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Powering Asia’s small business sector with cloud technology

December 7, 2021

What region has the largest, youngest and most tech savvy population in the world? If you guessed Asia, you would be right. I’ve been living in Singapore for the past three years and have worked in the region for two decades. The environment there is not just exciting, it’s vibrant. I find myself captivated by the food, language, culture and history – and the pace of technological change.

I recently had a chance to speak at Wild Digital, Southeast Asia’s premier conference for digital entrepreneurs and investors. Asia is a hotbed of tech innovation. There’s less legacy infrastructure holding progress back, with over 90% of online users in Asia accessing the internet via their mobile phones. This has allowed the technology here to leapfrog existing solutions and come up with new approaches.

In Singapore, there are also government incentives boosting take-up of locally based technology, such as the island’s Smart Nation initiative. This sort of encouragement not only increases use of cloud technology but inspires companies to create technology. In April 2021, Statista reported that there were 198 unicorns in Asia, or privately owned startups with a valuation of US$1 billion. That’s the biggest concentration outside of the US.

Xero recognised the opportunity in Asia early on and the benefits that its cloud-based platform could bring to the millions of SMEs in the region. They include as many as 1,000 connected, third-party apps in the Xero ecosystem that work on mobile and desktop. These apps handle everything from invoicing and cash flow management to payroll, CRM, and staff scheduling.

On the banking front, we have over 300 connections to financial institutions globally. These include API bank-feed connections to major Asian lenders such as DBS, OCBC and HSBC, as well as regional fintechs like Airwallex and Flex.

Startup successes

Small to medium business (SMB) is one of the fastest growing areas of the global economy – 90 percent of business transacted is SMB. These businesses employ over half of the workforce across the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation region.

In Asia, we are seeing particular growth in ecommerce, gaming, food and beverage, delivery and logistics. I’d like to flag two in particular, both sit within our ecosystem, that truly embody this spirit and offer very different solutions to help small businesses.

Eats365 is the first example. Wilson Lee founded the company in Hong Kong after being struck by the difficulty restaurant owners were facing all over the world relying on disparate and often obsolete systems to run their businesses. Wilson knew there was a way to streamline time-consuming activities that came with running restaurants.

So he created an app called Eats365 and it has disrupted the food and beverage industry with cloud-based technology that enables the seamless flow of information through a single platform, and provides restaurants with an easy-to-use, point-of-sale system.

The success of the app in Hong Kong, and its popularity among restaurants of all sizes and patrons, has seen its use spread to 19 countries across the world in just a few years. And by sitting in the Xero ecosystem, SMBs in most of those countries get to utilise both services together to fit their needs.

Another amazing journey is that of Singapore-based fintech Aspire. Aspire first opened its digital doors to SMEs back in 2018 as an alternative lender to traditional banks. It saw the lengthy processes involved with SMBs trying to open a business account. As a result, in 2020 the company shifted gears to meet the needs of customers by providing easy access to account opening, corporate cards, digital payments, spend and revenue management.

Today, Aspire offers a full-stack finance operating system through its website and app. It helps founders and finance heads automate, delegate and integrate their workflows. The transaction feed from the Aspire business account connects seamlessly with Xero, so businesses can easily reconcile their daily transactions in their accounting ledger.

A different daily approach

What we’re finding at Xero is that small businesses in Asia that are really thriving are doing so because they are approaching daily tasks differently. Cloud-based tools and integrated apps not only help overcome the challenges of remote working, they have the potential to increase productivity. They’re saving business owners time – the ultimate non-renewable resource – and freeing them to focus on their business.

To help enable this approach, we recently created and launched a new Xero App Store. It’s a place where small businesses globally go to discover and buy Xero connected apps, and a place where developers go to extend their reach.

Our customer search data in the App Store shows there is strong demand for a wide range of solutions born in very different places for customers in just as many locations. Championing innovation and prosperity in Asia will start by identifying and solving local challenges, then driving disruption on a global scale.

Small business has never been more active, with people rethinking how they spend their time, what inspires them and having a go, starting something new or trying something different. This is the moment for small businesses across Asia to set their sights high, explore every possibility and government incentive, and use the technology and platforms available to bring their ideas to life. By retaining a bold and vibrant approach to business, Asia is sure to advance its position in the tech space and can serve as a model for much of the world.

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