First Bank has advocated for efforts to promote financial inclusion for Small and Medium Enterprises (SME) to grow the economy despite the ravaging effects of COVID-19.
This is as the first generation bank announced it has joined the SME Finance Forum.
Mr Gbenga Shobo, Deputy Managing Director of the bank, announced this on Sunday in Lagos.
“We are excited to join the SME Finance Forum, especially at this time, when the sustenance of businesses is essential to mitigate the adverse effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on the socio-economic development of Nigeria.
“This membership is in recognition of the leading role we play in enabling SMEs in Nigeria.
“This role is hinged on our heritage of over 126 years; our experience and continuous reinvention, which we bring to bear in empowering other businesses, aimed at contributing to the economy.
“Without a doubt, outliving the pandemic is the responsibility of everyone.
“First Bank has been nimble at promoting a digital economy in Africa and has issued over 10 million cards.
“The bank’s financial inclusion and cashless transaction drive have resulted in over 228 million users on its USSD and over 4.1 million users on Firstmobile platform, its digital banking application,’’ Shobo stated.
According to him, since the last nine months of the COVID-19 impact, FirstBank has organised six virtual SME centric webinars aimed at getting business owners informed and educated on various ways to withstand the economic shocks caused by the pandemic.
He said had in April, the bank offered a 90-day moratorium on SME loans and introduced special waivers on repayment fees on its credit cards as part of the palliative measures to mitigate the effects of COVID-19 in the country.
Also in September, he stated that the bank partnered the Lagos State Employment Trust Fund (LSETF) in a N6 billion matching fund scheme.
He said the scheme was aimed at cushioning the impact of COVID-19 pandemic on low-cost private schools by ensuring lending at an attractive interest rate.
Mr Matthew Gamser, Chief Executive Officer, SME Finance Forum, said the aim of the forum was to expand access to funds for small businesses.
“The SME Finance Forum comprises financing experts from more than 80 countries, who share the common goal of expanding access to finance to small businesses worldwide, through knowledge exchange and innovation.
“Forty per cent of SME businesses worldwide struggle to get access to credit and capital that they need to grow their enterprises.
“We are delighted to welcome FirstBank to our network of 200 members, who are working to eliminate the finance gap for SMEs,’’ he said.
SME Finance Forum was established by the G20 Global Partnership for Financial Inclusion (GPFI) in 2012 as a knowledge centre for data, research and best practice in promoting SME finance.
As an implementing partner for the GPFI, the International Finance Corporation (IFC) was tasked with managing the initiative.