responsive digital platforms to facilitate their financial transactions.
“It is convenient and cost-effective for banks to conduct corporate customers’ transactions remotely, given the less reliance on physical branches, reduced human error, quicker turnaround time, etc,” says Eisa. “The entire process becomes more streamlined, both from a lender and borrower perspective.”
But despite the demand for increased online services, the shift to digital processes is also the source of most anxiety for mid-sized companies.
One third said that cyber security was their biggest pain point, while about one quarter said that the lack of tailored services was a significant problem.
“Banks recognise the challenges and concerns facing our customers,” notes Eisa. “And with every digital strategy we implement, our first and foremost priority is always our customer.”