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Fabric of change: Emerging fintech adoptions for SMEs

  • Written by The SMEChain's Sorcha Mulligan

    I recall working with a regional medium sized traditional manufacturing company in recent years. Their challenge was recycling cash flow to fuel growth. I was the problem solver, introducing a fintech client to address their funding needs.

    When meeting with the managing director to introduce ourselves and the mechanics of fintech vs. traditional bank finance, the decision was effectively made to on-board our new way of working capital funding. 

    A few days later I called the office to begin the application with the accounts department. My call was received by a very defensive and distraught employee that had worked for the business for over 20 years; her words of ‘this is my job, this is all I do’ have stayed with me. 

    Her understanding was that I was automating her role and taking away the client relationships that she had spent decades building. Of course this was not the case. However this experience has resonated with me as this employee’s assumption and attitude framed her resistance to the adoption of a technology that would enable the company to grow. This tech would give her opportunities to build a larger and more global client base, up-skill herself and become even more valuable to the company. 

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    I wasn’t part of the conversation her MD had with her so I have no way of knowing how this change was communicated. Shifting the focus from redundancy to reskilling or redeployment may not have been conveyed, so this may have generated fear. The timing, delivery, environment, method and language of communication are fundamental when introducing change.  

    When we hear about how technology is disrupting the world around us, how many of us are actively thinking: “how does this impact me?”

    This question has been on my mind since I first discovered ‘fintech’ – soon followed by blockchain – in 2016. I saw opportunity and wanted to share the information to those that could benefit from it. 

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    Owner-managed businesses, as well as micro and small-to-medium businesses (SMEs) have been my market of focus in the UK and Ireland since 2015. Previously my clients were enterprises and multi-national corporations; rewarding in terms of market size and financial value, though never as fulfilling as dealing directly with the people who make the economy move, our SMEs. I wanted them to have access to emerging technology and understand how they can use it to their benefit. 

    When addressing the funding gap with my fintech clients, a trend began to emerge from meetings and conversations with hundreds if not thousands of SMEs; a ‘technology gap’. Boston Scientific Group (BSG) reported that the ‘digital divide’ was emerging in 2013 when the cloud was becoming more mainstream. Evidence showed that SMEs who adopted technology earlier allowed companies to “build synthetic scale incrementally and flexibly.'' The SMEs that adopted technology early on grew faster, created more jobs and exported more than those who didn’t. 

    “The companies leading this wave are again to seemingly come from nowhere-they are the SME technology leaders of today. As a result, those nations that have the strongest technological foundation on which their SMEs can build innovative businesses are likely to reap the greatest economic rewards.”

    A report from 2013 has equal relevance today when applying the emphasis to blockchain, artificial intelligence (AI), Internet of Things (IoT), additive manufacturing (AM) and 3D printing. 

    Digitalisation is not an option. It is a necessity. Having brought businesses out of ‘digital darkness’ and into the world of technology, I have seen first-hand that transformational changes have immediately added value. When considering investment in technology, the focus must not be ‘what will it cost me?’ Rather is should be ‘what is the ‘opportunity cost’ in terms of not adopting?’

    What new business models could emerge by exploring new technology early on, partnering with universities, associations, tech start-ups, local business partners and suppliers? Northern Ireland has over 124,000 SMEs; bearing in mind there are over 400 million SMEs around the world.

    How many high tech competitors are swooping in to challenge market share and position? Now is the time to be receptive to change; to accept that partnerships - new and existing - will make the difference for you, your business and your employees in the years to come.

    Get comfortable in the discomfort of change as this separates those who choose to lag behind from those who choose to lead. 

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