The Managing Director, Guaranty Trust Bank, Mr. Segun Agbaje, speaks on the empowerment of small and medium-scale enterprises operating in the food and fashion industry in this interview with IFE OGUNFUWA
What kind of support is your bank giving to SMEs?
What we trying to do is to build the SMEs. If you look at a country like Italy, SMEs really control the economy. If you look at Nigeria truly, the biggest businesses are SMEs. I am sure if I were to ask you, your brothers, spouse, sisters and friends all have small businesses. However, SME is a very general thing; so, we have chosen to pick certain industries to support, which we think are very popular and have lots of Nigerian factors in them. The first one we identified was food.
There are lots of young Nigerians who are into agriculture, food processing and fast food chain; we decided to support them and we will continue to support them. We will support them not just by creating a platform for them to excel, we will also support them with loans when we understand their cash flow, and we will put them on the market app. That is the easy part. The difficult part is to create infrastructure, which is where we are going. We will like to create infrastructure for them where they can share and enjoy the same economics of scale as big companies.
The second industry we have picked, which is very popular, is fashion. There are so many facets to fashion. We have those who retail, those who make shoes, those who make aso oke and adire and cosmetics, which is huge. What we are doing here is to give them a platform as good as anyone they can find anywhere in the world; we are not charging for it, they can sell their products and we are giving them master classes where they can build capacity and learn from people’s experiences. All these we are giving at no cost to the people. It is all about building the SMEs up. It is just that we have chosen to concentrate on food and fashion.
We have many things we can concentrate on but I have learnt in my life that if you try to do too many things, you will do nothing. We decided to pick these two and see how far we can go with them.
What are your ultimate goals for this programme?
Ultimately, these people will become our customers as we grow their businesses. As we grow these businesses, we are growing the SMEs for the future. Having said that, I promise you there is an altruistic thing about this. We have a duty to grow the SMEs. We have been blessed and very fortunate to be successful. When you are in a country like ours, if you are successful, you really should give something back. Even if there is nothing in this for us, I promise you we will still give.
Do you invest in those who are just starting their business?
We reserved a certain portion for start-ups on our website and we reserved a certain portion for those who are more established. We will continue to give our support. This is not a one off thing for us. We are going to do this every year. We will reach more small businesses. As you have seen, it is a mix, there are some established businesses and really small start-ups.
What prompted you to venture into banking?
My father was a banker and I have always wanted to be a banker all my life. I think my definition of being a banker has changed. It is no longer narrow having done this for 26 years. I really think what GTB has become a platform for enriching lives. We have to give people a platform to excel. For whatever you do, we will create a platform. Nigerians are talented; if you give them the right platform, they will continue to do wonderful things. I do not see myself as just a banker, I see myself as the CEO of a business enterprise. Other people are competing with banks; even we must start to see ourselves as more than traditional banks.
What financial support are you planning for SMEs?
For those who we understand their business, we are going to support them with loans. We pray and hope that we can create alliances with developmental agencies, because in the word today, there are so many developmental agencies that have products targeted at fashion. We can help them access them and hopefully, we will do it. The ultimate goal is to create the infrastructure that the SMEs can share because that is the most difficult part. Our country is very challenging but hopefully, we will overcome that part.
How will the infrastructure sharing work?
My dream is that for example, you can approach a factory that makes shirts and trousers. It is almost like contract sharing. Buy your time like three to four hours and they put your label. Someone else can also come to sow shirts and trousers and put his or her label. That is what happens everywhere in the world. The same person makes this shirt and that shirt, they only change the label. It allows for economics of scale and makes your business to be bigger than you really are because you don’t have overhead.