Many stakeholders and experts have expressed their concerns over the Federal Government’s (FG) plan to enforce a 5% Value Added Tax (VAT) on all online transactions. Many of these industry stakeholders opined that the move would constitute a threat to businesses that operate in the country, particularly those in the e-commerce industry.
Recall that the Chairman of the Federal Inland Revenue Service (FIRS), Tunde Fowler, revealed that the Federal Government would by 2020 commence the VAT charges as part of plans to raise more revenue to fund the country’s budget.
What this means: If the proposed directive is implemented, payment providers, credit cards and other electronic payment schemes will hold back 5% VAT on any transaction between a consumer and an online seller. This is where e-commerce comes into play.
Rise of e-Commerce: It is common knowledge that Nigeria is fast growing in terms of cashless, digital payment, and electronic banking system services.
- With ATM transactions dominating the volume of electronic transactions and the Nigerian Inter-Bank Settlement System Instant Payment dominating in value, the demand of electronic transactions has attracted payment investors from Europe and Asia, who are investing in the country’s payment systems.
- Nairametrics understands that the e-commerce industry is one that has quietly grown into a significant economic force in Nigeria, as some business ventures rely solely on their digital operations.
- In view of increasing digital purchases in the country, American consulting firm, McKinsey estimated that e-commerce spending in Nigeria is presently at $12 billion and projected to reach $75 billion in volume per annum by 2025.
Looming threat: Should the 5% VAT charges on all online transactions are effected next year, the growth of the country’s FinTech industry will slow down. Presently, Nigerians are gradually responding to FinTech initiatives, and despite all the campaigns, quite a number of people are still not financially included.
- Just recently, the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) raised Nigeria’s financial inclusion target to 95% from 80% set in 2012 and extended the target year to 2024 from 2020.
- Earlier in the year, the CBN had expressed optimism that the 80% financial inclusion target will be reached by 2020.
- With one year to the 2020 target and recent data from Enhancing Financial Innovative and Access (EFInA) indicating that 36.8% eligible Nigerian adults still do not have access to financial services as of 2018, the likelihood of achieving the 80% financial inclusion target by 2020 became slimmer and necessitated the review.
- While FinTechs are filling the gap between the consumers and e-commerce businesses, they (FinTechs) will experience a significant threat, as consumers would rather opt for the traditional method of making a payment, which may not necessarily incur the 5% VAT on their purchase.
On the other hand, the e-commerce businesses would opt for putting in place infrastructure that would enable non-digital payments to sustain the growth of their customer base.
Bad criticism: The Federal Government’s disclosed plan to introduce 5% VAT on online transactions has attracted criticism from Nigerians and industry stakeholders. Nairametrics engaged some tax experts to get their opinions.
- Omotolani Ashiru, Lead, Internal Audit, Compliance and Tax at UPS, stated that while this will be a good development for the government as revenue would increase, it is not a good time for Nigerians.
- Ashiru said necessary infrastructure, sensitization and other necessary requirements are not yet available in Nigeria.
- She also added that in the case of the VAT charges on an online purchase, there will be issues of multiple taxation as some e-commerce platforms like Jumia are already charging VAT on their sales since there are no mechanisms in place for the banks to separate VAT inclusive services and products from non-vatable transactions.
- The tax expert further stated that the online purchase tax proposal appears at odds with Nigeria’s long-held ambitions for a cashless economy, given the possible effect of dissuading online purchases.
She maintained that if launched, it also adds to a growing number of existing charges which Nigerian bank cardholders already pay, including the card maintenance fee.
What lies ahead: When asked on the future of e-commerce, should VAT be charged on digital transactions, Ashiru said that the entire industry will experience a decline in sales as consumers would find alternative means of purchase.
- This, according to her, will also lead to a decline in the use of cards online. Ashiru said there’s no other way to look at the proposed policy than to see it as a card payment killer.
- Ashiru, however, expressed that what the FIRS should instead focus on is tracking and ensuring the remittance of VAT already being charged by online merchants.
- While the Head of tax and OTC, Expand Global Industries Limited, Ikenna Amanze, isn’t sure about the government’s intention to introduce the 5% VAT charges on online transactions, the former tax consultant to KPMG, opined that the move will cripple e-commerce businesses in the country.
Similar to Ashiru’s point of view, Amanze stressed that consumers would rather not purchase goods online, which poses a significant drop in sales or would rather opt for the traditional model of paying for anything they want to purchase, which renders the Federal Government’s commitment to financial inclusion useless.
Amanze also stated that should the VAT charges be effected, double VAT charges on consumers are certain, as most e-commerce companies at present charge you for VAT. According to Amanze, consumers would rather transact with cash to avoid the VAT charges.
“The VAT charges will affect e-commerce. I believe a number of people will rather want to make cash payment and this means that the eCommerce guys will have a lot to deal with, like the risk of theft. Essentially, this will aggravate the cost profiles of these guys. Because what it means is that they will develop infrastructure to be able to handle cash and I’m not sure they will want to do that since there is already a cost to handling the cash. They would not want the third merchants to handle their cash as I don’t think there is any infrastructure for that yet.”
