A Helping Hand for Small Businesses

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Ifie Sekibo

Azubuike Ubani

What is the worth of a bank if it does not possess the muscle to perform its statutory function to society? What is the essence of a bank if it cannot support in growing the economy through its different instruments? This and more is what Heritage Bank Plc has been doing silently over the years since it was established. It is deliberately structured and nursed to serve as the people’s bank – a bank designed to meet its growing customers at their points of need.

Heritage Bank Plc has over time acquired the status of developing strategies to help in boosting the growth and development of small and medium enterprises. It demonstrated this responsibility by its sponsorship of the annual entrepreneurial reality show, The Next Titan, a programme that easily align with the primary focus of the management of Heritage Bank in promoting every laudable entrepreneurial idea meant to broaden the economic horizon of the country for the benefit of its customers in Nigeria. And this, it has pursued with vigour and determination

If you you’re a small business owner or entrepreneur in Aba, Abia State and Nnewi or Onitsha Anambra in the south-east and beyond, and you need market boost; or even a big player seeking expansion, maybe you should be talking with Heritage Bank.
Proprietors of Vera Karris Accessories, Infusion Cakes, Niuma Boutique & Accessories, David Wej Global Ventures, makers of quality shoes; De-Vine, makers of fresh juice; Heart Affairs and Africanna Accessories, among others have, sweet testimonies of good partnership with one of Nigeria’s growing banks strategically situated to help enterprises grow and flourish.

The list above are promising young businesses that have benefitted from their partnership and collaboration with Heritage Bank. Apart from access to finance made easy for them, they have also benefitted immensely from the exposure given to them through the innovative Heritage Bank Plc’s “Sunday Small Market,” a market that brings together the bank’s Micro, Small and Medium Scale Enterprises’ (MSME) customers in the country.

In walking the talk in the area of supporting the growth of SMEs, the bank organised its first maiden SME Business Exhibition as part of its 2014 Customer Service Week. There were lots of value-added offerings to participating organisations, including business clinic, funfair, networking, MasterCard utilisation and opportunity for non-card holders to open their accounts. And Google and Microsoft were on hand and on ground to guide business owners on how to take their businesses to the next level.
The drive was specifically hinged on what the Managing Director/CEO of Heritage Bank Limited, Mr. Ifie Sekibo, described as the bank’s philosophy, which is to create, preserve and transfer wealth across generations.

“We are in the business to provide service per excellence and to grow with our customers. We are here to help our customers create wealth for themselves, assist our partners preserve their wealth and guide them in transferring it to the next generation,” he said.

In this respect, the bank has been doing well in not only assisting small businesses to grow, it has also been financing businesses in the oil and gas as well as in agriculture in Nigeria’s southwest region and reportedly making big impact.
Recently, and recognising the strategic importance of the southeast as a hub for small and big businesses, the Heritage Bank has asserted its presence by supporting the growth of businesses in the region.
For example, the Golden Guinea Breweries in Umuahia, capital of Abia state, has bounced back after 16 years of inactivity following a lifeline of $10 million it obtained from the Nigeria Export and Import Bank (NEXIM) and facilitated by Heritage Bank Plc. The defunct Eastern Region under the premiership of late Dr. Michael Okpara established the breweries in 1962, but it became comatose in 2001 following the explosion of its boiler.

Aside from NEXIM, Heritage Bank’s deep involvement in financing the revival of Golden Guinea, which incidentally is among the legacies for which Michael Okpara is remembered today as visionary leader, shows its readiness in not only investing in projects and businesses, but also in deliberately deepening other banking services in the south-east region.

With its strong presence in the south-west, south-south and south-east and to assert itself as a destination bank for investment and partnership, the bank is making a cautious plan to spread and have a strong footing in the northern part of the country. Sekibo was once quoted as saying that, “The management of the bank believes that banking is not only about how much money that can be made from customers, but also about adding value to individuals, groups, community and state.”

Heritage Bank Plc have had a fair share of its knocks and travails in the banking sector, but in all these, it has come out of them stronger and more focused to serve and contribute to the socio-economic development of the country. It has specialised in products that enjoy zero commission on turnover charges and high interest yields, amongst others for its partners.

These products help in supporting customers’ businesses and taking them to greater heights. To the bank, innovation isn’t only about creating something new; it is also about taking something that exists and transforming it into something bigger and better.

As one of the newest entrants in the banking sector, its edge is starting from where its competitors stopped, while being able to avoid all the mistakes they made along the way.

Having imbibed a culture of continuous innovation, Heritage Bank’s ability to adapt to envisaged customer and sector changes have become legendry.

The support of Heritage Bank Plc for MSMEs, including those in the entertainment industry is illustrative of the bank’s commitment to Project Nigeria. Undoubtedly, very few will dispute any claim that Heritage Bank is the bank for entrepreneurs and innovators in this country; it is the bank that supports the growth and development of Nigeria and Nigerian businesses. Now, the notion around is that Heritage is a bank with vision and mission, dedicated to creating value for all stakeholders, using superior market knowledge, operational excellence, technology and a culture of integrity. All this are borne out of a vision to deliver distinctive financial services to the economy, build partnership to create, preserve and transfer wealth across generations of its customers.

Sekibo’s thinking has even transcended the local market. Speaking at the sidelines of the just concluded 2019 Annual Meetings of the African Export-Import Bank (Afreximbank) in Moscow, Russia, Sekibo said Russian investment in Africa had increased over the years to almost $20 billion in 2018, which clearly shows Africa and Nigeria, especially need to key into these investments and get the best out of it. “What we are seeing in Russia today is a testimony that they are giants in several areas of development and Nigeria has a lot to learn and gain from that important country. Today Nigeria suffers from huge infrastructural deficit and a lot could be achieved from other countries of the world including Russia.”

The bank, no doubt is driven by a set of principles that makes it a market leader in innovative financial services. A crop of staff imbued with market knowledge and creativity easily positions the bank as the vanguard of a new attitude towards financial services. The bank leads by example, churning out one innovative product after another, all portraying the customer as the legendary King that must be served efficiently and effectively.

The dream of every SME is to grow beyond a small business into a bigger ones with chains of outlets and serving local and international customers. However, research has shown that only half of these businesses survive more than five years, and not more than one third make it to ten years. Partnership with Heritage Bank, many are finding out, is one of the ways to ensure that your SME receive quality from those who are determined to be Game Changers in the banking industry.

•Ubani, an entrepreneur and engineer, writes from Aba, Abia State