SME Champions

Finding Finance for SMEs

Access to Finance


Excerpts from the third webinar of the Gulf Capital SME Insights Live Series discussing strategies and actions that can help SMEs access finance. with industry thought leaders from Gulf Capital, Beehive, and The Fund, Dubai SME. 

Finance is always a challenge for small businesses. With limited capital reserves and revenue streams, and fewer assets than their larger corporate counterparts, small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) are always working a fine line between maintaining positive and negative cash flow. And it can take very little to push them over the edge into insolvency.

The massive disruption to revenues and operations caused by Covid-19 is starving SMEs of cash and putting the existence of many SMEs under threat.

But with banks’ reduced appetite for risk, and unwillingness to process loans for smaller businesses, the biggest challenge for SMEs during Covid-19 is being able to access finance to the provide working capital that will keep their companies afloat.


“Banks [in the region] are very good at lending either bigger amounts or amounts where there is security,” says Peter Tavener, chief financial officer, and chief operating officer at the peer-to-peer lending platform, Beehive UAE.

“Where they struggle is giving unsecured loans of, let’s say, AED100,000 up to AED1million.”

Speaking at the third SME Gulf Capital SME Insights Live webinar on 28 July, Tavener explained that Beehive focuses on helping service-type businesses that are 2-5 years old. They generally are at a stage where they need money to grow but do not have sufficient assets to secure a bank loan.

A digital back-end analysis of bank statements enables fast loan processing at Beehive, but business owners must be able to demonstrate that they are fully invested in their organisation. “Good management and a good understanding of their business is critical to us,” says Tavener.

Local support

For local businesses, the Mohammed Bin Rashid Fund for SME (The Fund), is the finance arm of Dubai SME, a government organisation mandated to support Emirati-owned SMEs.

The Fund has in-house funding to provide loans but also acts as a guarantor for loans to Emirati-owned businesses through its partnership with Beehive.

In addition to this, Dubai SME provides exemptions to fees for government services. During the Covid-19 crisis, around 7000 SME members benefited from Dubai SME exemptions to a value of around AED57m.including the fund members who got 6 months installments deferrals approvals from the Fund.

But perhaps more importantly, The Fund provides advice to struggling SMEs on managing operations, costs, and dealing with problems with banks or landlords.

The advisory service ensures that debt is not taken on unnecessarily.

“Some of these businesses think they need these facilities or they need this cash,” says Hamda Khalil, director of the credit & underwritings department at The Fund, “but when you go deep down into their accounts, you figure out that it is a minor problem that needs to be sorted out with their suppliers or with payments and receivables.”

Clear vision

Based in the UAE, Gulf Capital is an alternative asset management company that provides finance to larger SMEs with a turnover of around $10million and above. However, Omar Rifai, Managing Director at the company says that the challenges facing SMEs at the moment are the same, irrespective of size.

He says that many SMEs are finding that banks have a reduced risk appetite and are pulling back or not renewing working capital lines, and, if a company has not been impacted by the Covid-19 crisis, they may be struggling to secure funds for their next phase of growth.

As well as being able to show financial viability, Rifai says that companies looking for funding need to have a clear idea of how to take their business forward in a post-COVID economy.

“A lot of SMEs that are in discussion with us have a view on how the world will work going forward and have a view on how they want to pivot to take advantage of it,” says Rifai.

“There are going to be winners emerging,” he says, “and we want to be there to support these businesses.”

This webinar was held on Tuesday 28 July 2020, at 1 pm UAE Time.


The Gulf Capital SME Insights is a multi-channel programme of activity providing information, intelligence and support to the regional SME community.

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