Segun Agbaje, CEO, GTBank

BY EMEKA EJERE

As players in corporate Nigeria continue to do their part in support of the fight against the novel Coronavirus disease (COVID-19), one organisation that has stood tall in mitigating the negative impact of the pandemic is Guarantee Trust Bank (GTBank).

The tier-one lender believes that beyond the safety measures it has put in place across its offices and branches, there is still serious need to do more to beat the outbreak. Little wonder the bank, has in various ways, demonstrated that health and safety of the people are of utmost concern to it.

Nigeria on Wednesday night confirmed 34 new cases of the highly contagious disease, bringing the country’s toll to 407, with 12 of the victims already dead. Globally, more than two million people have been infected with over a hundred thousand fatalities.

The federal and state governments with the support of corporate organisations and public-spirited individuals are not living any stone unturned in their concerted effort at ensuring that the pandemic is contained. This is where the customer-friendly bank has come very handily.

Relief for government

Recently, Lagos State governor, BabajideSanwo-Olu, announced that the fully-equipped COVID-19 isolation centre at Onikan had been commissioned. The 110-bed facility was put together by GTBank in a speedy fulfilment of a pledge.

Sharing pictures of the facility on his Twitter page, Governor Sanwo-Olu expressed excitement over GTBank’s swift response to the state’s call for help. Since February 29 when the index case of the disease was recorded in Lagos, the state has remained the epicentre of the COVID-19 virus, with 232 cases at the moment.

Findings show that the facility since commissioning is living up to the objective of ensuring that those who contract the disease are given the best care possible, whilst being isolated from the rest of the society to prevent further infections.

While commenting on the project, which was surprisingly executed within one week, the chief executive officer of the bank, Mr Segun Agbaje thanked those who made the dream come true. According to him, the Africa Finance Corporation had agreed to take up 50% of the cost of the project. He said:

“I will like to first start by thanking the almighty God for allowing us to put this thing together in the short period which we have done. I will then like to thank Mr Governor and the people and the government of Lagos State, for giving us this facility and giving us the opportunity to at least put this together because, without the corporation of the state, this would never have happened.

“I will like to thank my board, which allowed us when we dreamed to execute this project. I will like to thank Africa Finance Corporation which has graciously agreed to fund 50% of whatever we spent here. I will like to thank Mandilas who provided the air-conditioning.”

He also thanked Evercare Hospital for facilitating the purchase of the ventilators that will be used in the facility. Ventilators are vital in the treatment of respiratory diseases like the Coronavirus. Unfortunately, not only are they quite expensive, but they have also become quite scarce across the world due to the sudden demand which was necessitated by the pandemic.

Agbaje had in a statement while pledging a week earlier said that the centre would be fully equipped with all the necessary equipment, including respirators and personnel to treat and care for those that may become affected.

“We are fully committed to having the centre fully set up by the end of this week,” he stressed, saying the bank needed to go beyond the provision of safety measures it had put in place across its offices and branches, and lend itself to doing more to beat the outbreak.

“That is why we are constantly monitoring the Coronavirus outbreak and taking all the necessary precautions to make sure that our workplaces remain safe for everyone.

“Our customers and stakeholders are also counting on us during this difficult time, and it is our duty to be there for them, as they navigate the uncertainties caused by this outbreak.

“COVID-19 is having a growing impact on every aspect of our society, and it is only by working together that the pandemic can be defeated, he noted, adding that individually, this means that we must assume a greater sense of responsibility, not just for our own sake but for those around us.

“At work, it is absolutely critical that we practise social distancing and make more use of our collaborative digital platforms to get work done. Out of office, it is important that we remain very cautious about where we go and the people we come in contact with.

“Indeed, these are very tough times, and I hope that in our personal times of prayer and reflection, we would remember all those who are suffering as a result of this outbreak. Together, I am very confident that we will not only overcome this challenge but also emerge stronger as an organization.”

GTBank in conjunction with the Lagos state government has also converted the Teslim Balogun Stadium in Lagos to Isolation centre to further help fight the spread of #COVID-19. The bank had earlier launched a new COVID-19 self-assessment test on unstructured supplementary service data (USSD).

The code, 737199# is a way for users and bankers to know their risk status, which would precede a proper medical test. Users around the country have reported via social media the availability, reliability and authenticity of the code.

Succour for SMEs

To alleviate the heat of the Coronavirus pandemic on the operations of the Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs) amidst the lockdown, GTBank last week placed a hold on its loan repayment plan for all SMEs that have obtained credit facilities from the bank.

The lender explained that businesses that obtained Food Industry Credit and Fashion Industry Credit would be issued a 90-day moratorium from repayment of a loan. Individuals who obtained Quick Credit for business were also afforded the same benefit.

The implication is that small businesses that fall within the aforementioned categories do not have to repay their loan in the next three months but the interest rates on the facilities will still be paid.

President Muhammadu Buhari had announced a 14-day lockdown which was later extended by another 14 days in Lagos, Ogun states and the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) Abuja. The lockdown, according to the president, was to stop the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic which has disrupted business activities.

The informal sector and the self-employed have been the most affected, as most of them had to shut down their businesses, compared to large corporations whose workers have been working from home.

“We have put on hold all repayment on SME loans as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic and because small businesses have had to stay closed to stay safe, we are giving a 90-day moratorium on repayment of loans,” the bank explained in a statement.

The moratorium by GTBank comes as succour for the small businesses that have not enjoyed much relief from President Buhari’s administration. The GTBank moratorium on loan repayment is expected to cover the extension.

“The bank is a CSR bank, so we’re taking everything about the people seriously,” a senior official of the bank told Business Hallmark on the condition of anonymity.

He noted that the Onikan facility was a product of the bank’s partnership with Lagos State Government, saying the bank cannot take credit for it because it would not have been possible if the state government did not provide the enabling environment.

On the loan moratorium given to SMEs, he said all these are to make life easier for Nigerians at this most difficult time.