Small and medium enterprises (SMEs) make up 99.5 percent of businesses in the Philippines, which made them the hardest-hit sector during the 2020 COVID-19 pandemic lockdown. Most were caught unprepared by the sudden halt in business activities. SMEs were also left in the dark regarding government assistance and concessions, shuttering many of them for good.
Faced with this grim landscape, posting business growth was the last thing First Circle expected. SMEs are the heart of their business, which supports SMEs through affordable funding and free growth tools.
“It was a very uncertain and stressful time, and keeping our customer promises and values under that situation felt impossible,” says Patrick Lynch, First Circle’s CEO. “But when other lenders turned conservative with financing and terms, we focused on giving customers peace of mind. We served like no other lending company can.”
And not only did First Circle ride out the pandemic — it even ranked fourth on the list of the Philippines’ Growth Champions 2022. The list, created by The Philippine Daily Inquirer with international research company Statista, showcases the top 25 companies in the Philippines that achieved the highest percentage revenue growth between 2017 and 2020.
How First Circle’s customer-centric approach led to pandemic growth
First Circle attributes their remarkable business growth to two factors:
Being selective with customers
Many businesses acquire customers wherever they can, sacrificing quality just to make a sale. But First Circle focuses on creative ways to identify good customers, choosing businesses with growth opportunities and long runways.
One of the most important things First Circle does is a consultation call to assess if additional funding will actually help potential clients grow. Through this and other quality checks, First Circle not only acquires high-quality clients, but also becomes invested in helping them grow sustainably.
“Our success is closely tied to our clients’ success,” Lynch explains. “Many businesses struggled at the height of the pandemic, but our partnership at such a crucial time actually enabled our clients to grow far beyond their competition.”
Prioritizing existing customers above everything
In March 2020, while the government put together its guidance on SME assistance, First Circle proactively reached out to its clients to assess what would help them survive.
“We had to assess each business on a case-to-case basis,” says Marcus Erlano, First Circle’s Head of Customer Success. “We offered flexible payment terms and loan restructuring for over 300 clients, waived fees wherever possible, and delayed client payments and fees for longer than what was prescribed by law.”
In the interim, First Circle assisted SMEs with cash flow management and legal interpretation of the Bayanihan laws. They also partnered with organizations like Department of Trade and Industry to educate SMEs through webinars and free resources. These actions helped numerous clients through the pandemic.
“We wouldn’t have achieved Philippine Growth Champion status without listening to our customers,” Lynch says. “The pandemic was our biggest opportunity to stand by them. By delivering exceptional service and staying true to our values, we’ve proved ourselves to be a steadfast partner to SMEs.”
This article was initially published on the Philippine Daily Inquirer website on March 11, 2022.