40 per cent of businesses in three Caribbean territories struggling to pay their bills, Digicel survey finds

Observer business writer

Friday, October 23, 2020

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A s many as 40 per cent of businesses surveyed in three Caribbean territories are struggling to pay their bills due to the ravages of COVID-19.

At the same time, 50 per cent of the businesses surveyed in Jamaica, Barbados, and Trinidad and Tobago are experiencing difficulties receiving payments from customers, resulting in some either scaling down operations or scrambling to keep afloat.

The COVID-19 Business Impact study by Digicel Business highlighted the current imperative for businesses to adapt to address the financial and operational challenges resulting from the global pandemic. The survey revealed that “27 per cent of businesses in Jamaica, Barbados, and Trinidad and Tobago are bracing for the economic fallout from COVID-19 to continue for at least another 24 months”.

The survey pointed to some key concerns being encountered by regional businesses with the primary one being tourism. It found that 59 per cent of the businesses surveyed highlighted that they are most concerned with the Caribbean as a travel destination, given COVID-19 and restrictions in travel and gatherings.

This was followed by concerns with supply chain disruptions in the region caused by COVID-19, which came in second at 51 per cent.

The third area of concern was digital risks/cyber security identified by 48 per cent of those surveyed.

Workforce productivity, due to working remotely, was the next highest area of concern with 3 per cent, followed by technology system resilience issues at 30 per cent.

Seventy-six per cent of the companies surveyed reported a negative impact of the pandemic on their turnover. More than a quarter of the surveyed entities experienced a 50 per cent hit on their revenue this year.

The survey revealed some reticence in businesses moving data to the cloud, as only 26 per cent of the companies saw that as a key priority in their future strategy. However, 28 per cent of businesses did not believe that they currently have the requisite technology to operate remotely.

As much as 40 per cent of those surveyed believe that the worst of the COVID-19 impact is still ahead us, while 59 per cent believe that it will take up to 12 months for things to become normalised, and 27 per cent believe that it could take between one and two years for things to become normal again.

Private Sector Organisation of Jamaica (PSOJ) President Keith Duncan pointed to the need for a coordinated and calibrated response from both Government and businesses themselves to reverse these adverse findings in the survey.

Stressing that “as long as this downturn continues there will have to be a focused, structured and coordinated approach,” Duncan called on governments, central banks and financial institutions in the region to support businesses in their efforts to survive the pandemic.

“Businesses would have to look at their own survival strategies in identifying opportunities, pivoting, introducing efficiencies, digitisation or right-sizing their businesses in an effort to see themselves through this period of great uncertainty,” he told Caribbean Business Report.

Duncan highlighted the need for increase social safety net expenditure based on the increase in unemployment compounded with underemployment, along with the slowdown in the informal sector, where many of the most vulnerable people have lost jobs or are returning home with reduced incomes.

“In order to alleviate the suffering, the social safety net should be extended. This would have the benefit of increasing spending in the economy and giving a lifeline to businesses on the margin,” the PSOJ president said.

He stressed that the road ahead is rough for Caribbean businesses, arguing that many will continue to bleed as the region moves into the community spread phase of the pandemic, where the concentration will be on restrictions on movement and consumers' fear of spending or even travelling to regional countries become prolonged.

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