The New Times (Kigali)

22 July 2014

Rwanda: Equity Bank Looks to Scale Up SME Lending

Kenyan-based Equity Bank Group will significantly increase its funding to small-and-medium enterprises, real estate and manufacturing sectors in the near future, James Mwangi, the group managing director, has said.

Speaking to journalists after a meeting with President Paul Kagame at the Village Urugwiro yesterday, Mwangi said during the meeting, the three sectors were identified as quick wins since they would help create many jobs and wealth.

He said the sectors were instrumental in the achievement of the country's second economic development and poverty reduction strategy, best known as the EDPRS II.

He said the bank, having made considerable gains in the Rwandan market over the last three years, was looking to tapping into its huge Group balance sheet to lend up to $150 million (Rwf105 billion) to individual projects to help boost the country's development agenda.

Mwangi was leading a 20-member delegation and their meeting with Kagame was aimed at updating the President on the progress the bank has made since its entry into the Rwandan market in 2011 and its future prospects, he said.

"We also wanted to seek his guidance and inspiration on the areas of focus that he would like the bank to support. We agreed to support SMEs, real estate and manufacturing sectors," he added.

Mwangi said their support for small-and-medium businesses (SMEs) aimed at creating jobs, as well as reduce imports by producing goods locally and having the beneficiary firms list on the Rwanda Stock Exchange (RSE) in the next three to five years to spread wealth.

Equity Bank is among the top five banks in Africa by return on capital and return on assets, according to The Banker's Top 1,000 World Banks' ranking released this week. Return on assets is determined by dividing the net income by total average assets while return on capital divides income by invested capital.

Both are commonly used measures of profitability. Equity leads both lists with 6.8 per cent in return on assets and 54.7 per cent in return on capital.

Regarding increasing Equity Bank Rwanda's capital base, the banker said they would double it to facilitate lending to the private sector.

President Kagame commended the bank's contribution to national development, urging them to continue facilitating businesses to further boost growth.

Over 350,000 people currently have an account with the Equity Bank Rwanda, up from 30,000 clients at the end of 2011.

Mwangi attributed the improved performance to use of information technologies in banking and the agency banking model, which he said enables them to reach the unbanked masses in rural areas. "Presently we have 700 banking agents countrywide who do about 10,000 transactions per day."

He said their main objective was to grow their volumes in lending rather than increase their profit margins. "You don't need to retain huge margins to retain the same amounts of profit. You just need to increase the volumes."

The banker said they will also work closely with the government to ensure that the micro-economic environment supports and sustains low interest rates on credit.

Finance minister Amb. Claver Gatete urged the bank to tap into opportunities presented by ICT to ensure more money is retained in the banking system so as to lend to the private sector at lower interest rates.

Meanwhile, Equity Bank says it will cross list on the local bourse next year, bringing the number of Kenyan cross-listed firms to four. There are two local companies listed on the Rwanda Stock Exchange, namely, Bank of Kigali and Bralirwa, a brewer. Nairobi Stock Exchange-listed Nation Media Group, Uchumi and KCB are the Kenyan firms cross-listed on the local exchange.

"We have seen the need to cross-list on the RSE because we have been very successful here. We want to give Rwandans the opportunity to be co-owners of the bank. We are planning this for the first quarter of next year," Mwangi said.

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