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YouBiz Research Reveals Key Trends and Challenges Facing Southeast Asian SMEs in 2023


YouBiz, the SME spend management platform by YouTrip, launched its first whitepaper studying emerging business spending trends and key business priorities for small-and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) in 2023. Titled “2023 Business Spend Insights: Keys to SME Success in Uncertain Times,” the report analyses over 60,000 business transactions from over 4,500 companies, and surveys over 160 SME executives in Southeast Asia.

Reducing operational costs was identified as the top priority for SMEs as macro conditions for 2023 remain uncertain. As borders reopened last year, business travel resumed and companies doubled their travel and entertainment spend in the last two quarters of 2022. Cross-border payments also surged, with more than 7 in 10 SMEs facilitating foreign currency transactions monthly as they worked with overseas suppliers and partners to establish operations in new markets. This has however led to a spike in overall operating costs.

“In our conversations with SMEs, the issues of reducing operational costs and spend management surfaced numerous times. YouBiz understands that as companies emerge from the pandemic, they grew even more prudent in the face of continued economic uncertainties. And as borders reopened, the increase in cross-border payments drove greater urgency and need for better spend management,” said Caecilia Chu, Co-Founder of and CEO at YouTrip.

“As a valuable and reliable partner of SMEs, YouBiz is committed to helping businesses harness their full potential by uncovering spending trends, challenges and considerations, as well as showcasing best practices and case studies in our in-depth report, to help companies better forecast and manage their business spend for the year ahead,” she added.

Reducing Operational Costs Is Imperative in the Face of Economic Uncertainties
Reducing overall operational costs emerged the top business priority for SMEs in 2023 as business leaders ready themselves for impending challenges and volatility ahead, despite the positive economic growth in the region.

Among SMEs surveyed, reducing operational costs (40%) takes precedence over the development of new products and services (30%), improving real-time spend management (17%) and finding new supply chain partners (10%).

SMEs Are Hungry for New Growth Opportunities Overseas

Global business travel is expected to reach USD $1.4 trillion in 2024, a year sooner than forecast. SME owners are riding this resurgence of business travel, increasing their travel and entertainment (T&E) spending by 2X in the last two quarters of 2022. This upward trend is projected to continue into the first quarter of 2023.

Based on the report findings, companies in the professional services industry (35%) invest the most in business travel. Executives of these companies are keen to budget more for travel spend to expand sales in new markets and reinforce partnerships that have been affected by the lack of face time during the pandemic.

Over 85% of SMEs Are Exposed to FX Fluctuations Due to Increasing Cross-Border Payments
With easier and quicker access to payments in most foreign currencies globally, SMEs are able to venture into overseas markets without compromising on their rate of growth, operational efficiency and cash flow. 56% of SMEs surveyed regularly transact with foreign currency, including card spend, making and receiving payments—with more than 90% transacting SGD $50,000 or more.

However, 86% of SMEs face exchange rate fluctuations on their frequent transactions in foreign currencies. Without the necessary tools to hedge against foreign currency fluctuations, SMEs are likely to incur opportunity costs as a result of overestimating or underestimating their overseas expenses, impacting the overall operational costs of working with overseas partners.

Leveraging Spend Management Tools Reduces Operational Costs and Builds Business Resilience

Adopting the right spend management solution enables SMEs to have real-time control of various budgets, and the tools to effectively manage FX fluctuation risks that arise from cross-border payments. This is essential as YouBiz estimates 8 in 10 SMEs do not have full visibility on company spend. SMEs are also looking out for easy-to-use, affordable and convenient solutions that are complementary to their business operations and support the various foreign currencies they frequently transact in.

Caecilia added, “As SMEs evaluate the myriad spend management tools in the market, YouBiz aims to advise them on the key areas of spend management and resource optimisation, and share with business owners timely insights that will propel their growth to the next level.”

For more information on the 2023 Business Spend Insights report by YouBiz, please visit: