By Adedapo Adesanya
Ecobank has beat a host of other banks to emerge as the African Banker’s 2021 African SME Bank of the Year.
The bank took home the SME Award for its service in 2020, a tumultuous year characterised by the COVID-19 pandemic which continues to ravage many African economies, with Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs) taking the greatest hit.
Among other criteria, the African SME Bank of the Year award 2021 recognises the bank which has significantly contributed to the development of the SME sector, thus helping them to build the economic backbone of the continent.
Part of the entry criteria required that the winning bank has significantly catalysed funding into the private sector in Africa and promoted enterprise development by facilitating credit and access to finance for SMEs.
Since the onset of the pandemic, the organisers noted that Ecobank Group considerably ramped up investments in programmes targeting SMEs by expanding SME-focused lines of credit, providing technical assistance to SME development institutions and building SMEs’ capacity via linkage programmes in partnership with its strategic partners.
The group was also at the forefront of promoting gender inclusion and closing the gender finance gap through innovative initiatives such as ‘Ellevate by Ecobank’ that targets women-led and women-focused businesses across the continent.
Speaking on the recognition, Ecobank’s Group Executive, Commercial Banking, Mrs Josephine Ankomah, said “2020 was a year of unprecedented challenges on account of the COVID-19 pandemic. It required resilience and innovation. We needed to rethink our business and provide innovative ways to assist our SME customers to help them to survive the difficulties brought about by the pandemic.
“We are truly honoured to receive this recognition. Our immense gratitude goes to our staff, customers and partners who have made this possible.”
The organisers explained that some of the measures taken by the Bank to support SMEs in 2020 include proactively instituting mitigating actions, including tenor extensions and moratoriums on interest, to assist SMEs to manage their loan repayments.
They also considered that the lender increased the utilisation of digital channels, such as Ecobank Omni Lite, to provide customers with capabilities to make payments remotely and conveniently.
The bank also upskilled staff to ensure their capacity to help develop the SME sector and collaborated with existing risk-sharing partners, particularly Development Finance Institutions (DFIs), to share a portion of the risk associated with our lending to the SME sector.
It also partnered with tech giant Google to provide SME customers with the means to develop a free online presence through the Google My Business platform.
The bank also got a pat on the back for collaborating with the African Union’s Development Agency – AUDA-NEPAD – to focus on strengthening Africa’s support for micro, small and medium enterprises (MSMEs) and assist their recovery from the impact of the pandemic by empowering MSMEs with access to capabilities, markets and finance, so that they can play a pivotal role in restarting Africa’s economies.
Another reason for this was the launch of ‘Ellevate by Ecobank’ which is a women-owned and women-focused product offering women an end-to-end partnership, through which they gain access to both financial and non-financial services such as financial education, product information, networking and recognition.
During the year, the ban grew the number of merchants using Ecobank’s point-of-sale (POS) terminals from 5,571 to 15,878, in addition to attracting significant onboards onto EcobankPay, our flagship QR collections platform, from 180,060 to 248,664.
Heritage Bank in Debt Crisis, Reps May Order CBN Takeover
By Aduragbemi Omiyale
The banking industry in Nigeria may be plunged into another crisis if urgent steps are not quickly taken to address the issue so as to douse the looming tension.
Business Post reports that a few years ago, precisely in 2018, depositors and shareholders of Skye Bank were in a panic mood after the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) nationalised the lender to Polaris Bank Limited because of debts and the House of Representatives on Thursday raised an alarm that another financial institution, Heritage Bank, is allegedly swimming in huge debts.
The lower chamber of the National Assembly had invited the bank and its Managing Director, Mr Ifie Sekibo, to explain why the amount the company owes the federal government is more than its share capital, but he has failed to honour the request.
This action has infuriated the parliament, which has threatened to direct the CBN to take over the ownership of Heritage Bank if Mr Sekibo and the bank ignore their latest invite next Wednesday.
Mr Adejoro Adeogun, Chairman of the Adhoc Committee on Assessment and Status of All Recovered Loots, Moveable and immovable Assets from 2002 to 2020 by agencies of the federal government for Effective and Efficient Management and Utilisation, issued this threat at the resumed hearing of the committee yesterday.
“I need to send this message to Heritage Bank that we are not comedians here and we are not joking here. If Heritage Bank owes Nigeria more than its share capital, we will not hesitate to ask the National Assembly to write to CBN to take over Heritage Bank.
“They cannot be owing more than their share capital and feel too big to respond to invitations from the National Assembly. Clerk, you have to write them, give them till Wednesday next week. That is the last time we are going to give them,” an angry Mr Adeogun barked.
