Despite the internationally recognized importance of SMEs, African small businesses often have difficulties accessing financing for growth and innovation from the formal financial sector. SME financing is often considered by many financial sector players in Africa to be a risky activity as promoters quite more often than not, fail to come up with the collateral levels required to secure bank facilities. Enterprises (SMEs) are widely recognized as big drivers of economic growth, innovation, regional development and job creation. A strong and vibrant SME sector provides a strong foundation to increase standards of living and to reduce poverty. African Guarantee Fund is a non-bank financial institution whose objective is to promote economic development, increase employment and reduce poverty in Africa by providing financial institutions with guarantee products and capacity development assistance specifically intended to support SMEs in Africa. Jules Ngankam is Group Chief Executive Officer of African Guarantee Fund (AGF), and recently he spoke to Global Banking & Finance Review about today's business challenges in Sub Saharan Africa, and the financial implications combatting the Coronavirus pandemic. Jules has over 15 years of experience in banking and financial services with leading financial institutions. He joined African Guarantee Fund in 201 3 as the Chief Financial Officer after which he served as Deputy CEO from April 2017 and was thereafter appointed Group Chief Executive Officer in September 2020.
- What conditions led to the creation of African Guarantee Fund?
The Small and Medium Enterprise (SME) sector contributes significantly to developing African economies, but it still has a huge unexploited capacity for growth. SMEs make up approximately 80% of Africa's private sector firms, with 50% being small- scale and 30% being medium-sized. SMEs contribute over 50% of new jobs in Sub-Saharan Africa however, only approximately 20% to the GDP. This is compared to 40-60% of GDP in the EU and the US and even higher rates in growing Asian economies.
For the SME to really play their role of the engine of growth, among other barriers, access to finance remains the strongest obstacle. According to analysts the SME financing gap in the continent is estimated at USD 300 billion.
The acknowledged reticence of the banking system in financing SMEs, especially as regards to the investment needed for development for this class of businesses, is mainly explained by:
- Low Banks' long-term deposits; The inability of the SMEs to provide
- acceptable guarantees and collateral; Inadequate equity for SMEs;
- SMEs' poor quality of management.
The African Guarantee Fund for Small and Medium- sized Enterprises (AGF) was established in 201 2 to address the mismatch in the supply and demand of SME financing in Africa.
The aim of AGF is to reduce the risks assumed by the financial sector by sharing these risks through the provision of financial guarantees that mitigate the inability of SMEs to provide acceptable collateral.
AGF also offers capacity development to financial institutions to improve SMEs' financial product offerings, by helping banks to better address working capital and long-term financing needs of SMEs; and increasing Banks' capacity to appraise SMEs by providing technical assistance and strategy to further develop their business.
AGF is a truly public-private partnership involving donors, development institutions, financial institutions and private investors joining forces to support African SMEs.
- Can you tell us about the guarantees AGF offer to address the range of financing needs?
AGF offers four main types of guarantee products:
Loan Individual Guarantees
Loan Portfolio Guarantees
Bank Fund Raising Guarantees
The Loan Individual Guarantee guarantees a single loan made by a bank to a single Borrower whose identity is known. The Loan Portfolio Guarantee guarantees a portfolio of loans made by a bank to a borrower segment for which the qualifying criteria have been defined but the individual borrowers are not known at the time of the guarantee agreement. The guaranteed party is not required to get approval of AGF prior the placement of each loan under the guarantee.
The Bank Fund Raising Guarantee guarantees bonds issued by a bank to investors for the purpose of raising long-term resources to finance SMEs.
The Equity Guarantee is issued to cover equity investments in SMEs.
- What is the scope to use guarantees?
The most important criteria of AGF's guarantee is that the end beneficiary has to be an SME.
- How does African Guarantee Fund enable banks in Africa to execute their SME strategy?
In Africa, the main source of financing for SMEs is the banking sector. Despite Banks' increasing interest to provide services to SMEs, they face multiple challenges mainly due to issues of assessing and managing risks. Furthermore, the resources of banks and financial institutions are mostly short-term, and it is therefore difficult for the banking system to easily use their current excess of liquidity to finance the needs of SMEs. Finally, the inability of SMEs to provide acceptable collateral to reduce the lending risks associated to them, the inadequacy of their capital structure and sometimes the poor quality of their management increase the reluctance of the banks to fully support their activities.
AGF products assist financial institutions to scale up their SME lending activities in situation where SMEs are unable to meet collateral requirements; Improves the solvency (regulatory capital) ratios of banks and thus enables them to have a better leverage on their capital; Addresses regulatory requirements of banks' limited use of short-term resources to finance medium and long-term SME needs; Allows banks to mobilize medium and long-term resources at very competitive price.
- How is the AGF opening up financial opportunities and supporting the growth of SME customers?
The challenges SMEs face in Africa are within five key areas:
Access to finance
Access to markets
Legal environment and corruption
Amongst these challenges, the biggest one is that of accessing finance.
