By AYOOLA OLAOLUWA

In the same way that Fidelity Bank transformed corporate banking, it is turning retail banking on its head with a bold shift from corporate banking to retail banking which supports Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises ((MSMEs).

According the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS), there has been a significant economic growth with the proliferation of micro, small and medium enterprises (MSMEs). The NBS report said Nigeria currently has over 20 million MSMEs, adding that this is just the figure accounted for, and there are so many unaccounted for in Nigeria.

While striving to remain in business, funding has been a consistent barrier to the growth and expansion of these MSMEs. However, while many banks are running away from the sector, terming it a ‘risky venture‘, Fidelity Bank is daily embracing it and has recorded much success.

The bank recently introduced two new products, Fidelity Business Plus’’ account and the “Trader Support Facility’’ into the market to enhance lending to Nigerian entrepreneurs. The launch is yet another move in the bank’s evolving into an all-encompassing retail bank.

According to the bank, the products would open up easier access to financial services for SMEs and the private sector.

“When businesses are set up, the entrepreneurs are concerned about their cost and so with the Fidelity Business Plus account, the cost of running the account will be very low as well as low rate of concessions on transfers.M

“This account also comes with accounting software because we know that the problem facing entrepreneurs is in terms of accounting management and how they keep records of their books, and business analytics.

“The second one is the Fidelity Trader Support facility. We understand that entrepreneurs have issues with funding and so we are taking it a notch higher even though we already have a product that supports small businesses,” said the Regional Head, Yaba/Surulere Business, Fidelity Bank, Ms Chetachi Ezenagu.

She noted that the products would enable traders to trade, re-stock and to enhance their businesses. Ezenagu said that the trader support facility comes with N10 million/N20million overdraft or loan to support his or her business at a low interest rate.

“The trader support facility comes with a N10 to N20 million overdrafts or loan that the trader might want to use for working capital requirements.

“And if you are a customer of the bank and you are not at the SMEs funding connect, you can walk into any of the branches for more information,” Ezenagu said.

According to her, the interest rates for the products is flexible and competitive. She, however, assured that Fidelity Bank would design many initiatives to ensure traders get support for their businesses.

“Existing customers on the bank’s SMEs programmes can update their existing accounts as it is for our customers. As time goes on, the bank will work on several initiatives because we know that traders need support to grow their businesses”, she said.

Prior to the introduction of the new products, Fidelity Bank introduced a radio program, The Fidelity SME Forum, which currently runs on Inspiration FM, Lagos, to educate SMEs and give the necessary insights to accessing loans from their bank.

The forum is a weekly radio programme organized to educate, inform, advise and inspire budding entrepreneurs in Nigeria with knowledge and expertise that will enable them build sustainable and successful businesses.

The interactive radio programme features subject matter experts and model entrepreneurs as guests on a weekly basis to share their insight and unique success stories.

Business Hallmark findings revealed that quite a number of established business owners have been on the radio programme to share their experience. Since the start of the progamme, the bank has witnessed an increase in its SME customers which now stands at over 1, 000,000. “The bank has obviously earned the number one spot in retail banking because it put its money where its mouth is”, said an entrepreneur, Oladele Johnson.

The bank again raised the bar as it went a step further to also create a Managed SME Division within the bank structure to cater for SMEs by giving them a one-on-one advisory touch, accessing markets for their customers, and to guide aspiring entrepreneurs that are clueless on how to run a business. According to the bank, the goal is to build requisite capacity in order to produce future business leaders of tomorrow.

On August 7, 2019, the bank unveiled a Funders-meet-Founders programme tagged ‘Entrepreneurship meet Capital’ which held in some locations across the country, including Lagos, Abuja, Kano and Port Harcourt. Over 3000 participants participated in the event which included a plenary session and breakout session plus networking events. The event focused on focusing on manufacturing, technology, lifestyle, healthcare, agriculture, and value chain.

According to the bank’s Executive Director, Lagos and South West, Mrs Nneka Onyeali-Ikpe, who represented the MD/CEO, Mr. Nnamdi Okonkwo, there are over 40 million registered SMEs in Nigeria, noting that SMEs contributed 80 per cent of the workforce and could not be ignored.

She also said that venture capital and angel funders are the best options to navigate some of the challenges faced by SMEs and noted excitedly that Fidelity Bank was able to bring these two together under this SME Funding Connect.

“Fidelity Bank is SME-friendly and we deemed it necessary to do something that directly affects our base as a bank. We have a lot of SME customers who we have worked with and some that we are still working with, and a lot of us know that the SMEs are the engine of any economy that is growing.

“Today, we are bringing both SMEs and venture capital firms for a handshake at this event,” she said. At the end of the programme, top five SMEs who were selected after a pitch went home with N5 million to support their businesses.

Also speaking, the Divisional Head, Managed SMEs, Mr Osaigbovo Omorogbe, said the Fidelity Bank SME Funding Connect provided both funders and founders seamless ground to leverage.

“This is the first of its class, a platform for SMEs to connect with funders,” he said,

Unlike other banks, Fidelity Bank has more dealings with retail businesses. It has built its   structure around retail banking, conducting transactions with market women and SMEs by focusing on providing solutions to the challenges faced by MSMEs in Nigeria through a multifaceted approach.