[READ FURTHER: 5 things Buhari’s new Finance Minister must do within 100 days]
The upshot: While the Federal Government’s decision to expand its tax net for the sake of revenue increment, as against increasing the VAT rate to 10% is laudable, it is pertinent to note that the move doesn’t make any economic sense at present.
As Ashiru stated, going by a recent report by the United Nations (UN), 98 million Nigerians are now living in multidimensional poverty. Normally, in this regard, the government’s focus should be on putting in economic policies to drive and boost local trade and income, as against putting more tax burden on already poor citizens.
Ecobank: Pan African challenges weigh in on the company’s results
The group, through its Nigerian subsidiary, continued to take a hit resulting from its 2011 acquisition of Oceanic Bank.
ETI recently published its audited consolidated financial statements for the year ended 31 December, 2020.
Year-on-Year, revenues were up 4 percent to USD1,679.8 million while operating profits before impairment losses were also up 14 percent to USD625.7 million. Net interest income also increased by 21 percent on the back of a 27 percent decrease in interest expense, while customer deposits increased by 13 percent to USD18.3 billion.
However, apart from these, not so much else was great about the results. For example, profit before tax and goodwill impairment was down 17 percent to USD337.88 million, while profit for the year was down 68 percent year-on-year to USD88.32 million.
ETI faced several headwinds during the year that ultimately contributed to the performance. The group, through its Nigerian subsidiary, continued to take a hit resulting from its 2011 acquisition of Oceanic Bank. The effect on the profit after tax in 2020 was a USD163.56 million impairment charge in FY 2020.
In addition, a USD61million monetary loss was charged to the group’s profit resulting from the hyperinflationary economies of Zimbabwe and South Sudan where it operates. According to the Zimbabwe National Statistics Agency, Zimbabwe’s annual inflation eased to 348.59 percent in December 2020, compared with 401.66 percent in the previous month. To put this in perspective, South Sudan’s inflation rate on the other hand was estimated at approximately 58 percent at the end of 2020.
Perhaps further exacerbating the not-so-good results, the group effectively incurred a significant tax rate of 52.25 percent in 2020 compared to 33.3 percent for the same period by December 2019. A combination of these events caused a year-on-year decline in profit after tax by 57 percent, to USD174.32 million at the end of 2020 (2019: USD405.8 million).
The tough operating environment brought about by the global pandemic also impacted the results. While loan and advances and impairment charges were relatively flat in 2020, a significant portion of its loan book received regulatory forbearance, which meant that customer repayments of loan principals were deferred by up to 12 months.
Also, the group’s NPL ratio remained higher than the regulatory NPL limit while Ecobank Nigeria’s NPL was higher than the Group’s NPL ratio. The write-offs arising due to goodwill impairment in Ecobank Nigeria as well as hyperinflation in Ecobank operations in Zimbabwe and South Sudan affected the group’s regulatory capital ratios.
Although the group remained compliant with the minimum regulatory capital adequacy ratio requirements, its Tier 1 Capital Adequacy Ratio declined from 8.8 percent FY2019 to 8.5 percent FY2020 while Total Capital Adequacy Ratio also declined from 11.6 percent FY2019 to 11.5 percent FY2020. The minimum capital requirements were 7.25 percent Tier 1 and 9.5 percent, Total Capital, respectively.
In January 2021, Ecobank Nigeria raised N50 billion in subordinated debt from Development Bank of Nigeria with a 10-year tenor at 6.5 percent. It also in February 2021 raised USD 300 million in form of a 5-year, fixed-rate, US dollar-denominated bond. These amounts will improve the Nigerian subsidiary’s capital adequacy ratio.
ETI groups its African operations into four geographical regions. The reportable operating segments are Nigeria, Francophone West Africa (UEMOA), Anglophone West Africa (AWA), and Central, Eastern and Southern Africa (CESA). Unlike other Nigerian Deposit Money Banks with International presence that outperform their African and international subsidiaries, the reverse appears to be the case with Ecobank Nigeria within ETI. Among the four geographical regions, Ecobank Nigeria contributed the least to the operating income, operating profit, as well as profit before tax in FY2019 and FY2020. Reported RoE were also 26.9 percent, 18.6 percent, 16.1 percent and 4.2 percent in the AWA, UEMOA, CESA and Nigeria regions in 2020 (against 30.1 percent, 22.8 percent, 23.6 percent and 0.4 percent in 2019 respectively).
ETI’s overall performance depends on whether the results are reviewed from a Naira or Dollar perspective as some of the results were better in Naira than when reported in Dollars. The group lost about USD8.6 million as a result of exchange differences on foreign currency translation of foreign operations. ETI perhaps also seems to be affected by the poor performance of some of its acquisitions as well as its operations in some African countries where it has its presence.
Its earnings per share as of December 31, 2020 was 0.010 (cents) as against 0.778 (cents) for the same period in 2019.
Analysis: Sterling Bank, foreign exchange to the rescue
The bank’s foreign exchange trading income includes gains and losses from spot and forward contracts and other currency derivatives.
