Commercial banks in Nigeria say they will commence the utilisation of the N26 billion pooled from their profit after tax in 2015 under the Agricultural, Small and Medium Enterprises Equity Fund that was launched late last year.
Rising from the 333rd Bankers Committee meeting in Lagos yesterday, the bankers also agreed that customers, particularly of microfinance banks, could now walk into any bank hall to register for the Bank Verification Number (BVN).
Noting that some MFBs had been charging customers for registering for BVN, Managing Director and Chief Executive of Fidelity Bank, Nnamdi Okonkwo, stated that henceforth any bank that charged for BVN registration would be sanctioned.
According to him, making customers pay for BVN registration negated the goal of achieving financial inclusion in the country “and anything that will stop more and more people from being included in the formal financial sector we will work to ensure that that bottleneck is removed.
“So the banks committee agreed today that MFBs customers can walk into any bank and register their BVN free of charge to make sure that we don’t discourage people from being financially included.”
Also speaking with journalists at the end of the meeting, the Managing Director and Chief Executive of Standard Chartered Bank, Bola Adesola, noted that the Bankers Committee was already on the lookout for investors to partner with in utilising the ASMEEF.
She stated that although the Bankers Committee as well as the Central Bank of Nigeria was still working on a framework and there was no set guideline or timeline for the utilisation of the fund yet, the committee was determined to commence the utilising the fund immediately.
“Right now we have N26 billion in the fund 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 catalyze 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.
“The economic development summit of the Bankers Committee is working with development finance, legal and supervision departments in the CBN and the five highest contributors to the fund as well as to finalise the framework, but that does not stop us from investing.
“Once customers meet the eligibility criteria we will start investing immediately. But we also want to ensure that we have the right governance around the equity fund and it is our own contribution to economic growth and prosperity in the country.”
On the economy, CBN Director, Banking Supervision, Ahmed Abdulahi, noted that with the confidence that had been built in the economy, the country was certain to record positive growth by the end of the third quarter of the year.
“Although the economy is still in the negative the size of the negative growth has reduced and it is almost obvious that by the end of the third quarter there will be positive growth.
“There are a number of indices that are pointing toward that. Inflation is trending downwards. It is about 16.25 per cent from almost 19 per cent that it was. The exchange rate has largely stabilized, we are seeing convergence at both the NAFEX and Investors and Exporters window as well as the Bureau de Change rate.
“The NAFEX window in the last six weeks over $2 billion has been registered as inflow and that has helped in stabilising the market. With other windows we have seen activities that have helped in building confidence in the market generally,” he stated.