The banking sector has a central role to play in executing on Sierra Leone’s renewed development plan

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Sierra Leone’s Mid Term National Development Plan (MTNDP) for the period 2024-2030 places great emphasis on trade as a strategic priority, in line with the ECOWAS regional framework. This as well as agriculture, infrastructure development, education, health and tourism have been highlighted in this strategic document as some of the priorities that will drive the country’s revised New Direction development priorities for the next 5 to 7 years. This is of particular interest to me in my role as Managing Director of Access Bank Sierra Leone given the Access Bank Group’s keen focus on driving inter and intra – Africa trade as well as delivering on the economic growth prospects of the country through our role in supporting the underlying economies of the countries within which we operate, with a particular emphasis on corporates, SMEs, women and youth.

The MTNDP, amongst other topics was discussed at the recent 2024 Economic Forum that was hosted by Access Bank and attended by leaders within government as well as the private sector. During the forum, delegates heard comments from Minister of Trade and Industry, Rev. Abraham James Sesay, who spoke about the MTNDP. I found the trade angle quite apt when one considers that shortly after the forum was concluded, the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs released its March briefing on the regional economic challenges facing West Africa. The paper references the recent decisions by Mali, Niger and Burkina Faso to withdraw from the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) as evidence of the challenges facing the regional bloc, although in the same vein highlights that regional integration in West Africa remains an important economic strategy to enhance resilience, promote sustainable development, and mitigate the adverse effects of global economic volatility.

Sierra Leone, which has continued to battle high levels of inflation in recent years, forms part of a small contingent of ECOWAS member states (Cabo Verde, the Gambia, Guinea Bissau and Liberia) that collectively contribute only 1.7% of regional GDP. These countries also export the least amount of goods and services in the region (in aggregate), while having the smallest manufacturing sectors. In his delivery of the 2024 budget, Minister Sheku Ahmed Fantamadi Bangura assured all Sierra Leoneans that the government is committed to implanting policies that will reset the economy and restore macroeconomic stability, raise significant revenues, promote exports, and expand digital & physical among other priorities.

USAID notes that West Africa’s firms trade in highly localized markets and do not achieve the sufficient economies of scale required to attract broad-based investments that could accelerate growth and reduce poverty. This is due to a number of constraints including inefficient transportation and trade barriers along corridors and at borders, a heavy reliance on family and informal sources of financing, and an insufficient supply of reliable and affordable power. The banking sector, at both local and DFI level, must work hand in hand with the government in addressing some of these constraints as the country journeys towards economic restoration and deeper regional integration. We have seen several green shoots in this regard, such as the ECOWAS Bank for Investment and Development’s (EBID) commitment of over $180 million to the Republic.

At a more local level, scale is required in the banking sector in order to contribute towards the upliftment of critical sectors of the country’s economy and to tap into the broader trade opportunities offered not only regionally, but by the African Continental Free Trade Agreement (AfCFTA). The country currently has 14 commercial banks and is forecast to grow by approximately 80% by the end of next year. Our merger with Standard Chartered Bank will reduce this number to 13, while creating a combined bank that carries over a $150 million in total assets (10% of the total banking sector) and stronger capitalisation which in itself presents various commercial and national benefits.

Through this merger, Access Bank Sierra Leone and Standard Chartered Bank will play a role in Sierra Leone’s development plan by building on Standard Chartered’s deep legacy and expansive network as well as Access Bank’s focus on SME’s and making its trade finance, treasury, and corporate lending expertise available to Sierra Leone MNCs and SMEs via the enhanced distribution network.

As a merged entity, we look forward to supporting government in its efforts towards attracting and fostering investments that drive the nation’s growth and development. The success of the recently concluded forum provides a glimpse into the gains that can be achieved both locally and regionally, when private sector participants such as Access Bank actively curate a space for dialogue and mobilize the requisite resources.

Ganiyu Sanni

Managing Director, Access Bank Sierra Leone Limited

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