Nana Ama Poku is the Deputy Chief Executive Officer of Ghana Exim Bank with oversight responsibility for the Business and Banking Division of the Bank. Embedded in her role also is the need for a focus on SME development. In this interview with Amazons watch magazine, Mrs. Poku tells of the Bank’s significant strides in SME development and lots more.
Before joining the EXIM Bank in March 2017, you were the Head of Financial Institutions at First Atlantic Bank Limited. You promoted financial inclusion through nurturing relationships with Non- Bank financial institutions, including Insurance Companies and Savings and Loans institutions. How would you describe the level of financial inclusions in Africa’s financial institutions?
The role entailed managing the Bank’s relationships and financing support extended to Non-Bank Financial Institutions’ various tiers. These included Microfinance companies, Finance Houses, Savings and Loans institutions, General and Life insurance companies, Pension Fund Managers, Credit Unions, and Cooperatives. Though regulated by the Central Bank, these institutions required access to relatively cheaper funds for on-lending.
The Global Findex Database in 2018 collected data from 144 countries, including Ghana. Situating it within the Ghanaian context, the report indicated that Ghanaian adults with access to financial service account had increased from 29% in 2011 to 58% in 2017.
The report indicated that seven million Ghanaians still did not have a bank account. The country’s formal banking industry was still struggling with the challenge of decreasing the unbanked population.
In my view, financial inclusion is still a challenge due to several reasons. These include the following:
- Most business/ project promoters do not have appropriate collateral to give potential lenders the needed fall back comfort.
- Potential customers more often than not do not possess appropriate identification documents in line with KYC/Anti Money Laundering requirements for account opening
- Most potential projects are green fields/startups. Most financial institutions do not have the appetite to absorb the risk of lending to the same.
- Some financial institutions are averse to supporting specific projects. These could include some engaged in agricultural production and Manufacturing.
- Relatively high-interest rates attached to facilities offered by financial institutions.
Therefore, to bridge the gap, there is a need for awareness creation spearheaded and supported by financial institutions across the African Continent on how to address some of the issues mentioned above and more.
What is the role of the EXIM Bank in helping small businesses succeed in Ghana?
The President of Ghana, His Excellency President Akuffo – Addo in 2018, outlined a ten-point agenda to drive its socio-economic development and industrial transformation. The Ghana EXIM Bank, as a development one, plays a key role in implementing Government policy, thereby nurturing and supporting small businesses to thrive in the local and export business spaces.
The Bank supports businesses considering three key benchmarks of employment creation, value addition and foreign exchange generation. The Bank’s reach is not limited to startups/small businesses but also to Agricultural production, Agro-processing and Manufacturing sectors of the economy.
In implementing the Ghana Government’s “One District One Factory Policy”, the Bank focuses on subsectors such as garment and apparel manufacturing, shea nut aggregation (for processing and export), cassava production, poultry production, and pineapple production, among others.
Many small businesses play pivotal roles in the various value chains: for example, shea cosmetic producers/manufacturers have their raw material for production being aggregated shea by various clusters of women in Northern Ghana.
The Bank’s support for small businesses is in the area of:
- Concessionary financing
- Advisory services • Capacity building training
- Sponsorship to various
international fairs to enhance access to off-takers, among others. The Bank also has the Grass-Root Initiative for Development (GRID), promoting women entrepreneurs. These include the Green House Project (aimed at introducing and setting up young graduates to start farming in Green Houses).
Embedded in your role as Deputy CEO of the Ghana EXIM Bank is the need to focus on SME development. How is that coming up, and have you recorded any successes, especially relating to women in SMEs? The Ghana EXIM Bank has made significant strides in the SME space, with the Bank extending support to promoters in over 40 sub-sectors, including floriculture, soap manufacturing, fruit juice processing, biscuit manufacturing. The potential of women entrepreneurs is enhanced in this regard.
The Association of Apparel and Garment Manufacturers (AGAM), which is 90% women, has the Ghana EXIM Bank as a key financing partner for its export operations and capacity building programmes.
The Bank’s Shea Empowerment Initiative (SEI) has seen financing support for 1,200 women collectors in the Northern Regions of Ghana and 15 shea cosmetic manufacturers engaged in export (all women).
The ‘Women In Export’ (WIE) programme has also seen financing support for budding female entrepreneurs.
The Bank has an SME Department that focuses on financing support for feasible projects and ensures monitoring and advisory services for the same. Attention is paid to business development strategies and networking of Women
Entrepreneurs try to build synergies with other promoters in other fields of endeavour.
A 2014 report by the International Finance Corporation (IFC) stated that women often bear the brunt of poverty and limited access to economic opportunities due to unfavourable access to financing. As a professional with years of experience in the finance sector, what are your thoughts on addressing and improving women’s access to funding?
