The Philippines and the rest of Asean comprise one of the world’s fastest-growing regions but many Filipinos still struggle to reap the benefits.
Finding innovative ways to address this has thus become a primary agenda for business and government leaders.
The recent Asean Business and Investment Summit highlighted the role of micro, small, and medium enterprises (MSMEs) as a key driver of economic growth.
These humble Filipino entrepreneurs — who make up 99.6 per cent of all business establishments in the country — face the common problem of lacking access to finance.
Having the capability to secure funds is crucial if we want those in the lower-income brackets participate in economic activity.
Unmet demand for trade credit in Asean is currently estimated to be over $100 billion, making this a challenge that calls for attention of business leaders and policy makers.
Also, only 13 percent of small businesses have access to formal financing and only 11 percent have data in credit bureaus.
The rapid growth of the e-commerce industry and a continuing rise in the number of mobile users have kindled optimism that the problem can be addressed.
For example, 220 million out of the region’s population of 630 million use the internet and 211 million are active in social media. Add to this a 119% mobile penetration rate, which means that everyone in the region has at least one mobile phone.
First Circle is the first fintech firm in the Philippines to build a digital platform focused on providing short-term trade credit to small and medium enterprises.
Its mission is to empower small businesses in emerging Asean markets by allowing them to access formal financial services and participate in wider economic activities.
Since the startup’s 2016 launch, First Circle has served hundreds of Metro Manila MSMEs from different industries, working in partnership with leading e-commerce platforms such as Lazada and Zalora.
The Philippines still has a long way to go in terms of financial inclusion but with fintech firms coming up with innovative ways to change the way MSMEs do business, prosperity for all is within reach.