The image of Absa Bank’s Managing Director, Abena Osei-Poku, gliding along the busy and complex streets of Ghana’s capital city, in search of her customers, is not unfamiliar to many.
At the start of this year, it was Abena who took to the streets of Kantamanto, sliding her way through thick crowds, and into the shops of her clients.
Next, she sat and interacted with them; finding out their challenges and key needs. These visits usually end with a message of acknowledgement and appreciation for their business and a pledge to resolve outstanding issues.
Earlier this week, Abena was a familiar sight once again. This time it was to the busy Makola shopping district where she got the chance to engage three SME clients involved in the sale of different goods.
It was vintage Abena; always interested in knowing what the key economic challenges are, how her clients are handling the pressure and what she can do to ease their pain points. The conversations drifted towards familiar territory of access to funds at convenient rates and the flexibility of the bank’s services and product offerings. Abena was pretty much upbeat about the customers and their enthusiasm. She also took the opportunity to highlight the bank’s strong focus on supporting local SME businesses across different sectors of Ghana’s economy.
SMEs, undoubtedly, are the backbone of economic transformation in Ghana. They contribute more than 80% to socio-economic growth and Absa’s strong footing in that space is a key part of the bank’s success, after only two years of existence in the country. A lot of thinking has gone into the bank’s positioning in the eyes of SME businesses. For example, a recent partnership with the Mastercard Foundation, has transformed access to finance for most of these SMEs, especially the ones owned by women in the country.
The Mastercard Foundation agreement has opened doors for Absa, leading to a relationship with the Ghana Union of Traders Association (GUTA), which now makes it possible for SMEs to access up to GHS1m collateral-free loans from the bank. What is significant about this offering is that it fits into the perfect circumstance of these businesses, many of whom are trying to find their feet amidst the pandemic and general macroeconomic challenges. If the pandemic taught us nothing, it highlighted a return to prudence by banks in terms of lending. This makes Absa Bank a desired destination for SMEs due to readily available funds.
The clients were encouraged by Abena’s presence and expressed gratitude for the relationship, most of whom have been with the bank for decades, during the erstwhile Barclays era.
Sharing her thoughts after the visits, Abena said: “Our clients and customers matter to us because they are the reason for our existence. We are a bank that is excited by the role SMEs play in economic growth and how we are positioned to support and empower them. It is a strong commitment for us, and we shall continue to look for new and dynamic ways to help them grow. Staying in touch with our customers has become a part of our culture and I am happy to be leading by example.”
Absa Bank’s unique focus on SMEs and a digital-first approach to banking is winning many businesses to its stable. Despite the myriad of challenges faced by most businesses last year, Absa emerged as the most profitable bank in Ghana with a 55% rise in profit before tax and a 17% increase in total revenues. It also became the first bank in the history of the country to cross GHS1 billion in general profitability.
Absa is a bank that has constantly trotted to the rhythm of it own beat and has over the years, delivered the goods to show for it. A strong focus on SMEs is a stroke of inspiration; especially as the current landscape has shown, and Abena is not resting on her laurels to reinforce this.