Leading micro-finance bank in Nigeria to cater for the deprived
Peter Egwuatu, Vangard, July 22, 2007

Mrs. Bunmi Lawson, managing director/CEO, Accion Microfinance Bank Limited, in this interview revealed how the bank intends to empower Small and Medium scale Enterprises (SMEs),  the mission and objective of the bank, requirements for accessing funds in the bank, as well as the relationship amongst the supporting banks.

WHY do we need microfinance banks in Nigeria when there are other big banks in the country?
We need microfinance banks in Nigeria because the big banks do not cater for the interest of small and medium enterprises as they ought to, probably because of the structure inherent with small businesses in terms of management, security and so on. It is generally known all over the world that robust economic growth cannot be attained without putting in place well focused programmes and structures to reduce poverty, improve living standards and engender socio-economic growth. In Nigeria, as in many developing countries, a systematic approach and a well articulated programme through the provision of credit facilities and financial services to low income earners and micro entrepreneurs is the panacea to socio-economic growth.

What exactly is the vision of Accion Microfinance?
Accion Microfiance Bank has the vision to be the market leader in the provision of microfinance and related financial services at world class standards. We want to economically empower micro-entrepreneurs and low income earners by providing financial services in a sustainable, ethical and profitable manner. With this burden on our hearts to positively touch lives of the erstwhile financially deprived and major segment of the populace, Accion Microfinance Bank has involved from all works of life, all over the world key players in the financial services industry, the regulators and other stakeholders and its target market as co-promoters of this vision.

Who owns Accion Microfinance Bank?
Accion Microfinance Bank prides itself as a unique organization with select ownership structure of distinguished, result oriented and service driven corporate entities. The shareholding structure of Accion Microfinance Bank is as follows: Accion Investments, NIB (Citigroup), Ecobank Nigeria Plc, and  International Finance Corporation (IFC).

Can you tell us more about these organizations that are partnering with the bank?
Accion Investments in Microfinance, SPC was established to provide equity and quasi-equity financing to microfinance institutions worldwide and is a Boston based investment arm of Accion International. Accion International has been in the microfinance business for well over 40 years and partners with more than 30 microfinance organizations throughout Latin America, the Caribbean, Asia and Africa, as well as serving U.S. micro-entrepreneurs through the U.S.Accion Network. In 2006, Accion and its partners served more than two million active borrowers, and since 1996 loaned $9.4 billion to more than 3.97 million people.

Accion today is one of the premier microfinance organisations in the world, with a network of lending partners that spans Latin America, the United States and Africa. Over the last four decades, Accion has built a tradition of developing innovative solutions to poverty. Citigroup (Nigeria International Bank) Limited has had a presence in Nigeria since 1984. The bank offers a broad range of services to corporate and commercial customers, financial institutions (including other banks) and public sector organizations. In 2004, NIB achieved the very significant milestone of being in operation for 20 continuous years, since the opening of its branch in September 1984. Citigroup is a global bank with strong presence in Africa, Asia -Pacific, Central America/Caribbean, Europe, Middle East, North and South America and has won many awards of excellence in areas of banking and financial intermediation.

Ecobank Nigeria Plc as one of our shareholders is the leading independent regional banking group in West and Central Africa serving wholesale and retail customers, it has a network covering 18 countries namely: Benin, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Cape Verde, Central Africa, Côte d'Iivoire, Ghana, Guinea, Guinea Bissau, Liberia, Mali, Niger, Nigeria, Sao Tome, Senegal, Sierra Leone, Chad and Togo, with plans to establish presence in East and Southern Africa. The Group has a network of over 320 branches and offices established in the last nineteen years. Ecobank Transnational Incorporated (ETI) the parent company of the Ecobank Group plays a central role in the definition and implementation of common policies and standards on the basis of a “one bank” concept across the group's network.

While the International Finance Corporation is the private sector arm of the World Bank Group, IFC provides loans, equity, structured finance and risk management products, and advisory services to build the private sector in developing countries. IFC invests in enterprises majority-owned by the private sector throughout most developing countries in the world including: Sub-Saharan Africa, East Asia and the Pacific, South Asia, Europe and Central Asia, Latin America and the Caribbean, Middle East and North Africa.

When are you expected to commence operations?
ACCION Microfinace Bank has already started operation in Lagos. We are launching the bank today (July 4). The deputy governor, CBN, Mr. Tunde Lemo is here to grace the occasion as part of the CBN support for our bank. As  part of our strategic marketing approach, ACCION Microfinance Bank Limited commenced its pilot programme (market testing) in April 2007 for six months. During this period, we are testing all our processes and procedures as it concerns the peculiar marketing environment obtainable in Nigeria. At the end of this period which coincides with this launch, we are committed to expanding our services and reaching large numbers of micro entrepreneurs. In the next few years, what you see evolve from a single branch microfinance institution will produce a mega bank providing finance to millions of micro enterprises.