Sterling Bank Plc recently published its audited Annual Report, and Financial Statements for the year ended 31 December 2020. While the results indicated an underperformance based on expectations and compared to the prior year, the outcome was not totally unexpected given that the bank faced severe headwinds from the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. Indeed, while commenting on the results, the bank’s Chief Executive Officer (CEO), Abubakar Suleiman, had explained that 2020 was an extraordinary year, defined by the global pandemic, which disrupted the society and severely impacted economic activities.
Gross earnings fell by 7.5 percent to N138. 9 billion (compared to N150.2 billion in 2019). The bank’s Interest income also dropped by almost 12.5 percent from N127.29 billion in 2019 to N111.45 billion in 2020. This drop is mostly attributable to a drop in interest income from loans and advances to customers, which dropped to N82.88 billion in 2020 compared to N97.89 billion for the same period in 2019. The bank’s net fees, and commission also reduced to N13.1 billion in 2021 compared to N14.61 in 2020 as Other fees and commission (mostly advisory fees) fell to N2.9 billion in 2020 (2019: N5.9 billion) while the bank’s e-business commission and fees reduced to N4.98 billion (2019: N6.79).
The bank reported that total non-performing loans (NPL) as a percentage of gross loans improved from 2.2 percent in 2019 to 1.9 percent in 2020. While this appears to be good, a closer look at the bank’s loan portfolio shows a somewhat different picture. First, loans and advances to corporate entities reduced in 2020 (corporate entities N570.88 billion and individuals N42.48 billion) compared to 2019 (corporate entities: N582.94 and individuals N48.76 billion), yet impairment allowance on loans to corporate entities and individuals increased in 2020 (N14.11 billion and N2.42 billion respectively) compared to 2019 (N11.12 billion and N1.85 billion respectively). Secondly, the bank’s credit loss expense (made up of impairment on loans and write-offs) also increased by 36 percent to N7.91 billion from N5.84 billion in 2019, thus raising the bank’s cost of risk by 10 basis points to 1 percent.
Also, during the year, the bank sold off N19.5 billion of its loans and advances portfolio to Cambridge Springs Investment Limited, hence further explaining the significant drop in its total loans and advances portfolio from N618 billion at the end of 2019 to N596 billion by the end of 2020. It is worth noting that as at the end of 2020, the bank was yet to receive consideration for the loans and advances sold to Cambridge Springs Investments Limited worth N19.5 billion as this amount appears as a receivable in the bank’s financial statement (other assets) and explains why its accounts receivable increased from N18.62 billion as at end of 2019 to N39.33 billion by the end of 2020.
Although well within regulatory limits of 30 percent, the bank’s liquidity ratio deteriorated from 39.2 percent at the end of 2019 to 33.87 percent by the end of 2020. The reduction in its total loans and advances portfolio while the total deposit liability improved explains the reduction in the loan-to-deposit ratio of 62.36 percent (2019: 65.29 percent).
It was not all bad news as the bank did very well in several areas. First, as already implied, total deposits increased by 7.5 percent to N972.12 billion at the end of 2020 compared to N892.66 billion at the end of 2019. You will also recall that the Central Bank of Nigeria directed in 2020 to all banks to reduce interest rate payable on savings deposits from a previous minimum of 30 percent of MPR to a new minimum of 10 percent of MPR, effectively reducing interest rates payable on savings account deposits from 3.75 percent to 1.25 percent per annum. During the year, it appeared that one of Sterling Bank’s strategy was to significantly reduce its interest expense, as its interest expense improved by 21.3 percent from N62.59 billion in 2019 to N49. 31 billion at the end of 2020 driven by a 39.5 percent year-on-year growth in low-cost customer deposits.
Note that the bank also increased its savings account portion of total deposit liability from 13.55 percent as at the end of 2019 to 20.5 percent by the end of 2020. The bank also significantly increased the ratio of Current and Savings Account to Total Deposit to 78.95 percent compared to 62 percent in 2019. Compared to term or fixed deposits, savings and current accounts offer the least interest to depositors. This positively and significantly impacted the bank’s cost of funds and ensured that the cost-to-income ratio declined year-on-year to 77.4 percent.
The bank did extremely well in its trading activities as its net trading income more than doubled to N11.72 billion (2019: N5.06 billion). This performance is attributable to a more than doubling of income from trading in bonds (2020: N5.07 billion; 2019: N2.53) and income foreign exchange trading (2020: N 3 billion; 2019: N415 million). Note that the bank’s foreign exchange trading income includes gains and losses from spot and forward contracts and other currency derivatives. Despite the pandemic and the other parameters earlier described, the bank was able to post N11.24 billion profit after income tax for financial year 2020 compared to N10.6 billion recorded in 2019 a 6 percent growth in profit after taxes.
There was also a significant increase in the bank’s effective tax rate or Income tax expense from less than 1 percent at the end of 2019 to over 9 percent by the end of 2020. This increase impacted its Profit after income tax which would have been much higher than the N11.24 billion reported if the same effective tax rate of 2019 had been maintained for 2020.
Nairametrics | Company Earnings
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