Saturday, September 29, 2007
1st Female MD of Barclays in Africa
LIKE most Ghanaians who have followed the success path being cut by Barclays Bank of Ghana, the Spectator has not failed to be impressed with the bank’s performance. When we looked closer, we saw a woman at the top. We were not surprised: for us it was the continuation of a trend in a world where women are taking over the presidency of their countries. When Animil Ashon, the Editor, obtained the consent of Mrs. Margaret Mwanakatwe, the Zambian Managing director of Barclays Bank Ghana, for an interview, she looked at her tight schedule and the Spectator’s own deadline. As a compromise, she asked for a questionnaire, which she graciously answered – as reproduced in the following Q & A:
“My children are in boarding school in Zambia. They are however in Ghana every school holiday. I ensure that I see them every half term. It is great when they are in Ghana. Indeed I cannot wait for the next vacation”!
Q: Once upon a time, not very long ago, one couldn’t open an account at Barclays with less than ¢500,000. Today the story is different. Even ¢40,000 is okay by you. What has happened?
A: Call it a deepening of strategy and focus. Our vision is to be leading contributor to Ghana’s future. This calls for appropriate measures to enable us to effectively play that role. Our expansion programme is one of the measures. We are expanding not only geographically but also, we are extending accessibility to our products and services. The aim is to bring a lot more Ghanaians within the remit of our banking operations so they could benefit from our products and services.
Besides, our expansion programme is also to enable us to reach out to the mass market segment which hitherto had shield away from the banks either because of the required minimum operating balance, because of the imposing nature of the very build and ambience of banks.
Consequently, operating at the micro level as become an imperative for Barclays in order to reach out to every Ghanaian living everywhere, and to be the leading contributor of Ghana’s future. We decided to look at innovation always by which we can achieve this. For us “Aba Pa”, which allows the opening of accounts and only 40,000 cedis or 4 Ghana-Cedis, is one of the means by which we think we can reach the mass market.
The increased activity you spoke about is also because the economic fundamentals of this country are not the same as it was seven years ago, inflation and interest rates have reduced appreciably. The confidence of the business community in the economy has improved. There is renewed dynamism in the economy has improved. There is renewed dynamism in the private sector, coupled with intense competition. These account for the increased activity that you see Barclays engaged in.
Q. It used to be difficult, if not impossible, to get a loan from Barclays. Today, you are chasing ordinary workers to come for loans. Why now?
A: It has a lot to do with changes in government policies and the emerging macro economic performance. It also has to do with a strong financial sector with a huge potential for growth. Time was, a few years ago, when government borrowing from the banks was very heavy, leaving very little for the private sector. Today, that is no more the case.
Additionally, about three years ago, the Bank of Ghana reduced the Minimum Capital Requirement from GH¢2 Billion to GH¢7 million. These developments left a lot of cash at the disposal of the banks. Meanwhile, the value on government bonds and treasury bills had reduced drastically, making investment in these areas prudentially to be able to provide added value for our customers.
Selling loans, overdraft, and structured funding for various commercial and even private projects constitute some of the major products that banks deal in. This explains the increased activity in the sale of loans that we are witnessing today. Additionally, the Central Bank’s Know Your Customers (KYC) policy, which enables banks to have full details of customers, have made it a bit difficult for dishonest borrows to come through for loans. Hopefully, it would help reduce the level of bad debts that the banks are saddled with year after year.
Q. What is the success rate like with your micro-banking? What do you tell the market women?
A: Tremendous! Since the inception of the Barclays Microbanking in Ghana about one-and-a-half years ago, loans totaling 10.3 billion cedis has been extended to Microbanking customers. 1,480 individuals – market women, hawkers, farmers, hairdressers, taxi drivers, and artisans among others – have benefited. The aspiration is to extend to each “Susu” collector, an average loan of 500 million cedis for on-lending to their clients. For trade associations, we ate looking at 2 billion.
Beyond that, Barclays has organized financial awareness and capacity building programmes for 6,380 individuals within our Microbanking segment. These were selected from the intermediary groups that the Barclays Microbanking Programme works through – “susu” collectors, credit, unions, microfinance institutions and church organizations.
In addition since the commencement of the Barclays microbanking lending scheme, default rate has been nil. For the first time in this country, Barclays has instituted an annual awards scheme for “Susu” collectors. This scheme recognises the hard work of “Susu” collectors over a particular period of time, and their contribution to microfinance in the country. In all these Barclays in working through the Ghana “Susu” Collectors Association, who are more than happy to have Barclays as partners.
Q. Are financial institutions safer in the hands of women that men?
A: Financial institutions are safer in the hands of any business leadership or leader, irrespective of gender, who is able to devise the appropriate strategies that respond to the demands and challengers of the day. They are safer in the hands of visionary leaders – those who are able to develop and articulate a vision that inspires and excites stakeholders, both internal and external. Indeed they are safer in the hands of leaders who ensure that issues of procedure, control, governance and all types of regulatory requirements are adhered to. Thus, the viability, sustainability, efficiency, profitability, and prospects of any financial institution, depends on competence rather than gender.
Q. What are your comments on the growth of Ghana’s economy?
A: The Ghanaian economy has experienced a steady but modest growth from 2000 until now. Real Gross Domestic Product has increased from between 2-3 per cent annually to about 6.2 per cent currently. Inflation and interest rates have declined drastically. Private inwards remittances is one of the beat in the sub-region, while gross international reserves which used to be only two weeks of import cover. The confidence of the business community in the Ghanaian economy is also very high. The outlook looks promising if government can effectively manage spending, and cushion the country against external shocks, especially from the crude oil market.
THE SPECTATOR - Saturday, September 29, 2007 Page: 21