UPDATED 23 NOV 2023, 10:29 PM SGT
SINGAPORE – A new platform under development will improve cash flow for small subcontractors by allowing them to get paid as soon as a property developer pays the main contractor for a just-completed portion of work.
The platform will shorten the often lengthy payment process significantly, so much so that subcontractors could get their money as early as the day after their work is certified as completed.
It will also mean the developer and the banks need only deal with the main contractor rather than with every subcontractor down the line, which could entail engaging with hundreds of individual firms.
The Doxa Connex platform, as it is called, is a tie-up between Visa, UOB and local fintech Doxa.
It allows any entity within a particular project’s ecosystem to upload all its documentation, making the verification and payment process more transparent and, in turn, simpler and quicker.
Previously, it could take up to three months or more for payments to flow through, as each company had its own system of processing claim submissions and disbursing money. These delays often result in a cash crunch, especially for smaller contractors at the lower tiers that are also often constrained by a lack of access to working capital.
“Ultimately, this unified system enables both traceability and accountability, while also eliminating the banks’ risk exposure to all the underlying contractors,” said Doxa chief executive and co-founder Edmund Ng.
He noted that for every project, a main contractor may have direct dealings with as many as 50 to 70 subcontractors, but subsequent layers of sub-subcontractors mean there could be several hundred other smaller players below this level.
Industrial landlord JTC Corporation and local builder Kimly Construction are planning to run trials on the platform, using data from past projects to simulate real-world scenarios.
“These trials are focused on achieving quicker payment cycles for contractors, which is a critical pain point in the construction sector,” Mr Ng said.
The platform, along with the crucial payment function, is expected to be up and running by the second quarter of 2024.
Each subcontractor will be issued with a virtual UOB Visa card that will allow them to be paid almost immediately for their services ahead of the invoice due date.
Ms Adeline Kim, Visa’s country manager for Singapore and Brunei, noted that while UOB is “the first issuer that we are working together with on this platform”, the payments giant is looking forward to working with other banks and financial institutions.
“We want to help improve working capital for subcontractors so that they can focus on running their business,” Ms Kim said. “This is because their survival is critical to the main contractor. If their businesses fail, replacements will need to be found and such delays are costly.”
Another huge benefit is that payments will not hinge on the main contractor, said Kimly Construction director Louis Khoo.
He noted that “whenever there is a verified claim for work done, the amounts are immediately drawn down via the Visa virtual cards. The main contractor receives the remainder”.
Ms Elaine Lee, JTC’s director of contracts and procurement division (construction), added: “We believe (the platform) will make a noticeable difference, and we are keen to see the benefits it will deliver.”
Doxa, which is part of the Visa Accelerator Programme for start-ups, was founded five years ago and was among the seven finalists shortlisted from a field of almost 500 applications. It created an administrative tool to help the construction industry manage and share documents between companies on a common platform.
Its potential became apparent when the payment function was added, Ms Kim said.