Like many countries, Malaysia has announced economic stimulus packages to ensure help for the poor and needy, that workers do not lose their jobs and that companies avoid bankruptcy – albeit with an inevitably reduced output – to keep the economy functioning. The stimulus offered is short-term covering a few months, and more assistance will be required should the epidemic linger and for the recovery period.
The Government announced a stimulus package on the 27th February worth RM20 billion (US$4.5 billion) and another one on the 27th March worth RM230 billion (US$52.6 billion). The packages comprise of direct fiscal injection of RM25 billion (US$5.7 billion) as well as loan deferments, one-off cash assistance, credit facilities and rebates. The focus of the stimulus packages is to assist people in the lower-income (B40) and mid-income (M40) groups, aid for employees in the private sector and for traders during the movement control order (MCO) which is to run until 14th April 2020.
An additional COVID-19 stimulus package worth RM10 billion (US$2.2 billion) was announced on the 6th April to address the challenges of the small and medium enterprises (SMEs) that employ two-thirds of the workforce and contribute to 40 percent of the GDP. The wage subsidy is to benefit 4.8 million workers earning less than RM4,000 (US$915) per month. In addition, SMEs will have access to interest free loans of RM200 million (US$45.7 million) from the National Entrepreneur Group Economic Fund and a further RM500 million (US$114.4 million) via Bank Simpanan Nasional. The Government allowed 750,000 SMEs to postpone income tax payment for three months from 1st April – companies in the tourism sector are allowed to postpone income tax for six months.
Impact on Industries
Banking & Financial Services. Banking institutions will support the Government’s stimulus initiatives by providing a six months’ loan repayment moratorium, corporate loan restructuring and conversion of credit card balance to long term loans. Banking and financial institutions are focussing on business continuity planning to ensure minimal disruption to their business and customer support. Many key business processes are now being put to test in-home working with scaled-down office operations. Digital Transformation (DX) has been accelerated as a result.
Contactless payments have seen a boost and many financial institutions have increased payment limits for such payments. Early last month the World Health Organisation (WHO) and the Bank of England had issued advisories against the use of banknotes, as it could increase the chances of the virus spread, instead recommending the use of contactless payment where possible. This might give a boost to the use of Cryptocurrency and cross-border payment services in Malaysia. In 2019, cryptocurrency start-ups received an estimated 12 percent of Fintech funding – but, only three cryptocurrency exchanges were given conditional approval by the Securities Commission. The current situation may well see that changing.
Insurance. The Prime Minister announced that the Insurance industry is to create a fund of RM8 million (US$1.8 million) to cover the cost of RM300 (US$68.6) per policyholder to undergo COVID-19 tests. In addition to this, insurance companies are to offer a 3-month suspension on premiums for policyholders whose income is affected by the pandemic.
Agriculture. Even prior to COVID-19, there has been a brewing narrative against globalisation, favouring a nationalistic emphasis as reflected globally by Brexit and the China-US trade wars tension. Food security is key, and COVID-19 has further highlighted its importance with priorities shifting to local requirements over exports. The Government intends to distribute a food security fund of RM1 billion (US$228.8 million) to increase the local production of farms, fisheries and livestock. According to the Department of Statistics, Malaysia’s food and beverage imports amounted to RM54 billion (US$12.3 billion) in 2018 while food exports stood at RM35 billion (US$8.0 billion) resulting in a trade deficit of RM18.8 billion (US$4.3 billion). As countries focus on internal supplies instead of exports in the current scenario, Malaysia needs to address this risk by producing more locally.
Impact on Industry Transformation
Amidst the gloomy outlook, there are plenty of opportunities, especially to the country’s Digital Economy. Malaysia has been committed to the Digital Economy vision with the Malaysia Digital Economy Corporation (MDEC) estimating that the country’s Digital Economy is worth US$3 trillion. The COVID-19 crisis may well be the key driver in achieving that vision. DX efforts are being accelerated with businesses adopting more cloud and mobility solutions. More workloads have to be digitalised and there is greater adoption of Cloud for storage and services. AWS, Microsoft Azure and Google Cloud will be beneficiaries in this area.
I have already spoken about the Financial Services industry – other industries are also getting transformed out of a necessity to survive this crisis. The Education sector has seen an increase in access to educational content and traffic to education portals and blogs. Some schools have implemented online lessons and group chats between teachers, students and parents to ensure education continues through this pandemic. Many universities have used their e-learning platforms to move lectures online.
The Telecommunications industry is being appreciated more than ever and it is the backbone to normal life, in both a social and business sense. The Government’s stimulus package includes offers of free internet to all customers until the MCO is over at RM600 million (US$137.3 million) and an investment of about RM400 million (US$91.5 million) to improve coverage and quality of service. Leading operators Maxis, Digi, Celcom and U Mobile have offered 1GB free data during the MCO period. The Axiata Group recently announced a cash fund of RM150 million (US$34.3 million) to assist micro-SMEs within the ecosystem providing eCommerce, digital payments and related services.
