THE Ayala Group has launched a program to support small- and medium-sized enterprises (SME), starting with P766 million in free services and waived fees.

In a statement over the weekend, the Ayala Group said it had formed the Ayala Enterprise Circle, joined by 250,000 SME partners to which it is reaching out to assist as they suffer from the effects of the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic.

“We envision the Ayala Enterprise Circle as a network where you, our valued SME partners, can have access to exclusive Ayala Group solutions and offerings, expert mentorship from industry leaders, online dialogues and masterclasses, and business-matching and co-marketing opportunities,” Ayala Corp. (AC) Chairman and Chief Executive Jaime Augusto Zobel de Ayala was quoted in the statement as saying.

The companies forming the Ayala Group are Ayala Land, Inc. (ALI); Bank of the Philippine Islands (BPI); Globe Telecom, Inc.; and Ayala Healthcare Holdings, Inc. (AC Health), among others.

As of last week, the group has allocated P766 million in free services and business operation fees for its SME partners. The support includes the P280-million rental condonations of ALI to more than 2,400 SME tenants in Ayala Malls.

Other companies in the Ayala Group have similarly extended help. BPI has waived interbank transfer fees for the duration of the enhanced community quarantine. Ayala Malls, together with online retailer Zalora, is studying e-commerce models to give SMEs an alternative digital channel for operations.

“Across the Ayala Group, we have a renewed commitment to all of our partner SMEs, who have been with us through so many years… We want to assure them all that we… remain steadfast in our support, and we thank them for their continued trust in us,” AC Chief Human Resource Officer John Philip S. Orbeta said in the statement. Mr. Orberta is also the head of the Ayala Enterprise Circle.

Data from the Philippine Statistics Authority as of 2018 showed micro-, small- and medium-sized enterprises form 99.52% of the country’s business enterprises, providing jobs to 63.19% of the country’s total workforce.

AC, which has interests in businesses including real estate, banking, telecommunications and utility, booked a net income of P6.7 billion in the first quarter, down 17% year-on-year due to the economic slowdown amid the COVID-19 pandemic. — Denise A. Valdez