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Banking, Google alliance promises digital world to SMEs

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Standard Bank, Mastercard and Google yesterday announced an alliance to help small and medium enterprises (SMEs) accelerate digital transformation, in response to operational challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic.

The three entities say the pandemic has had far-reaching effects, even more so in SA where small to medium enterprises are a pillar of the economy, and they want to help them move their businesses online, accept digital payments and attract more customers.

In a statement, the alliance says it has bundled solutions to help support business owners to tackle the economic challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Approximately 2.5 million SMEs in SA bore the brunt of the pandemic, with the South African Reserve Bank estimating an additional 1 600 SME insolvencies this year.

The partnership of Standard Bank, Mastercard and Google comes on the back of growing calls for SMEs to adopt digital technologies to create new opportunities in response to the effects of the deadly virus.

According to a statement issued by the three companies, SMEs can also get free access to Standard Bank’s SimplyBlu, an all-in-one e-commerce solution backed by Mastercard Payment Gateway Services, plus free Google Ads to the value of R500.

“We recognise the overwhelming pressure that small business owners are currently facing and are committed to supporting them through COVID-19 and beyond as they adapt to a new way of operating and evolved customer needs. Through this collaboration, our mission is to help as many SMEs with tools and support to expand their digital capabilities and take their operations to the next level,” says Suzanne Morel, country manager, Mastercard SA.

Google SA country director Alistair Mokoena says with Google Ads, SMEs can get access to a digital marketing channel that will further help them drive traffic to their Web sites and grow online sales, bookings or mailing list signups.

“Small businesses have been hardest hit during this period. Many of them have had to figure out quickly how to pivot their operations to a ‘digital-first’ approach. Yet, there remains a gap between those who can access these online opportunities and those who can’t. That’s the gap we want to bridge with this collaboration.”

Nelisa Zulu, head of merchant solutions at Standard Bank SA, says launched in 2019, SimplyBlu enables SMEs to create an online presence through the plug-and-play e-commerce store builder, which is interfaced with an instant online checkout.

The platform has been designed in such a way that users can set up and start accepting payments in a matter of minutes, says Zulu.

“As one of South Africa’s leading financial service providers, Standard Bank is acutely aware that small businesses play an important role in driving economic growth and generating employment opportunities. Our strategic relationships with leading brands such as Mastercard and Google ensure that we are able to support small businesses and offer our clients tangible benefits that add real value.”

According to Zulu, SMEs need to increase their presence online as e-commerce has been booming for small businesses over the last few months, largely due to consumers’ rapid adoption of online shopping and digital services.

“E-commerce is a powerful tool for small businesses – be it retail operators or merchants offering services ranging from home maintenance to professional services. Our SimplyBlu platform has seen over 100% growth during the COVID-19 period, with business owners increasingly realising the benefits of operating their businesses on online platforms,” says Zulu.

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