Video conferencing traffic is on the rise as it is the next best thing to face-to-face meetings. Microsoft Teams and Zoom have been the biggest winners so far. The home working trend should continue in the recovery stage and beyond, due to improvements in the telecommunications infrastructure and the impending rollout of 5G.
The eCommerce sector should see a major improvement in Malaysia with physical channels to the market being suspended. Malaysians have not embraced eCommerce like mature economies have, and it has significant room for improvement. Development of the SME sector and eCommerce are twin focus areas for the Digital Economy vision. Statista reports that the average Malaysian eCommerce shopper spent just US$159 on online consumer goods purchases in 2018, considerably lower than the global average of US$634. There is huge opportunity to provide for necessities such as online grocery, food and delivery of goods. As a consequence, the Transport & Logistics sector will have to adapt their business operations in order to ride this wave successfully.
Video streaming and gaming has also seen an increase in consumption in these times as they provide for entertainment for millions stuck at home. Netflix, YouTube, Microsoft Xbox and PlayStation are among the winners in this sector. YouTube provides for a primary news source and commentary on the epidemic for many. There provides a tremendous opportunity for both telecom operators and content providers to increase their number of services in this area.
Malaysia, like all other countries, will have to ride out this wave. It has made a positive step in the direction with the stimulus packages, especially for the SME sector. How well the country rides this wave out will depend on how targeted the future stimulus packages are and how fast industries can transform to handle the new world order that will emerge after the COVID-19 crisis.
This year Google Cloud is set to expand the number of locations to 26 countries. Earlier in the year, Google CEO Sundar Pichai had promised to invest more than US$ 10 billion in expanding their data centre footprints in the USA and they have recently opened their Salt Lake City data centre. Last week Google announced four new data centre locations in Doha (Qatar), Toronto (Canada), Melbourne (Australia), and Delhi (India). With Australia, Canada and India, Google appears to be following the same policy they followed in Japan – where locations in Osaka and Tokyo give customers the option to have an in-country disaster recovery solution. Doha marks Google Cloud’s first foray into the Middle East. While the data centre will primarily cater to global clients, Google has noted a substantial interest from customers in the Middle East and Africa.
Mortensen says, “Google’s new data centres can be seen as an organic geographical expansion of their cloud services but there are a few more factors at play. With data privacy laws getting stricter across the globe, the ability to offer localised data storage is becoming more important – and India is a very good example of a market where keeping data within the geographical borders will become a must.”
“The expansion will also help the development of Google’s own edge computing services going forward. As we noted in our Ecosystm Predicts document, we believe that Cloud and IoT will drive edge computing (which is tightly tied to 5G). Edge computing will function in a symbiotic relationship with centralised data centres where low latency is important. The geographical expansion of Google’s data centre presence will thus also help their push towards edge computing services.”
Google offers their cloud infrastructure and digital transformation (DX) solutions to customers in 150 countries. Not only are they expanding their data centre footprint, but they are also creating industry differentiation. They have targeted industry-specific solutions that deliver new digital capabilities in 6 key verticals – financial services; telecommunications media and entertainment; retail; healthcare and life sciences; manufacturing and industrial; and public sector.
Partnering with Telecom Providers
Last week also saw the unveiling of the Global Mobile Edge Cloud (GMEC) aimed at the telecom industry’s need to transform and the challenges it faces. The telecom industry – long considered an enabler of DX in other industries – stands at a crossroads now. It is time for the industry to transform in order to succeed in a challenging market, newer devices and networking capabilities, and evolving customer requirements – both consumer and enterprise. Talking about the impact of 5G on telecom providers, Ecosystm Principal Advisor, Shamir Amanullah says, “5G is an enterprise play and leading tech giants, carriers and the companies in the ecosystem are collaborating and inking partnerships in order to create solutions and monetise 5G opportunities across industries.”
Google Cloud announced a partnership with AT&T, which is meant to leverage AT&T’s 5G network and Google Cloud’s edge compute technologies (AI and machine learning, analytics, Kubernetes and networking) to develop a joint portfolio of 5G edge computing solutions. This is part of Google’s larger strategy of supporting telecom providers in their efforts to monetise 5G as a business services platform. Through the GMEC, Google Cloud will partner with carriers to offer a suite of applications and services at the edge via 5G networks.
The telecom industry is a key focus as Google aims to help operators take 5G to market, by creating solutions and services that can be offered to enterprises. This includes better customer engagement through data-driven experiences, and improvement of operational efficiencies across core telecom systems. Telecom providers such as Vodafone and Wind Tre are leveraging Google to improve customer experience through data-driven insights.
Amanullah says, “Google Cloud already has thousands of edge nodes inside the carrier networks which will be enabled for use by enterprises, providing access to data analytics, AI and machine learning capabilities. Carriers can offer enterprises these data-driven solutions, to transform the customer experience they offer. Google will also create solutions which will enable carriers and enterprises to improve infrastructure and operational efficiencies through modern cloud-based Operations Support Systems (OSS) and Business Support Systems (BSS).”
Mortensen also thinks that the data centre expansion should be seen in the light of Google’s GMEC push. “Both India and the Middle East are big potential markets via the local telecom providers.”