MFS Africa Expands into Nigeria With Baxi Acquisition
By Sodeinde Temidayo David
Nigerian fintech startup, Baxi, has been acquired by the Pan-African payments company, MFS Africa, giving way to its business expansion into Nigeria.
The acquisition of the Nigerian firm was sealed after MFS Africa signed an agreement with Capricorn Digital, Baxi’s parent business, for an undisclosed amount.
Founded in 2014, Baxi provides a cash-in or cash-out offering as well as value-added services like account opening, money transfer, bill payment and more, through its network of more than 90,000 agents.
These services are provided through the company’s retail network of agents and merchants in some of Nigeria’s most remote regions, through its BaxiBox POS, BaxiPay, Baxi MPoS Device, and BaxiRIMS products.
Recall that MFS Africa had earlier acquired East African payments management startup Beyonic, a Ugandan fintech startup and this time also, has plans to build Baxi into a key node on its digital payment network, allowing customers to make regional and global payments to and from Nigeria.
The deal, which is subject to approval from the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), sees MFS Africa expand into Nigeria for the first time, having had a limited presence thus far due to the country’s small number of mobile wallets.
MFS Africa will also expand Baxi’s proposition for offline SMEs to select markets within MFS Africa’s footprint of 320 million mobile wallets across more than 35 African countries.
Speaking on the acquisition, the Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of Capricorn, Mr Degbola Abudu, expressed that the future of the mobile payments landscape in Africa is a game of few, where consolidation is the way forward, and attempting to scale alone would require more capital expenditure and a longer time to execute.
“By teaming up with MFS Africa, and with the strong support of our local commercial banking partners, we can offer more value-added products and services, such as cross-border payments, to support Nigerian SMEs in their growth.”
“We believe that we’ve barely scratched the market’s potential. The deal brings many things that allow us to grow very quickly,” Mr Abudu noted.
MFS Africa intends to build Baxi into a key node on its digital payment network, allowing customers to make cross-border payments to and from Nigeria, similar to what it’s done with mobile money operators across Africa.
Nigerian Digital Lender Brass Gets $1.7m to Support SMEs
By Ashemiriogwa Emmanuel
Provider of premium banking services for African Small/Medium Enterprises (SMEs), Brass, has raised the sum of $1.7 million in a funding round to strengthen its financial services rendered to local entrepreneurs, traders, and fast-growing businesses across the continent.
Investors who participated in the round included the co-founder of Flutterwave, Mr Olugbenga Agboola, co-founder of Paystack, acquired by Stripe, Mr Ezra Olubi, Hustle Fund, Acuity Ventures, Uncovered Fund, and Ventures Platform.
Brass’ past investors have included Olumide Soyombo of Voltron Capital, Leonard Stiegler, Fola Olatunji-David, Yemi Lawani, and two senior executives from major Nigerian banks.
With the fresh funding, the Nigerian digital bank is set to launch a number of new product categories, which will lead to expanding its credit market presence.
Even as the startup is looking at broadening its customer base, the new financial capacity will facilitate its plans to accelerate its expansion into other African countries such as South Africa and Kenya.
Explaining further on the significance of the fundraising, the Co-Founder and CEO of Brass, Mr Sola Akindolu, who is a former Head of Product at Kudi Bank, noted that the contributions made by these investors, together with their expertise, will not only play a vital role ahead of Brass’s expansion into South Africa and Kenya, but also in the future ambitions outside of the continent.
“The basic needs of Africa’s SMEs are just as significant and unique as those of the customers they serve each day and now more than ever, we need innovative and world-class financial services solutions that meet their expectations.
“These local businesses have supported our economies for decades, forming the backbone of Africa’s success to date, and now is the time to bet on them.”
“At Brass, we’ve made some great strides over the last year in tackling one of Africa’s most critically underserved customer bases but with an estimated $5.1tn credit gap globally, our work is far from over,” he added.
Expressing excitement over the investment, Mrs Elizabeth Yin, General Partner at Hustle Fund, one of the investors, said “We believe Africa’s entrepreneurial ecosystem, and fintech sector is witnessing an unprecedented shift, and Brass is at the forefront of that, supporting local businesses and professionals with banking technology to supercharge their growth. We are excited by their vision, and honoured to be joining them on their journey.”
Founded in July 2020, Brass offers full-stack, commercial-grade banking solutions to SMEs cutting across different business classes, allowing them to gain greater clarity and control over their money operations.
Brass online platform provides a wide range of business banking needs, including credit and payment services, payroll and expense management, Application Programming Interface (API) support, and other essential business services.
Having disbursed over $2 million in credit to business since inception, Brass’s recent solution which is ‘Brass Capital’ helps thousands of businesses scale up with its cash-flow financing design.
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