An analysis by Chinyere Joel-Nwokeoma (NAN)
The Small and Medium Scale Enterprises (SME) sector is, no doubt, strategic and essential to accelerating economic growth and development of countries around the world, particularly Nigeria.
The sector is largely considered the backbone of many developed economies as well as an important contributor to employment, economic and export growth.
A survey conducted by PWC indicated that in South Africa, SMEs account for 91 per cent of businesses, 60 per cent of employment and contribute 52 per cent of total GDP.
In Nigeria, SMEs contribute 48 per cent of national GDP, account for 96 per cent of businesses and 84 per cent of employment.
Indeed, the Nigeria Bureau of Statistics (NBS) recently confirmed that SMEs have contributed about 48 per cent to Nigeria’s national GDP in the last five years.
According to NBS, with a total of about 17.4 million, SMEs account for about 50 per cent of industrial jobs and nearly 90 per cent of the manufacturing sector, in terms of number of enterprises.
Experts, therefore, believe that supporting the SME sector in Nigeria to flourish is crucial because it creates a growing middle class with disposable income, and in the long run create market opportunities for new investors.
Given the potential of SMEs to unlock Nigeria’s economic growth, many of them are, however, faced with the challenge of access to credit.
But the good news is that both the federal government and private organisations have for several years taken proactive steps to mitigate this challenge.
For instance, First Bank of Nigeria Limited has prioritised the promotion of the growth of SMEs for the overall good of the country.
The bank has spent N170.30 billion between 2017 till date to support SMEs in the form of loans irrespective of product type.
As proof of this, the bank has supported 70,703 small and micro businesses over the last three to seven years.
Apart from the direct support, the bank is still partnering the federal government and Fintechs companies to bring banking services closer to the people.
Consequently, First Bank has been providing technology-enabled services and richer user experiences to petty traders to ensure the smooth running of their businesses.
The bank, also as part of the launch of its specialised SME propositions, recently convened an SME Week for its customers and non-customers to participate in a wide range of activities designed specifically for SMEs.
The activities range from the SME Masterclass themed, “Designing and Implementing a Growth Strategy for your Business,” to specialised one-on-one sessions with renowned business coaches and the launch of seven unique pillars, which make up SME propositions available via SMEConnect.
The highlight of the week was the launch of the SME portal, a platform through which SMEs can access its unique propositions designed to equip them with the essential tools needed for the growth of their businesses.
The SME portal is also designed to help SMEs identify various gaps that hinder their business growth leveraging the bank’s innovative Business Diagnostics Tool, with a view to proffering tailored solutions and creating opportunities for business improvement, profitability and sustainability.
The bank also conducted an extensive research over the years and identified seven strategic pillars essential for the sustainability and growth of SMEs.
These include: access to infrastructure, access to talent, capacity building, policy and regulation, access to resources, access to market as well as access to finance.
Commenting on the development, Mr Gbenga Shobo, the bank’s Deputy Managing Director, said FirstBank would remain committed to the development and growth of SMEs.
Shobo said the bank recognised that the SMEs were the engine of the economy.
“We are committed to ensuring that we leave no stone unturned as we connect with them in their continued contribution to national development in terms of the employment opportunities they create as well as their contribution to the nation’s GDP amongst many economic values.
“The FirstBank SME Week is driven to promote the Bank’s SME proposition, thereby having SMEs across the country optimally enlightened on how to plug in.
“We believe this will help SMEs bolster their contributions to the growth and development of the economy,” he said.
Indeed, the bank’s disposition to SME’s is a clarion call to other private organisations to promote the sector, thereby improving the wellbeing of its operators and the economy at large.