Given the immense wealth potentials inherent in the nation’s Small and Medium Enterprise (SME) space, Nnamdi Okonkwo, Chief Executive Officer/Managing Director, Fidelity Bank Plc, has said that the fledgling sector, if properly positioned, can play critical roles in diversifying Nigeria’s monolithic economy.

Okonkwo who made this remark at the maiden edition of the South-East Regional SME Conference in Enugu, said the Bank’s renewed focus on the segment was driven by the increasing role of SMEs in the transformation of economies. “This conference could not have come at a better time than now when the South East/Nigeria is repositioning herself to contain the current economic hamstring occasioned by the precipitous drop in global oil price”, adding that “the free fall in global oil prices has constrained the resources available to the new administration”.

While noting that the theme of the conference, ‘Positioning SMEs for Growth in the South East Region’, was apt and at the heart of the Bank’s commitment to building entrepreneurs in the region, Okonkwo pointedly said that the conference seeks to build the capacities of SMEs operating in the South-East region of the country, as well as provide a veritable platform for them to network amongst themselves. He explained that the bank has realigned its resources and processes to assist SMEs raise their level of competitiveness in a highly volatile environment.

In his words: “we created a dedicated SME Banking Division (Fidelity Managed SMEs) which focuses on providing solutions to the challenges faced by SMEs through a multifaceted approach.” He told the over 100 upcoming businesses in the South East that through its robust business advisory service, Fidelity Bank practically handholds and guides entrepreneurs in their quest to build sustainable businesses.

He proffered fresh remedies to the financing constraints hindering the growth of SMEs in Nigeria, advising more financial institutions to deliver low cost banking transactions to small businesses. This move, Okonkwo explained, would enable small businesses build up relevant activities/transaction history to put them in pole position to access requisite funds from formal lenders.

Alluding to the need for fund providers to reduce the risk associated with SME financing by offering customised product paper loans, Okonkwo said: “We have developed cluster lending programmes that identify market peculiarities. Some of these programmes include: Fidelity Aba Leather Cluster Credit Product Paper, Obosi Industrial Cluster Credit Product, Credit Product for Medical Doctors and pharmacists, Fidelity Commercial Support Short Term Loans, etc”.

Speaking in the same vein, Executive Director, South, Fidelity Bank Plc, Aku Odinkemelu, said the provision of professional services (Accounting, HR, Inventory Mgt.) support to SMEs at discounted prices will help SMEs overcome some of the funding barriers.
“We have developed a partnership with Sage to develop FSBA+, a product that integrates Sage One Accounting Software to the FSBA to enhance recording for our SMEs”, she told attendees. Odinkemelu said the bank plans to launch an online marketplace to enable small businesses take advantage of the myriad of opportunities which the internet affords. “GreenMall is an online marketplace with fully integrated electronic commerce capabilities (i.e. online payment engine, delivery logistics, advertising boards, business networking opportunities, etc.) for small businesses”, she further added. Based on its unique SME banking model, the Executive Director stated that the bank has earned the recognition of policy makers, opinion leaders as well as its peers in the country’s financial services industry.

Earlier, Governor of Enugu State, His Excellency, Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi had commended Fidelity Bank Plc for staging the regional SME conference for entrepreneurs in the South-East in Enugu State. Ugwuanyi disclosed that his administration had already secured N280 billion MSME fund from the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), which has been disbursed to over 1,600 eligible MSME to expand their enterprises. He noted that the government has channelled significant resources into the MSME sector through the SME Centre in the state. Ugwuanyi who was represented at the occasion by the Commissioner for Commerce and Industry, Sam Ogbu-Nwobodo, also disclosed that his administration, in strategic partnership with the Bank of Industry (BOI), had waived all interests on its contributions to the fund.