The Bank had entered history books earlier in the year as the first Nigerian institution since the early 1990s to venture into the international capital markets and raise funds via a US$350 million Regulation S Eurobond issue.
GTB commenced its operations in Sierra Leone in January 2002. Since then, its recognition as an international brand has been reaffirmed by various international awards.
Most recently GTB was recognized as the Best Digital Bank in Sierra Leone by The European which is a bi-monthly business publication, published by Chase Publishing in London. The Chief Executive Officer; Gbenga Alade, also received an award as the Best Banking CEO 2017. These two awards are a testimony to the strength of GTB. The awards are also beneficial to Sierra Leone as the country is being placed on the international map and is also being seen as a place for investment opportunities, despite the economic and health challenges particularly the many shutdowns of the country in 2014 during the Ebola virus pandemic.
Below is an exclusive interview with Gbenga Alade; CEO of Guarantee Trust Bank
Antonia: How does it feel to be awarded and to be recognized as the Banking CEO of the year… Is this something you’ve been working towards?
Gbenga: Not really, but there is nobody who doesn’t want to do his best and there is nobody who wouldn’t want to be awarded for something like this. But I really wasn’t expecting it. I like to work and do my job and try to take the bank from where it was when I took over to a totally different level and I thank God that I have been able to do that in the past few years. I was very happy about it. No doubt!
Antonia: GTB also received an award as the Best Digital Bank in Sierra Leone for 2017. How would you describe your digital services….what makes you stand out?
Gbenga: Digital Services have to do with your E-business activities. In the past few years, we launched our MasterCard which was the first of its kind and that gave us a mileage, because today it is the first card that is denominated in Leones. You don’t necessarily need a foreign account to use the GTB MasterCard. So we did away with the bank card and just simply issued a MasterCard for all transactions. We also launched the GT-SIMpay which is a device placed on your SIM card and it enables you to do banking activities without internet services and without any hindrance. These are all ground breaking innovations that put us ahead of our competition.
Antonia: The Development Finance Forum 2017 was held in Freetown a few days ago with the aim of discovering initiatives that will help attract and secure private investments and also help Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs) and working in the banking sector automatically makes you a part of the economic management and development sector of this country, So how does your bank cater to these two groups?
Gbenga: Before we can cater to any group, we need to understand what they want. We need to understand the needs of SMEs and the needs of private investors. Sierra Leone is blessed with a lot of natural minerals therefore it already attracts many investors in the mining sector. But for private investors to work here they need a bank with extensive networks across the globe that can facilitate their business and that is where GTB comes in. We are no longer a Nigerian bank. Rather, we are an international bank operating in Sierra Leone and most parts of Africa.
Private investors also need huge amounts of funding to make any reasonable investment here; GTB has a very huge capacity to lend. We can lend up to 4 million dollars to any one individual, be it a private investor or a small/medium enterprise.
Antonia: Speaking of lending capacity, a lot of business people/entrepreneurs have complained that the major constraints of doing business in Sierra Leone include the high cost of credit and minimal access to finance. What advantage does your bank have over others in this area?
Gbenga: The cost of borrowing is very high indeed. No doubt about that! But you cannot look at cost of borrowing in isolation. You have to look at the rate at which the government is borrowing. Anywhere in the world, government’s risk is the lowest risk. But today in Sierra Leone, treasury bills rate are at about 16% - 18%. So if the government; a zero risk instrument, borrows at 18%, at what rate should an individual with high risk borrow? A higher rate! Therefore the government has to look at that because banks lend money based on risk. So the microeconomic factors have to be looked at before anyone accuses any bank of lending at a high rate.
Antonia: Now that you’ve won these two awards, what do you hope to achieve in the future?
Gbenga: This is the way we want to go. We want to continue to innovate, come up with digital services that will help to simply banking and give our customers an edge over customers of all the other banks. We are coming up with some variants of the MasterCard that will distinguish high network individuals thereby aiding more spending and giving them access to certain services that ordinary MasterCard users do not have. We will continue to improve our digital services so as to recruit more customers. And the more customers we recruit the greater our balance sheet will be and that will give us more prominence in the industry. This is what we want to do to remain on top of the market, and we always want to remain on top of the market. That is our goal.