Patrick Akinwuntan, MD, Ecobank Nigeria

BY EMEKA EJERE

The Managing Director, Ecobank Nigeria, Patrick Akinwuntan, last week announced that the bank has decided to partner and collaborate with Ogun State Government on agriculture and other critical sectors of the economy.

Akinwuntan, who made the pledge at the Executive Council chambers of the governor’s office, Oke-mosan, Abeokuta during a courtesy visit on Governor Dapo Abiodun, said the move is a way to support the developmental strides of the Dapo Abiodun led administration.

“We believe the outcome of this collaboration will benefit not just indigenes of Ogun state, but our dear country Nigeria and the Africa continent,” Akinwuntan said.

“For us as a bank, we appreciate what your government is doing. When we look at the specific components of your vision and strategy as encapsulated in ISEYA, which represents Infrastructure, Social welfare and health, Education, Youth empowerment and Agriculture, we decided to come over to explore areas of partnership and collaboration.”

The planned synergy, when fully in place, will join a list of partnerships the lender has entered into both in the private and public sectors in recent times as a way to catalyse activities towards the nation’s economic growth.

The bank is currently partnering the Nigeria Incentive-Based Risk-Sharing System for Agricultural Lending (NIRSAL) on a N70 billion portfolio commitment from the former to agribusiness projects initiated and de-risked by the latter, having signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) to that effect in January.

The facility was to be drawn down in series, with the MoU effectively kicking off an initial N15 billion agribusiness financing provision by Ecobank. The commitment by Ecobank was at the time the latest fruit of NIRSAL’s focus on breaking the jinx of poor investment in agribusiness by the financial sector by providing banks with strong incentives such as risk-sharing, technical assistance and innovative insurance.

The MoU was an offshoot of a meeting that took place between the two organisations on June 20, 2019. It is believed that the attraction for Ecobank and other commercial banks which have made portfolio commitments to NIRSAL-supported agribusiness projects are anchored on NIRSAL’s Mapping-to-Markets (M2M) strategy, conceived to de-risk and make operations in commodity value chains more efficient through optimized primary production in a closed financing loop.

Speaking at the MoU signing ceremony in Lagos, Mr. Akinwuntan said the bank was actively promoting agriculture as a strategic initiative to support national development which is critical to the wellbeing of Nigerians. According to Akinwuntan, Ecobank was committed to working with NIRSAL to open up the vast opportunities that abound in agriculture and to ensure citizens benefit ultimately.

He said, “This is a collaboration. The federal government had made it clear that investing in the agriculture sector is very critical for Nigeria to succeed, especially taking into consideration the natural endowment God granted us in terms of population, land and whether.

“We have the opportunity to make agriculture the economic spinner for Nigeria. What we are doing is to fulfill this policy direction of the federal government and the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN).”.

Managing director/CEO, NIRSAL Plc, Aliyu Abdulhameed, on his part, noted that Ecobank’s onboarding demonstrated the growing acceptance of the CBN’s proposition of NIRSAL as an innovative mechanism targeted at de-risking lending to the agricultural sector and providing a safe climate for highly profitable private sector investments.

Abdulhameed said: “This MoU signing marks the beginning of a collaboration between NIRSAL and Ecobank on NIRSAL’s agribusiness initiatives and the development of products that will support lending to actors in the agricultural value chain in conformity with Ecobank’s risk acceptance criteria and credit process.

“With Ecobank’s commitment of a N70 billion portfolio to NIRSAL’s agribusiness initiatives, the bank and NIRSAL would jointly select and develop projects that will meet the financing needs of actors in NIRSAL’s focal commodity value chains.”

Promoting cross-border remittance

In February, Ecobank signed a cross-border remittance agreement with Alipay, the world’s leading payment and lifestyle platform that aims to bring more inclusive financial services by providing a fast, safe, affordable and convenient way for workers to transfer money back home.

The partnership will facilitate instant transfers from Ecobank’s remittance solution, Rapidtransfer, to users of Alipay, which serves more than 1.2 billion people globally together with its local e-wallet partners. This provides an additional channel option which increases options available to users, helps lower transaction costs and enhances the quality of service in the market.

The Group Consumer Banking Head, Nana ABBAN, said: “Our pan-African cross-border remittance solution, Rapidtransfer, has over the years been delivering transparent, convenient and affordable services to the African diaspora and their African-based dependants.

“So, it is a natural extension for us to use it to deliver the same advantages to migrant workers across Africa. Through our partnership with Alipay we are further leveraging the scale and capacity of our unified payments ecosystem on the global stage.”

Alipay’s head of the global remittances business, Ma ZHIGUO, said, “We are excited to partner with Ecobank and use our technology to bring fast, affordable, and convenient remittance services to more users globally, especially workers who are living far from home.”

“We are committed to working with partners such as Ecobank, using innovative technologies to help global consumers gain access to inclusive financial services, creating greater value for society and bringing equal opportunities to the world.”

Showcasing potentials

Also in February, Ecobank Nigeria, in partnership with Vanguard newspapers, the Economic Forum Series and Nigeria Agribusiness Group (NABG), held the first edition of its Agribusiness Summit in Lagos.

The summit themed: ‘Unlocking productivity and investment opportunities across the Agribusiness value chain,’was part of the bank’s determination to further showcase the potentials in the agricultural sector of the nation’s economy.

Mr. Ademola Ayeyemi, group chief executivr officer, Ecobank Transnational Incorporated, had in his opening remarks asked players in the Nigerian agricultural sector to keep their eyes on the vast opportunities for every player in the value chain in enhancing the capacity to feed Nigeria’s 200 million people.

The group CEO, Mr. Akinwutan, noted that enhancing the productivity of Nigerian agriculture across the value chain would not only reduce the foreign exchange spent on importing food items but would also revive the role of the sector as a major exporter.

It was in this spirit, perhaps, that the lender declared in September that it was supporting over 70,000 farmers with special loans nationwide to increase their capacity and yields during this planting season in further demonstration of its commitment to the development of the nation’s agricultural sector.

The move, the bank said, is one of its initiatives to promote entrepreneurship in the sector and support the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN’s) Anchor Borrowers Programmes (ABP) for the 2020 wet season with the Maize Growers, Processors and Marketers Association of Nigeria.