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Banks earmark N26bn for investment in agric, SMEs

By Babajide Komolafe
LAGOS—Banks have set aside N26 billion for equity investment in agriculture, small and medium enterprises, SMEs.

Meanwhile, the Bankers Committee has directed banks to stop charging customers of microfinance and mortgage banks for Biometric Verification Number, BVN, registration.

These were highlights of the 333rd Bankers Committee meeting held in Lagos, yesterday.

Addressing  a press conference at the end of the meeting, Managing Director/Chief Executive, Standard Chartered Bank, Mrs Bola Adesola, said banks had set aside five percent of profit after tax for equity investment in agriculture and SMEs, as agreed at the last Bankers Committee retreat.

She spoke in company of Director, Banking Supervision, CBN, Ahmad Abdullahi; Managing Director/ Chief Executive, Fidelity Bank Plc, Mr. Nnamdi Okonkwo; Managing Director/Chief Executive, Stanbic IBTC Plc, Mr. Demola Sogunle, and Director, Corporate Communications Department CBN, Mr. Isaac Okoroafor.

Adesola said: “After the audited results of the banks have been published, we all contributed five per cent of our PAT to a fund in CBN towards contributing equity to agric and small and medium enterprise. As you know, many companies cannot just survive on debt because of the cost of debt. So, long term capital is required to catalyse the growth in SMEs and make them more viable and sustainable.

“We are doing our own bit to support them. Right now, we have N26 billion in the fund and we are working on the framework for the investment. We are looking at partnerships, we are looking at co-investing with private equity firms as well and the objective is to catalyse  growth in SMEs to ease access to finance to build capacity in the  agric and SME sectors, to create jobs and ultimately to improve prosperity.”

Okonkwo, on his part, announced the decision of the committee directing banks to stop charging for BVN registration.

He said: “One key issue that came up today is the issue of the customers of microfinance banks, MFBs, who do not yet have their Biometric Verification Number, BVN, registered.

“Some feedback that we got at the committee was that some banks charge customers when they try to register. So, the Bankers Committee agreed today that MFB customers can walk into any bank and register their BVN free of charge. This is to make sure that we don’t discourage people from being financially included.”

Abdullahi, on his part, said that the Bankers Committee discussed recent developments in the economy and was optimistic that the country will return to positive economic growth by the third quarter.

He said: “It is almost obvious that by the end of the third quarter, we are going to have a positive GDP growth and there are a number of indices that are trending towards that: inflation is about 16.4 per cent, up from close to 19 per cent. The exchange rate has largely been stable and we have seen convergence with even the investors and exporters (I& E) window and confidence is rebuilding. Generally, because of increased oil production and stable crude prices, the economy would remain robust.”






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