Apart from a robust business advisory service provided by the bank to help aspiring and existing entrepreneurs build sustainable businesses, some of the products designed primarily for the growth of SMEs include: Fidelity Business Plus, a combination of low-cost current account product and the Sage One Accounting Software. Products under the Fidelity Business Plus are Fidelity Small Business Account (FSBA); Fidelity Premium Business Account (FPBA); Fidelity Business Plus (FB+); Commercial Support Overdraft (CSO); Commercial Support Short Term Loan (CSST); DBN On-lending Scheme; BOI On-lending Scheme; Fidelity Private Medical Support Scheme (FP-MEDSS) and the Fidelity Pharmacy Support Facility (FPSF)

Commercial Support Short Term Loan (CSST)

The Commercial Support Short Term loan is a 90 days loan product for micro, small and medium enterprises (MSMEs) who operate businesses with stable cash flows, short cash conversion circles and for the most part do not have tangible collaterals to secure loan facilitates provided to them.

Criteria: To access the CSST Loan, an MSME is required to meet these criteria: Applicant must maintain a current with Fidelity Bank preferably the Fidelity Small Business Account (FSBA); applicant must have operated his/her account in a manner considered satisfactory for the last three months at least; applicant must be a registered business (Sole Enterprise) or Limited Liability; applicant must have been in the same line of business for a minimum period or 2 years

Fidelity Small Business Account (FSBA)

The Fidelity Small Business Account (FSBA) is a tailor-made account for small or big businesses. The account gives a holder a flexible, zero cost opportunity to run his business transactions through a bank. Features and benefits of FSBA include: No account maintenance fee for all Debit Turnover Amounts; no monthly charges; no limit on number of withdrawals; easy access to loans; free business advisory services; assistance to register company/business name, and many others.

Apart from introducing financial products to help SMEs to grow their businesses, the bank in August, organised a funding grant competition, tagged: Fidelity SME Funding Grants Competition. At the end of the competition held in Lagos, Market Doctor, an innovative healthcare provider that sets up clinics around clustered markets in the country, emerged the overall winner of the inaugural edition of the grants competition, carting away the corresponding N2 million cash prize.

An initial 12 finalists emerged from more than 2,500 successful applicants who went through a rigorous and intensive selection process conducted by the renowned accounting and consultancy firm, PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC).

The number was further cut down to five after another round of assessment and they were made to pitch to panel of judges during the SME Funding event. The independent judges led by Professor Yinka David-West of the Lagos Business School, pronounced Market Doctor winner, in consideration of the profitability, viability, and scalability of her business model.

“We are thrilled to receive this grant by Fidelity Bank to scale our business and improve the wellbeing of Nigerians” said an elated Miss Yetunde Ayo-Oyalowo, founder Market Doctor.

Healthy Nellies, a food production firm and Greenhill Recycling who emerged first and second runner up, respectively took home the sum of N1 million each. Other finalists include Adeyinka Tekenah of ‘Happy Coffee’ and Olalekan Afolayan of ‘PackMyLoad.com’ who smiled home consolation prizes of N500,000 each, whilst the remaining 7 shortlisted SMEs received N200,000 each.

The grants competition was the highlight of the SME Funding conference themed “Entrepreneurship Meets Capital” and organized by the bank to deepen the conversation on funding by bringing together small business owners, model entrepreneurs, fund providers, angel investors, private equity firms, venture capitalists under one roof.

Whilst noting that the MSME sector remained largely bedevilled by a number of problems with limited financing options being one of the main drawbacks they face, Fidelity Bank CEO, Fidelity Bank CEO, Nnamdi Okonkwo, said it was important for the bank as “one of the best SME-friendly banks to come up with the initiative in furtherance of our support for the sector because of its contribution to economic development and poverty eradication”

Okonkwo, who commended the winners of the competition, emphasized the importance of Micro Small Medium Enterprises (MSMEs) to the growth and development of the Nigerian economy.

“MSMEs employ over 80 percent of the country’s total 90.5 million labour force, contribute 48 percent to Nigeria’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and constitute over 80 percent of registered exporters in Nigeria”, said Okonkwo.

The Deputy Governor of Lagos State, Dr. Obafemi Hamzat, while delivering his keynote address on the occasion, commended the bank for the initiative. Emphasizing the importance of SMEs to economic development, Hamzat pointed out that small businesses contribute to employment creation, poverty alleviation and revenue generation.

“What Fidelity Bank is doing is to create access to capital, which is the biggest threat to MSMEs.

He advised financial institutions to borrow a leaf from Fidelity Bank. “The Lagos State Government is ready to create the enabling environment for the MSMEs to thrive”, he added.

Founder/CEO of Beloxxi Industries, Obi Ezeude; CEO, Ebonylife TV, Mo Abudu; Akindele Phillips, Co-Founder, Farm Crowdy, Dr. Richard Ajayi, CEO, The Bridge Clinic, Seun Abolaji, CEO, Wilsons Juice, CEO and Adetayo Bamiduro, Co-founder, MAX Okada, Dayo Akinpelu, VP Renaissance Capital, Toyin Adeniji, ED Bank of Industries, Bonaventure Okhaimo, COO Development Bank of Nigeria (DBN), Dr. Mudashiru Olaitan, Director Development Finance (CBN) and Mezuo Nwunneli, Managing Partner Sahel Capital amongst others, were some of the panelists in the engaging sessions.