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Absa Bank Kenya PLC is a strong advocate of business practices that support MSMEs to address the unique cash flow challenges they face.


Elizabeth Wasunna Ochwa


Absa Bank Kenya PLC has in recent years significantly increased the level of lending and support it offers to Micro, Small and Medium-Sized Enterprises (MSMEs). This move is aligned with the bank’s strategy to accelerate the growth of its Business Banking Unit and diversify beyond Corporate and Retail Banking –two market segments where it has historically and to this day enjoyed strong market leadership, initially as Barclays Bank.

In an interview with Business Monthly EA, Elizabeth Wasunna Ochwa, the bank’s Director of Business Banking, emphasized that MSMEs are a special area of focus because they account for an overwhelming majority of enterprises in Kenya. A survey by the Central Bank of Kenya (CBK) noted that MSMEs account for 24 per cent of the country’s gross domestic product (GDP), over 90 per cent of private sector enterprises and 93 per cent of the total labour force in the economy.

“You cannot succeed in business banking in Kenya without developing a strong value proposition for MSMEs,” says the career banker. “MSMES today account for about 8 per cent of the bank’s loan book from less than 2 per cent a few years ago. Our ambition is to reach double digits,” she adds. It’s worth noting that 8 per cent of Absa’s loan book is no small figure considering that the bank’s net loans and advances to customers stood at a staggering Sh234.23 billion at the end of 2021, according to its Integrated Report for 2021.

Favorable ecosystem

“When it comes to supporting MSMEs, access to credit is just one piece of the puzzle. MSMEs face unique challenges that can only be addressed by creating a favorable ecosystem for them to thrive,” says Elizabeth.

Some of these challenges include access to markets, cash flow constraints, and access to learning opportunities. To address these shortfalls, Absa Bank Kenya PLC has partnered with various institutions such as the Kenya National Chamber of Commerce and Industry (KNCCI), the Kenya Private Sector Alliance KEPSA), and others to help MSMEs build their capacity, scale up and strengthen market linkages.

Absa Bank Kenya PLC is a strong advocate of business practices that support MSMEs to address the unique cash flow challenges they face. As an example, the bank reviewed its own procurement policies to support its MSME vendors during the early days of the Covid-19 pandemic. “At the beginning of Pandemic, we asked ourselves, how can we relieve the cash flow pressures that our MSME vendors were facing at this difficult time. We accordingly reduced our credit periods to seven days for invoices below Ksh. 1 million and 14 days for invoices of more than Ksh.1 million,” Elizabeth opines.

Absa Bank Kenya PLC has developed tailor-made solutions for women in business, cognizant of the fact that women own 33 per cent of all MSMEs in Kenya, according to a CBK survey. In 2021, the bank launched the “She Business Account” with a commitment to impact over one million women entrepreneurs in five years with this new proposition through the provision of financial and non-financial solutions designed to accelerate business growth.

The non-financial solutions include networking opportunities, coaching, and mentoring, and access to markets. “Topical areas that we’ve helped our women customers gain new knowledge and skills include cash flow management, taking your business online, mental health and work life balance,” says Elizabeth, noting that the bank is also encouraging its anchor clients to consider the women owned MSMEs when looking for vendors. “We are actively involved in business match-making. Its encouraging to see a growing number of our large corporate clients who share similar aspirations to advance gender equity awarding contracts to our women owned MSME clients,” she says.

Elizabeth notes that banks have historically shied away from MSMEs due to the perceived risks in the sector. However, Absa Bank Kenya PLC, is taking a more aggressive stance as it has successfully secured the backing of the African Guarantee Fund (AGF). The bank recently signed a Sh 1.25 billion loan portfolio guarantee facility with AGF that allows access to up to KES 100 million in a single borrower limit.

Customer service and care

Although Absa’s market share in business banking is growing, Elizabeth noted that competition in the segment is strong. “Like us, many banks are investing in technology and digital capabilities to improve the customer experience. There’s also little differentiation in terms of products, as most lenders offer the same mix of facilities such as working capital loans, business expansion loans and mortgages,” she said.

“What makes the difference for us is customer service and personalized care. We have invested and continue to invest in the latest digital technologies to make banking easier and seamless for our customers. Our teams put a lot of effort in ensuring we offer world-class customer service and personalized care,” she explains.

Elizabeth gives credit to her team for the high customer service standards Absa has set in business banking.  “As a leader, having a team that is aligned to what needs to be done is the most rewarding and fulfilling achievement. With this kind of a team, you not only achieve your business objectives; you also get to develop the skills and careers of each team member while growing your own abilities as a leader” she says.

Elizabeth has been in banking for more than 25 years, with extensive experience across different markets and geographies. “I joined banking right after university and my parents were fully supportive of this career choice. I was also passionate about the field and was fortunate to have highly capable and committed mentors and executive and life skill coaches from the very beginning,” she says.

She encourages her team to constantly learn and to reach out to mentors and coaches. She also tries to foster a work environment where everyone can communicate openly. “Listening is a key part of my management style. I try to lead by influencing rather than commanding and prefer when solutions come from my team,” she notes, with nostalgia.

Elizabeth earned her Bachelor of Science (BSc) in International Business Administration from the United States International University, Africa (USIU-A Nairobi in 1995 and an Master’s degree in Business Administration (MBA) in Marketing and Strategic Management from the same institution shortly thereafter.

She has received extensive executive training all through her illustrious banking career, with her latest one being a course in governance from the Strathmore Business School (SBS). Outside of work, Elizabeth enjoys reading, travelling, and spending time with her family. Her current read is “Daughter of Africa”, an autobiography by businesswoman and public relations guru, Gina Din.


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Dr. Hanningtone Gaya

Dr. Hanningtone Gaya

Kenya’s Dr Hanningtone Gaya, holds a PhD in Commerce in Business Management from Nelson Mandela University (NMU), is viewed as an authority in country branding and is the founder chairman of the Brand Kenya Board.

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