The Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs) sector is considered the backbone of any economy as it contributes massively to employment and export growth.
A recent survey conducted by PriceWaterCoopers said SMEs accounted for 91 per cent of businesses, 60 per cent of employment and contributed 52 per cent of the total Gross Domestic Product (GDP) in South Africa.
The survey also showed that SMEs contributed 48 per cent of national GDP, accounted for 96 per cent of businesses and 84 per cent of employment in Nigeria.
Lending credence to that report, the National Bureau of Statistics said SMEs contributed about 48 per cent to Nigeria’s GDP in the last five years.
It noted that with a total of about 17.4 million, SMEs accounted for about 50 per cent of industrial jobs and nearly 90 per cent of the manufacturing sector, in terms of number of enterprises.
However, in spite of the significant contribution of SMEs to the Nigerian economy, the sector is plagued by many challenges.
The problems of the sector are compounded by a huge infrastructure deficit, which has constrained economic development and attainment of growth average rate of at least five to seven per cent required to boost productivity and sustainable growth for businesses.
According to the World Development Indicators (2019), 56.20 per cent of Nigerians have access to electricity, while electric power consumption stood at 144.52 kWh per capita as of 2018.
Equally, infrastructure deficit in Nigeria is estimated to be about 1.2 per cent of GDP; it is projected that the federal government needs to commit about 100 billion dollars annually to address the nation’s infrastructure deficit.
No less a personality than the Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), Mr Godwin Emefiele, recently acknowledged the malaise of the SMEs sector.
He was emphatic that the sector of the economy, which had also emerged as a significant source of growth, innovation and job creation was the micro, small and medium enterprises (MSMEs).
Emefiele confirmed that the sector represented an estimated 90 per cent of businesses and employs over 50 per cent of world’s labour force.
He, however, lamented that Emefiele weak and inadequate infrastructure, as well as poor flow of credit to businesses, particularly MSMEs impacted severely on economic growth, as well as human development.
“With over 42 million MSMEs in Nigeria, contributing 49.78 per cent to the nation’s GDP, 7.64 per cent of exports and employing 76.5 per cent of work force, the sector is faced with numerous challenges that continue to limit the enterprises’ potential to contribute to economic growth and development,” Emefiele said.
He explained that lack of access to quality infrastructure had been a limiting factor to MSMEs in developing countries, making it difficult for them to deliver on their potential for growth and create employment.
“Beyond infrastructure, access to finance remains one of the biggest threats to MSME development in both developed and developing economies alike, with serious implications for productivity, economic development, and job creation,” Emefiele said.
He noted that in realisation of the importance of access to finance and infrastructure to economic growth and development, the CBN had taken steps beyond its traditional macroeconomic mandates of ensuring price and financial system stability, as well as maintaining a strong external reserve.
To this end, he said, the CBN introduced several development finance policies and programmes to improve access to credit for MSMEs, deepen the bank’s support to the real sector, support job creation, and build a robust payment system infrastructure to help drive financial inclusion.
Rallying round Emefiele and the CBN, some financial institutions introduced products designed to support the growth of SMEs.
For instance, First Bank of Nigeria Ltd. inaugurated FirstSME Classic and FirstSME Deluxe, designed specifically to empower SMEs to contribute to national growth and development.
The Chief Executive Officer of FirstBank, Dr Adesola Adeduntan, said the accounts were offered to SMEs, irrespective of their industry and tailored to have the businesses gain exposure to a wide range of services and opportunities essential for their continued growth.
He said the account holders had access to temporary overdrafts and other facilities from the bank subject to meeting the risk management benchmarks for each product.
Through the accounts, the SMEs are automatically enrolled on all the digital platforms of the bank, and granted access to the bank’s SME events, extensive promotional and networking opportunities on its SMEConnect portal, and a wide range of discounted and promotional offers.
Adeduntan added that FirstBank’s SMEConnect was a digital platform through which SMEs could access the bank’s services, and that the portal was also designed to help SMEs identify various gaps that hindered their growth.
The CEO explained that the bank’s extensive research had identified seven strategic pillars considered essential for the sustainability and growth of SMEs.
According to him, the pillars are: connect to infrastructure, connect to talent, capacity building, connect to policy and regulation, connect to resources, connect to market and connect to finance.
“FirstBank is delighted to unlock several opportunities for SMEs to thrive.
“Our FirstSME account is one of the numerous opportunities designed to empower SMEs to continually drive impact as the backbone and contributors to employment and economic growth.
“We remain at the forefront of providing the desired financial products and services to fit the needs unique to the SMEs,” he said.
A FirstBank SME customer, Mr James Osoka, who manufactures shoes, said he enjoyed zero account maintenance charge; access to webinar/training, various credit facilities, workplace resources, access to SMEConnect portal and directory since the concept started in 2020.
Osoka said FirstBank, through the initiative, had helped him to grow his business by reducing cost of operating corporate account, access to loan and advisory service when necessary.
Another SME account holder, Mrs Teni Salami, said FirstBank SMEClinic had helped her to expand her business.
Salami said through the FirstBank SMEClinic, she learnt proper account keeping and management, thereby eliminating losses, and preventing her business from collapsing.
FirstBank is not alone in the rescue mission for SMEs. Fidelity Bank Plc has also unveiled plans to sustain SMEs with unique empowerment schemes in a bid to expand these businesses.
The bank said it realised that some operators were struggling for financial sustenance, which posed a major challenge to their ability to sustain their businesses.
Hence, Nneka Onyeali-Ikpe, Managing Director/Chief Executive Officer, Fidelity Bank Plc, said the bank had to inaugurate numerous initiatives to assist SMEs in scaling their businesses.
According to her, the bank designed deliberate low-interest credit facilities with flexible collateral requirements for SMEs with at least four different loan products.
The products are: Cluster-Based Quick Loans, Commercial Support Overdraft, Loans for Specialised MSME Segments, and Development Finance Loan Products, made available to MSMEs, in its bid to ease the poor-access-to-finance burden confronting them.
With the apex bank prioritising the needs of SMEs, and banks offering a plethora of products, perhaps the SMEs are finally on the path of sustainability, and eventually contribute to the nation’s economic growth. (NAN)