Nigeria’s Economic Breakthrough Lies with SMEs, Says UBA MD

Kennedy Uzoka

James Emejo in Abuja

The Managing Director/Chief Executive, United Bank for Africa (UBA), Mr. Kennedy Uzoka yesterday said only Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs) had the potential to create the magnitude of jobs needed to significantly impact Gross Domestic Product (GDP) growth rate, as well as address the security challenges currently confronting the country.

Noting that government alone could not address the problem of unemployment, he said, “It is only these SMEs that can create it. People should stop finishing school and looking for a job: people should finish school and say what can I do for myself?”

Speaking to journalists at the commencement of the UBA Marketplace 2019, which is being held on the sidelines of the 2019 Tony Elumelu Entrepreneurship Forum in Abuja, Uzoka said UBA is currently in the forefront of providing finance and mentorship to young and aspiring entrepreneurs not only in Nigeria but across Africa.

He said: “As you know, UBA is in the forefront of SMEs funding. Working with the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN)  governor and the bankers committee, the banking committee is focusing on this now and I am sure you are seeing a lot of activities in this area.

“But we (UBA) are not just doing that as others are doing it, we have created very strong SMEs desk in our bank, not just bankers but small,  young entrepreneurs that understand it so that we would not look at it from a prism of a banker.

“Our own strategy is completely different. We are working from the standpoint of the customer, which is our philosophy of Customer-First. We are not designing our products the way a typical banker will design it because of the integration that we have with these SMEs.

We understand them better and we are designing our solutions from our own standpoint.

“So, in terms of finance, we have entered into partnership with global organisations that help us to de-risk this market because the question is always ‘how do you mitigate the reach?'”

He noted that UBA passion for supporting SMEs was borne out of the desire to give back to the society and not necessarily for business gains.

According to the UBA boss: “It will affect our balance sheet positively but not in immediate terms. Everything you do in life has a life cycle: you first invest and wait for it to return.

“And UBA is not just about business. We are trying to give back to the communities where we make money from and you know we have UBA Foundation which we support education, enterprise and of course, environment because we believe that we should give back.”

According to him: “It doesn’t mean that all these people you see here will make money for UBA, no, if they make money on their own, our society will be better and there would be better security which we are struggling to have today.

“If you look at our GDP growth, it is about 2.1 per cent and the latest report from the United Nations shows that we are over 200 million so we are growing more than our GDP so there is a gap.

“The likes of UBA and government cannot provide all the employment. In fact, we are facing saturation. So,  it’s only these SMEs that can create it. People should stop finishing school and look for a job: people should finish school and say what can I do for myself.”

Speaking further on the bank’s marketplace initiative, he said:”We bank a lot of customers across the geographies but we have discovered that there is a gap or a void which an enterprise like UBA should cover and that void is how to bring a buyer and seller, people who want to exchange goods- not significantly different from what Alibaba has done, not significantly different from what eBay…”

He said: “UBA is taking charge of this now by bringing customers together. We started this online which is like eBay but we have decided to do the physical one. So,  everybody you see here can still do the same thing online.

“So,  the whole idea is to bring people together to interact and also to leverage on our chairman’s foundation, which gives out seed money and at the same time create mentorship because we know, as you have just heard- people also talk about capital.

“Capital is key but we have found out that it is no longer taking that prenominal position because technology is now making things easier for us to do. You can reach your market without even having a physical shop where you need to pay rent.

“It was not possible before but today, UBA is bridging that gap by bringing them together and reaching out to them and it is something that we are thinking of taking it to every geography that we operate in starting here in Nigeria.”