Over a hundred years since banks came into Nigeria, services rendered to small and medium scale businesses were limited to core banking services and transactions. However, those that cared to look further were able to stand the test of time, reinventing themselves with cutting edge financial services that remain key to sustaining its relevance to not just its host communities but the global community. Based on findings from extensive engagements with customers, internal and external surveys and reports by SMEDAN, Efina and NBS, First Bank of Nigeria Limited has been deliberate in ensuring that SMEs thrive and grow their businesses as SMEs can access and enjoy the convenience of its industry-leading financial services. FirstBank thus launched the SMEConnect portal to congregate value-adding propositions & services for SMEs on a single platform for easy access. The value propositions and services on the SMEConnect portal educate and equip SMEs to combat challenges like poor business structure, lack of infrastructure, low market penetration, limited access to information and professional services, inconsistent government policies and others that might stifle their growth. For example, lack of capacity is one of the most indicted reasons for business failure or stunted growth in business. The SMEconnect portal connects business owners to resources and information to educate them on structuring and better managing their businesses. The platform houses webinars on various important topics to help educate SMEs and build the required capacity. The blog section of the portal has interesting and informative content like: Tips for Building and maintaining good customer relationships; Remaining in business after Covid-19; How to scale up; How to successfully separate a financial business account from a personal business account; as well as Creating a Micropension scheme for MSMEs etc. FirstBank also runs varying degrees of entrepreneurship programs and activities through pieces of training, workshops, seminars, business clinics and webinars, and the events are displayed on the portal for business owners to access. It is known that over 60% of businesses fail in their first year, not only because of capacity constraints, access to finance is another reason they fail. The SMEConnect portal connects businesses to resources and finances by providing information on the various finance options available to registered users. There is a section of the portal that breaks down the steps to accessing finance for businesses, to simple actions such as opening either savings or domiciliary accounts After all, what would be the essence of all the education and capacity building if the business owner is still unable to access finances and other resources. SMEs that have an account with FirstBank can access direct and indirect funding throughout the business life cycle via grants, debt/loans, and equity. In addition to other benefits, the platform connects SMEs to Market, Resources, Infrastructure, Talent for business development, Policy and Advocacy, giving them all they need to move to the next stage of their business growth. The portal also integrates SMEs into large distribution networks by connecting them to customers, distributor channels, suppliers, and large corporates. There are also productivity tools such as the Business Diagnostic tool that helps check the health of a business as well a pool of professionals like accountants, lawyers, digital marketers, consultants and business coaches, which SMEs can tap into. Some of these value-adding solutions are free, and for the few that are not, they come at substantially discounted rates. As the premier Bank in West Africa, First Bank has exceeded the expectation of what its services to individuals and businesses ought to be. The SMEConnect portal is one of First Bank’s initiatives to promote the sustainability of SMEs by exposing them to the knowledge and resources they need to grow their business. One of the most exciting features businesses get on the SMEConnect portal is the Business Diagnostic Tool earlier mentioned, it is a 15-minute survey where SMEs are asked questions about their business and at the end, get a customised report for their business. This is ordinarily, a service that business owners pay consultants to get, but First Bank has made it available for free even to businesses that do not have an account with them. There are special offers for SMEs that are registered and have an account with First Bank, and an opportunity to be listed on the portal. You can find businesses listed across different industries like education/training, manufacturing, trade, agriculture, hospitality, transportation/logistics, telecommunications, ICT, healthcare and fitness, sports, FMCG, financial services, media/entertainment, food, real estate, engineering/construction, oil & gas, fashion/beauty, and services. These registered businesses get to showcase their products/services for free, interact with customers and other SMEs, have an opportunity to attend free monthly capacity building workshops, seminars and webinars; and get exclusive discounts on business development resources such as booking a business coach. As more businesses sign up and use the SMEConnect portal, it is possible to see a future where Nigerian businesses break even, thrive, and grow amidst challenges.
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