Retail Capital, a division of TymeBank, has introduced ChatSME, a large language model (LLM) targeting South African entrepreneurs.
According to the company, the generative artificial intelligence (AI) model, which is still in beta testing for early users, aims to provide knowledge and resources for the small and medium enterprise (SME) community.
It notes that in a world inundated with search engines, online learning platforms and digital tools, accessing business information has become easier, but not necessarily safer.
For many business owners, Retail Capital explains, concerns about the risks associated with OpenAI platforms and potential leaks of proprietary information have prevented them from fully capitalising on this much-needed technology.
Moreover, it notes, the expenses linked to developing tailored and secure tools often stops the adoption process before it starts.
According to the firm, the ChatSME project empowers SMEs in South Africa, not only Retail Capital’s customers, to unlock the benefits offered by ChatGPT, Bard and similar technologies.
Helpful artificial intelligence
The announcement comes as ChatGPT, an advanced AI-powered language model developed by OpenAI, has been gaining traction worldwide for its applications in various fields, including writing assistance, content generation and research support.
A study of 3 032 working individuals in South Africa, published last week by research firm On Africa, shows that 59% of working South Africans know about ChatGPT, while far fewer have actually used it (just 38%).
The report reveals that in the workplace, ChatGPT serves as a valuable asset for enhancing writing quality (53%), supporting research efforts (43%) and content creation (42%).
Nearly three-quarters of workplace users (74%) report enhanced work quality, with many attributing the positive impact to ChatGPT’s ability to increase speed and productivity.
As AI’s presence continues to grow, concerns about its future implications are palpable, with approximately 50% expressing worries, primarily in relation to automation and job disruptions/losses.
In their personal lives, ChatGPT users predominantly rely on the language model to generate ideas (70%) and improve writing skills (61%).
“We know that while business owners are idea-rich, they often find themselves time, resource and specialised expertise poor. This means they spend their time in their businesses, as opposed to on their businesses,” says Erin Louw, executive for Retail Capital brand and HR.
“And these are the people who stand to gain the most from productivity tools like ChatSME, for content generation, handling of routine tasks, and importantly, data analysis for making well-informed business decisions.”
SME info on tap
Nesan Pather, project lead on ChatSME at Retail Capital, states: “With our beta testing currently open for early users to trial, we are opening Retail Capital’s first-hand experience and industry knowledge to everyone, allowing all SMEs – not only our customers – to ask questions, get advice and access tools to help grow their businesses.
“SMEs can find resources about managing finances, building a brand, or leveraging social commerce tools, all at the click of a button.”
The company says ChatSME integrates all the content Retail Capital has created and curated over its 12 years as South Africa’s alternative business funder.
Drawing from a library of blogs, white papers, books, survey results, press releases and e-mails, ChatSME provides small business owners with instant access to content tailored specifically for the South African market, it explains.
Miguel da Silva, managing executive of Retail Capital, emphasises the significance of empowering SMEs, stating: “The SME community plays an enormous role in South Africa’s economy, contributing roughly 34% to our GDP and creating new jobs, which is vital for reducing our cripplingly high rate of unemployment. We need to empower SMEs in every way possible to ensure their sustainability and growth.”
He likens using ChatSME to having a dedicated business specialist on speed dial, always available to address any questions an SME owner may have.
While the beta testing phase continues, Retail Capital is preparing for the phase one launch of ChatSME, aiming to make it readily available to SA’s SME community.
The company believes LLMs represent the future, potentially replacing traditional search engines, and becoming indispensable tools for professionals across sectors, providing tailored resources and information in response to user inquiries within seconds.
Karl Westvig, chief executive of business banking at TymeBank, says: “It is our hope that we can positively influence businesses and ultimately help drive the economy forward.”