Boosting the private sector

DRC/Kenya/Rwanda: Equity Bank’s $6bn ‘Marshall Plan’ for SMEs

By Aurélie M’Bida

Posted on March 14, 2022 09:45

Firefox_Screenshot_2022-03-10T14-30-59.389Z View of an Equity Bank branch. © Edward Echwalu for Jeune Afrique
View of an Equity Bank branch. © Edward Echwalu for Jeune Afrique

Equity Bank, which is East Africa’s largest banking group and led by James Mwangi, is planning extensive assistance to boost the private sector in its six countries of operation.

Through its Regional Private Sector Economic Recovery and Resilience Stimulus Plan, Equity Group intends to support SMEs in East and Central Africa’s agriculture, manufacturing and logistics, trade and investment, social and environmental sectors over the next five years.

The package is substantial: 678bn shillings ($6bn or €5.5bn), which was equivalent to almost 70% of Equity’s total balance sheet in 2020. The group led by Kenya’s James Mwangi had a total balance sheet of about $9bn, according to the latest figures published on 31 December 2020.

“Supporting the continent’s industrialisation”

Equity Group’s CEO explained this “ambitious plan to advance the African continent” more than a year ago, when the financial group obtained the support of a dozen financial partners.

“This recovery and resilience plan is a kind of Marshall Plan, in which we commit $6bn to support the continent’s industrialisation by helping SMEs and creating 50 million direct and indirect jobs in our countries of operation over five years,” Mwangi told The Africa Report. The bank holding company has subsidiaries in Kenya, Uganda, South Sudan, Tanzania, Rwanda and the DRC – as well as a representative office in Ethiopia, Addis Ababa.

On a practical level, Equity explained in a statement released on 7 March that the loans will be disbursed at an interest rate ranging from 13% to 18.5%. The bank wants to help businesses thrive and recover from the health, social, humanitarian and economic effects of the Covid-19 pandemic. The $6bn facility targets “five million businesses and 25 million individual borrowers.” It will focus in particular on youth and women.

International support

To implement this plan and support the economies in which it operates, the leading East African bank is relying on two pillars: a strong liquidity position and the support of several international financing institutions.

Since the beginning of the health crisis – like many of its competitors’ banking groups supported by central bank support measures – Equity Group has seen its liquidity level increase significantly. As of 31 December 2020, its liquidity ratio stood at 59.3% compared to 52.1% a year earlier, which gives the bank greater capacity to act towards its clients, particularly borrowers.

The Kenyan bank has also secured the support and participation of the International Finance Corporation (part of the World Bank), the African Development Bank (AfDB), the European Development Banks (Team Europe), the Commonwealth Secretariat, the Secretariat of the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA), and the European Union to underwrite its recovery plan. Equity is also being assisted by the national governments of the six countries in which it operates.

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