By Nophakhun Limsamarnphun
Jack Ma, the founder of Alibaba and China’s richest businessman, imparted valuable lessons to Thai policymakers and entrepreneurs on how to develop the digital economy during his visit to Bangkok to attend Monday’s Asia Cooperation Dialogue (ACD) conferen
Ma says small and medium-sized enterprises have the potential to dominate the global economy in the 21st century. Over the past decades, globalisation and new technology have mainly benefited big companies.
Now it’s time to harness these tools for the benefit of a younger generation that has the potential to create new and innovative businesses to drive the global economy.
Ma also cited the revival of the ancient Silk Road trade route as the equivalent of forging a new “E-Road” for small businesses.
Over the next three decades, digital and other technologies will be further mobilised to create new trading, manufacturing, financial and other ventures capitalising on the availability of so-called Big Data, which Ma identifies as an invaluable resource for nations.
Over the past 15 years, China’s e-commerce has grown by leaps and bounds, surpassing the combined value of business handled by major e-commerce sites in the United States, where traditional retail outlets still take up considerable market space. In contrast Chinese consumption growth is more and more being driven by online transactions.
To follow China’s example in this evolution, Ma said that other countries must lay down a competitive infrastructure for the digital economy as well as an effective funding ecosystem for entrepreneurs.
In the case of China, Ma’s Alibaba has played a leading role as a facilitator of banking and funding services for SMEs. To date, the financial and lending units of Alibaba have served more than three million small Chinese firms with business loans worth a combined US$60 billion.
Internet technology is a great enabler in this case, allowing each online loan transaction to be completed within three minutes.
As the Thai government has launched its digital economy and society initiative, Ma suggests that citizens under 30 years of age and companies with fewer than 30 employees need to embrace the technology in a big way while national education needs to highlight creativity as well as innovation to stay relevant in the new global economy.
Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha, who hosted a meeting with Ma, asked the Chinese billionaire to consider Thailand as a global trading centre for its vast e-commerce and online business empire.
The Prayut government is also launching the Prompt Pay service to kick-start Thailand’s electronic payment system, which will initially support the government’s payment of welfare and other funds.
The Prompt Pay infrastructure, which works along with commercial banks’ e-payment and mobile banking services, will serve as a springboard to support the country’s emerging e-commerce and online transactions as businesses move towards a combination of offline and online channels.
According to the Bank of Thailand, the numbers of Internet and mobile banking accounts have grown rapidly in the past years and today total nearly 30 million nationwide, thanks to Thailand’s high adoption rate of smartphones.
Overall, our nation has much to learn from other countries’ experience, with that of China’s Alibaba among the most notable.