Sebastian Ashong-Katai, Managing Director, Ecobank Sierra Leone Ltd, is a seasoned banker imbued with sterling leadership acumen. In this interview, he speaks on how the bank has been contributing to Sierra Leone’s economic development. Excerpts:

How do you see the role of Ecobank in the economic development of Sierra Leone?

Our role emanates from our Purpose, Mission, and Vision.  Ecobank started as an idea of setting up a bank for the wider business community across West Africa and then the whole of Africa. The Ecobank Group’s founders envisioned an African bank for Africans. Ecobank’s dual goals are to establish a modern pan-African bank while also thriving and contributing to the continent’s economic development and financial integration.

The bank started operations in Sierra Leone in 2006 and currently has a net capital of $22.3 million. The bank employs over 500 staff with diverse skills and serving over 170,000 customers across Consumer, Commercial and Corporate banking segments.

The African Development Bank predicts Sierra Leone’s growth of 3.8% in 2023-2025, primarily driven by mining, agriculture, manufacturing, construction, and tourism sectors. These are areas Ecobank has been supporting over the years through LCs, Trade Financing, Contract and Inventory Financing as well as Personal and Asset Financing for staff of these companies.

How is Ecobank supporting financial inclusion in Sierra Leone?

Financial inclusion has been one of the core mandates of Ecobank Group. Our microfinance products and services are unique platforms for promoting financial inclusion and extending financial services to the unbanked and under-banked.

Our Consumer Banking Business provides affordable, innovative products to low-income individuals and micro businesses. Our Mobile Banking services via app and USSD enable remote rural customers, particularly those with poor network subscriptions, to access their banking system through their mobile phones for instant KYC-lite account opening

We have introduced Xpress Points as our Agency Banking Solution allowing us to take banking closer to communities. Customers are able to do basic banking such as open lite KYC accounts, purchase airtime, pay bills, access remittance services, cash in and cash out at our over 150 XpressPoints across the country.

Our SME Business is helping to boost the trend towards ensuring that women are better educated and consequently more forthcoming when it comes to business requirements. We launched an initiative called Ellevate, aimed at businesses that are owned by women, managed by women, or selling products useful to women. This is to enable them to expand via capacity-building, mentoring and credit facilitation.

The bank designed the Junior Saver Account as well as the Youth Account aimed at ensuring that children and the youths are introduced to financial services and literacy programmes in their prime to support financial inclusion.

What are the areas of financing that Ecobank has undertaken in Sierra Leone in the past and the areas of focus in the coming years?

We continue to see great opportunities for Africa and for Sierra Leone amidst the general challenges. Ecobank has positioned itself to support the opportunities as well as provide solutions to address the challenges. Over the years, Ecobank has supported the Public Sector, especially governmental institutions in providing Cash Management solutions to help in effectively managing collections. The bank developed specialized solutions to support the management of COVID-19 tests fees collections during the pandemic, fees at the airport, utility bills collections etc.

Local Corporates and Regional Corporates have had support in the areas of bridge financing, trade financing, asset financing, import and export financing.

The SME sector has been supported in the areas of Inventory, Contract, Working Capital, Asset Guarantee and LC Financing which is helping to boost growth of the private sector. Facilitating payments via digital solutions for corporate bodies, SMEs and individuals has been a key ambition of Ecobank to support the digitization of the economy. Award winning platforms such as Omni plus, Omnilite, Ecobank Online and the mobile app have been introduced to support payment needs of various customer categories.

To achieve food self-sufficiency in Africa and in Sierra Leone, we will empower farmers and SMEs to improve their value chain. The manufacturing sector associated with agriculture and fisheries will therefore be a key focus to provide the ripple effect of generating jobs.

Tourism is a key sector we will support with financing to boost the industry. Special attention will be given to Trade Financing and services to support the development of the economy leveraging on the African Continental Free Trade Agreement (AfCFTA) that projects a forecast of Intra-Africa Trade growth of 25% by 2035.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

%d bloggers like this: