Across various regions in Nigeria, Access Bank, under the leadership of Herbert Wigwe, has continued to deliver sustainable economic growth that is profitable, environmentally responsible and socially relevant, helping customers and humanity to access more and achieve their dreams, writes Lanre Alfred
At the core of Access Bank’s operation for the past couple of years, especially since Herbert Wigwe emerged the Group MD/CEO, is an apostolic devotion to corporate social responsibility activities, an accretion of which has made it a primus inter pares in the banking industry and by extension, Corporate Nigeria. These CSR activities span SMEs support, women empowerment, sports, tourism, education, information and communication technology, creative arts and entertainment.
Earlier in September, the Lagos State Employment Trust Fund (LSETF), in collaboration with Access Bank, launched the LSETF W Initiative to empower women in the state with a total loan portfolio of N10 billion. The loan will be available for businesses that a woman holds at least 50% ownership share and have been in operation for one to five years.
Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu said, “The LSETF W Initiative has come at a very critical time for our economy, as we believe that women have a great role to play towards achieving the developmental results that we seek in our state.
“We are very proud of Access Bank as they continue to make available their financial and business expertise as well as their funds towards ensuring that our women are given adequate access to resources that will aid their successes.”
Responding, Wigwe said the bank is committed to giving women the support they need to successfully implement their business ideas.
“Looking at the number of women present here today, I don’t think the initial N4billion we set aside to help women will be sufficient and based on that, the initiative fund will be increased to N10billion,” he said.
He averred that through partnerships with organizations such as the LSETF, Access Bank will continue to help women break boundaries, reinvent the status-quo and take advantage of opportunities provided by technology and quality financial systems to make a significant impact on the economy of Lagos State and Nigeria as a whole.
The LSETF W is, however, different from the “W” initiative launched in July 2014 to accelerate a new and stronger wave of hitherto scanty female entrepreneurs in Nigeria. In addition to financial inclusion, the “W” initiative is a one-stop centre of all of Access Bank’s women empowerment offerings including capacity-building programs exclusive to women, mentoring programmes, and maternal health services, all aimed at helping to build a bigger, stronger and more sustainable society. Under the “W” initiative, participating women and their families have access to a wide range of opportunities including access to loans and credit facilities; access to the ‘W’ community in which they can get insights concerning family and finance matters.
Also, the ‘W’ community provides women with access to information about several value-adding special offers for the home, including specially discounted offers as well as freebies on health, beauty, and fitness.
Before the launch of the LSETF W, the bank had last August, announced that it was offering collateral-free financing support targeting 30, 000 Micro, Small, and Medium Enterprises (MSMEs) in 2019. With a historic credit innovation that is already changing MSMEs’ lending story, Nigeria’s largest retail bank says all that MSME customer needs to access credit is just to keep a good credit record, be able to keep sales record and be assisted with managerial support services from the bank.
Access Bank’s Head of Emerging Businesses, Mrs. Ayodele Olojede, said, “We don’t make impossible demands on the customer. We won’t ask you for a leg and an arm. Once you keep good credit record and sales record; that is your guaranty to get a loan.”
Olojede disclosed that as at the end of June, more than 12, 000 MSMEs had come under the radar of the scheme intended to drive speedy growth of the sector remarkable for credit starvation by commercial banks. She recalled that in 2018 alone, the bank advanced N37billion new loans to MSME new customers, making it the highest lender to operators in that key segment of the economy.
But, advancing credit to MSME operators is not all that the bank is about; it also introduced the MSMEs clinic workshop where operators are groomed with managerial skills regarded as one of the critical areas where operators require intervention and support for the survival of the businesses. Thus, various workshops are organised where operators are groomed on various aspects including how to leverage social media to increase sales and visibility beyond their immediate location.
The belief is that if MSMEs can sell the different products that they produce, they can pay back the loans without tears.
“What we do is to give them an expository on digital platforms different from traditional methods of selling. We expose them to all these platforms to help them sell beyond the proximity of their locations,” said the Head of Non-Financial Services, Emerging Businesses, Mrs. Chioma Ogwo.
Given that Nigeria currently holds the unenviable record of the country with the highest number of out-of-school children in the world, Wigwe, last July, announced that Access Bank will be investing N1 billion in building educational infrastructure in Northern Nigeria, a reaffirmation of the bank’s commitment to the educational development of Nigerian children.
Describing as worrisome the number of out-of-school children in Nigeria, which he said if not tackled adequately, does not bode well for the future of Nigeria, Wigwe added, “Access Bank identified this problem over 10 years ago and has made considerable strides in improving the educational system in Nigeria. We will not relent in our efforts to ensure that Nigerian children are given the requisite educational foundation to succeed. We know the challenge before us is great, but we will surmount it through collaboration with relevant international, government and private stakeholders.”
At the time of the announcement, Access Bank had already made a telling impact through its charitable projects by completing the refurbishment of a 12,000 capacity school and another that now caters for an additional 1,200 students in Kaduna State. Access Bank has equally raised funds to invest in schools, fixed existing ones by providing facilities and teaching materials, and building new schools in several rural communities.
Speaking on the development, the Executive Director, Retail Banking, Victor Etuokwu, said, “In Kaduna, we are facilitating the building of a new school which will have 60 classroom blocks and accommodate over 1,200 children. Once this is completed, we intend to expand our impact to other states and consequently other regions.
In 2016, the bank partnered with the Lagos State Government to successfully host the maiden edition of the Access Bank Lagos City Marathon.
This partnership was aimed at providing strategic support in the area of sports whilst promoting healthy and active living through fitness and exercise. It was the first-ever full Marathon in Nigeria since 1985. The event, which drew athletes from across the globe,was ranked second in Africa immediately after the Cape Town Marathon by the All-Athletics.com. The marathon also emerged 71st amongst over 1000 international marathons globally. This year, over 4,000 runners from 42 countries around the world participated.
The bank has, however, taken a different approach to supporting humanity in Ogun State. On a courtesy visit to Governor Dapo Abiodun recently, Wigwe unveiled the financial institution’s plan to build a 15-storey creative, arts and entertainment village in Abeokuta, the state capital.
While Wigwe disclosed that the bank has identified Ogun as a viable and conducive state fit enough for the bank’s proposed ‘Support System’ set up, he expatiated, “I am talking of a sector that will sit on four major hubs; entertainment, IT and Skills, which will basically ensure that several people from these great state and neighbouring states will be trained and given high-quality power as far as intellectual content is concerned; the third has to do with Nollywood and the fourth has to do with music,” he said.
Affirming his confidence in Governor Abiodun’s political leadership, Wigwe said that the Gateway State has a creative sector that could employ between two and three million people if properly harnessed. “The creative sector is a very important sector that people take for granted and if you look at the context of Nigeria, if we get it right, perhaps, coming out of Ogun State, you will find out that we will provide employment over the next five years to perhaps two or three million people coming out of that sector,” he said.
Noting that the construction of a 15-storey building would help to support the bank’s contingency plan for Information Technology, Wigwe affirmed that this project would also help support the bank as far as its contact centre is concerned while ensuring that the physical structure is befitting and comparable to other world-class institutions that intend to come to the state. “We will start construction of that site later this year and ensure that we put our map fully out here in this beautiful city,” he said.