The beginning of the financial year for Nigerian Banks has become a comparison of which bank closed with the largest balance sheet for the previous year; a simulation of which one of the tier-1 banks would outdo the others in the $1billion dollars profit pursuit, and which bank would pay the most dividends to its shareholders.
Every so often, financial analysts employ the use of important indices to decipher areas where these financial institutions need to shore up their numbers and employ their resources to align with the fiscal and monetary policies of the government. These Analysts are usually ignored. Consequently, is the poor policy implementation of the CBN and an ever-widening chasm between the fortunes of Nigerian banks and the economy in which they operate.
A major area where most analysts have faulted Nigerian banks in recent times is in lending – lending to the real sector of the economy.
The expectation and the reality
On July 3rd 2019, in a letter to all banks, the CBN through its Director of Banking Supervision announced “REGULATORY MEASURES TO IMPROVE LENDING TO THE REAL SECTOR OF THE NIGERIAN ECONOMY”. A laudable directive that was to see banks maintain a Loan to Deposit Ratio (LDR) of 60%, wherein SMEs, retail, mortgage and consumer lending would be assigned a 150% weight in the computation of this LDR, and stiff sanctions of additional CRR of 50% of the lending shortfall will be levied against unyielding banks.
This regulation fuelled the expectation of substantial gains in the real sector given the relative availability of funds. Banks jostled and made a show of dishing out these loans, but as records of CRR debits for LDR failure began to hit the news, it became apparent that most banks were still stuck in their reality of doing business in Nigeria.
The reality being that Nigerian Banks have managed to stay amongst the most profitable banks in Sub-Saharan Africa while largely ignoring the real sector. A review of the earnings of 10 top Nigerian Banks between 2009 and 2019 showed that a sizable portion of their profit growth came from non-client driven activities, even as income from core banking activities of these banks shrank from accounting for 85% of their profits in 2009 to 65% of their increasing profit in 2019.
Perhaps this goes a long way to explain the 2020 H1 profits posted by these banks amid a pandemic and looming recession.
A case of once-beaten?
In fairness, Nigerian banks already got their fingers burnt in the real sector oven once before, and the existence of AMCON is a constant reminder of this fact. The Banks’ attempts to adhere to the new regulation most likely contributed to a rise in the industry’s NPL in H1 2020 notwithstanding CBN’s best intentions with the loan restructuring freedom banks were given to protect themselves from the crippling effect of the pandemic. There doesn’t seem to be a way out for Nigerian banks.
Navigating the waters of necessity
With all the modernization around the banking process, banking at its root has remained unchanged over the centuries. It still entails receiving from areas of surplus to fix deficits. The real sector of the Nigerian economy has been in severe deficit as the nation directed its attention, and finances, to the oil sector which has been the sustenance of a potentially diverse economy like ours for far too long.
If Nigerian banks are to navigate the nation’s economy from oil before the rest of the world completes the move, then they will have to pay more attention to real sector lending in 2021. This can be done through the following:
- Understanding the necessity
Real Sector lending should no longer be viewed by banks through the lens of meeting regulatory requirements only, their importance to the Banks’ balance sheet should be understood. In the near future, it is unlikely that banks will be unable to earn as much from derivatives as uncertainty caused by the pandemic continues to cause spectacular swings in some markets coupled with a wider acceptance of crypto over fiat which may shrink some markets.
Also, further ignoring the real sector market by commercial banks inadvertently means that Fintechs and their MFBs continue to ramp up the profits in these markets, and may someday be big enough to compete favorably with the commercial banks. Mergers and acquisitions will hasten this process.
- Having an action plan
As an action plan, real sector lending (not just the creation of risk assets) should be incorporated into the KPIs of relevant members of staff. Also, the banks should actively pursue sectors of the economy where they have comparative advantage by virtue of their expertise, customer base, technological advantage and/or branch network.
- Using segmentation
Too much emphasis has been placed on “value chain” making banks feel the need to play in all aspects of a business. They practically provide funds for all aspects of the same business- from manufacturing to distributorship. Whilst an argument could be made on the need for synergy and the relative ease of monitoring value chain businesses, this type of concentration of funds puts banks at higher risk of loss when a part of the value chain defaults. However, focusing on a segment of a business could have its own benefits in limiting exposure.
- Revisiting VC, PPP and Loan syndication
Perhaps the next big business will not be a conventional textile mill nor will it be distributorship of FMCGs. Nigerian banks need to have a foothold in the businesses of the future by adopting VC models of investments and fundraising for these business ideas. Public-private partnership and Loan syndication should not also be limited to development of social amenities but to funding businesses in the real sector.
The real sector lending drive of the CBN has shown promise since inception, increasing the level of industry gross credit by N829b in its first few months between May and Sept 2019. The introduction of the GSI by the CBN from August 2020 is also a step in the right direction to protect banks from an increased default rate of personal loans.
Nonetheless, these policies will not upturn the Nigerian economy if Nigerian banks continue to treat real sector lending as an occupational hazard rather than the occupation itself.