The SME financing gap is brought about by the following gaps:
Information gap: SMEs lack historical data to enable them to adequately assess their risks due to the fact that most of them do not practice proper book-keeping.
Tenor gap: Banks have short-term resources while the SMEs need more of long-term resources to grow.
Collateral gap: Banks have tough collateral requirements.
Product gap: Bank products are sometimes not adapted to SMEs' business cycles.
Skills gap: SMEs are unable to attract or afford required talent.
Perception gap: This is the gap between the perceived risk and the real risk.
AGF's guarantee products and capacity development assistance are designed to tackle the financing challenge by being the missing link between the lending institutions and the SMEs.
- What improvements have you brought about in the SME sector since you began operations?
Since AGF began operations, the company has delivered in:
Improving lives in Africa
AGF has supported more than 25,000 SMEs.
SMEs that benefited from AG F guarantees have generated an additional revenue of USO 4 Billion. Approximately 50% of supported SMEs are located in rural areas.
20 Million people were able to access clean energy thanks to SMEs supported by AGF guarantees.
Fostering Jobs Creation
130,000 Additional jobs created
Fighting Climate Change
Cutting 3.8 million tons of C02 equivalent Greenhouse Gas (GHG) 57,005 KW Cleaner generation capacity installed
101 Partner Financial Institutions and 291 SMEs Trained
Promoting Gender Equality
USD 522 million Loans granted to 6,000+ women-led SMEs
328 women-led SMEs Trained
Contributing to Africa's Competitiveness USO 780 million loans granted to 3,400+ SMEs in the Energy, Infrastructure and Manufacturing Sectors
Contributing towards Food Security
USD 188 million loans granted to 2, 100+ SMEs in the Agriculture Sector.
Partnering for Poverty Reduction
USD 2.5 billion private capital made available in 40 Countries
- What are your plans to increase financing to agricultural and renewable energy SMEs in Africa?
In 2015, AGF with support from the Nordic Development Fund, launched the Green Guarantee Facility (GGF) to ease access to finance for SMEs to invest in climate and green growth-oriented economy.
The Green Guarantee Facility brings direct benefits in terms of climate change mitigation and adaptation as well as sustainable employment, poverty reduction, and gender- inclusive financing opportunities.
From the banking sector point of view, green finance is a new sector, of which SME lenders are not very familiar. Besides, SMEs are also not well versed with knowledge and skills to design and manage climate-friendly projects, let alone access to green funding. There exists significant knowledge and capacity gaps in green finance, which the GGF technical assistance addresses.
To-date, AGF in partnership with the Nordic Development Fund and the International Trade Centre has hosted five Green Finance Conferences and subsequent trainings in Zambia, Kenya,
Ghana, Cote d'Ivoire and Senegal.
- In November, Fitch Rating confirmed the African Guarantee Fund for Small and Medium- sized Enterprises Ltd's (AGF) Insurer Financial Strength (IFS) Rating at 'AA-" (Very Strong), what does this rating mean for the company?
The biggest asset of a guarantee fund is its credibility. The main criteria defining AGF's credibility is its rating. The rating brings a very strong comfort to our partner financial institutions when assessing AGF's capacity to assist them in improving their profitability, liquidity and solvency in order to meet the expectations of their shareholders and the requirements of the regulators.
AGF's rating brings huge benefits to our partner financial institutions:
It provides a higher capital relief to banks as it reduces the required amount of loan provisions.
Allows banks to raise capital at a better cost;
Increases the asset quality of banks' loan portfolio.
Improves the banks' Risk Weighted Assets (RWA)
- Has AGF had to adapt operations as a result of COVID-19? What are some ways AGF is responding and assisting businesses and individuals during this critical time?
COVID-19 pandemic continues to affect African SMEs and has deteriorated their creditworthiness.
As a consequence, the reluctance of financial institutions to finance SMEs has increased.
It is crucial to provide external stimulus to financial institutions so that they can continue to support SMEs in this unprecedented crisis.
AGF launched a COVID- 19 product that aims to:
Reduce the uncertainties faced by financial institutions in Africa as a result of the global coronavirus pandemic.
Provide more comfort to financial institutions to restructure facilities that become non- performing because of COVID-19.
Provide commercial stimulus to the financial sector with the objective of mitigating the deterioration of SMEs ' perceived risk.
Provide technical assistance to financial institutions to enhance their risk assessment approaches to better analyze the impact of the pandemic and reduce the SMEs' risk perception gap.
- In your opinion, what role should financial institutions take to support the social economic development in Africa?
Financial institutions need to increase their support to SMEs by increasing SME lending and designing products that are better adapted to SMEs' needs.
- Are you launching any new products and where do you see AGF in 5 years?
We are constantly improving our product offering to better serve SMEs and achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Our new products mostly follow a thematic approach to close financing gaps in climate finance, women finance, agribusiness, etc.
In 5 years, we see AGF covering all countries in Africa, dealing with most of African banks and managing a guarantee portfolio of USO 5 billion.