According to the World Population Review 2019, of the 26,652.767 people in Ghana, 49.1% are women. I believe that the livelihood of women across the Continent could be greatly improved if the awareness could be created in women entrepreneurs and potential ones about the following:
- The need to understand the dynamics of their projects/business.
- The need to borrow appropriate amounts, i.e. not more or less than needed.
- The need to repay loans so that the track record is built for substantial amounts to be borrowed subsequently.
- The need for capacity building to remain relevant in business.
- How to determine which financing is appropriate for which business.
I also believe it is a two-way street and financial institutions across the Continent could also enhance women’s access to financing by considering the following, among others:
- Offering credit facilities that deemphasize collateral and focus on the viability and sustainability of projects.
- Linking specific facilities to specific projects grants to women engaged in the production of specific crops, fruits etc.
- Concessionary financing for women.
- Organizing capacity building workshops and clinics to ensure continuous training for women entrepreneurs.
Further, as has been reiterated by leaders across the Continent, education is key to making a woman as empowered as possible to enable her to improve her livelihood and that of her family. An educated woman would be able to put together feasible and realistic business proposals to make her project attractive to potential lenders.
According to the World Economic Forum’s 2018 Global Gender Gap Index, it will take 135 years to bridge the gender gap in Sub Sahara Africa. What steps do you advise can be taken to tear down gender barriers on the Continent?
Tearing down gender barriers would
require a paradigm shift. There is a need to encourage the girl child to get educated. There is also the need to encourage more women to take up leadership positions in Government and in the Corporate world.
There should be an improvement and a critical look at some cultural beliefs, norms, and socialization that inhibit women. The girl child must be given the same opportunity at education and leadership as the boy child.
Traditional institutions in Africa have, over the years, emphasized the domestic role of the girl child. Though engraved in the minds of many across the Continent, the effects of this perception could be minimized through education.
Impediments to realising the full potential of women, such as early marriage, must be discouraged. Girls who fall pregnant at teenage must be given the opportunity of returning to school post-delivery.
In Ghana, the Government in 2017 launched the free Senior High School policy towards the achievement of Goal 4 of the SDGs, which states that “by 2030, all boys and girls should complete free equitable and quality primary and secondary education leading to relevant and effective learning outcomes”.
In Government and in the corporate world, the record of successful women leaders’ record must be showcased to inspire the younger female generation. In this regard, the Centre for Economic and Leadership Development (CELD) efforts must be emulated by other agencies and organisations across the globe. Governments across Africa must give competent women the opportunity to lead various Departments and
Agencies serve as a reminder that women could be great leaders when encouraged and supported. Despite the entry of women into leadership across all climes, women still face the challenge of getting into higher echelons of leadership into private and public sectors. In contrast, those who have risen to that level of leadership are most times whisked out before the expiration of their tenure. Please share with us some of your experiences in breaking through these diverse barriers.
Growing up, I always heard the famous saying, “it is a man’s world,” from many quarters. I still hear it now. It is a constant reminder that there is no space for a woman at the top, whether in Government or in the corporate world.
As a result of this, it appears as if women leaders do not ‘survive or last’ at the top.
Personally, I took a cue from the above and adopted a consensus-building style of leadership that has worked throughout my Banking career.
I listen, I seek the opinion of all my staff irrespective of grade or rank when decisions have to be made.
Over time, I have observed that when a leader allows this to happen, the entire team feels part of the decision making process and implementation is easier.
As regards supervising male colleagues, I always remember to seek their views and address challenges they may have. One must always remember that naturally, men do not like their egos bruised. So I tend to show them respect while at the same time being the supervisor. It is a delicate balance.
Above all else, I give credit where due by acknowledging and rewarding hard work.
How do you balance your family and business life?
Banking is very challenging. The stress, late closing hours and the need for passion for one’s duty make it hard work.
At the executive management level, all the issues magnify because, at this level, you are managing the entire profitability, loan portfolio, customer service etc., of a Bank.
Being a woman, there is also the need to make your family a priority and be there for them at all times. I am lucky to have a family that understands my work demands and are tolerant when I have to be away from home or close late.
My hectic schedule notwithstanding, I always ensure that I make time for my family…I do not miss quality time, church and holidays with them.
You have recently been endorsed by the Board of Centre for Economic and Leadership Development to be conferred with the Global Leadership Excellence Award and inducted into the Global Women Leaders Hall of Fame. How do you feel about these honours?
I am humbled to receive these honours.
They are proof that hard work and passion for results do not go unnoticed. I am encouraged that through these awards and endorsements, other women would be encouraged for greater heights in what is generally a man’s world’. Being at the top and staying there for a woman comes with the tenacity of purpose and focus and prayer.
I would continue to give off my very best effort to the Ghana EXIM Bank, particularly Ghana in general. I want to say a huge thank you to His Excellency, President Akuffo Addo, for the faith and confidence in me and for allowing me to serve.
What is the best way for readers of Amazons Watch Magazine to connect with you?
I can be reached on LinkedIn