Despite not making too much noise about it, Sterling Bank Plc has confirmed it is vigorously supporting the Federal Government’s efforts to diversify the economy and enhance alternative revenue stream through heavy investments in agriculture and other social infrastructure.
Specifically, the bank said it is among the top three banks heavily financing agriculture, and has consistently done so in the last five years.
Expatiating more on the investments in an exclusive interview with The Guardian, the Managing Director/Chief Executive, Sterling Bank, Yemi Adeola, also disclosed that “A lot of the programmes that are now being used nationwide to finance agriculture are ideas, which started with Sterling Bank.”
Furthermore, he said the bank had actively invested in the environment for the last decade, through a number of beautification programmes. “We have spent millions of Naira in supporting the state governments to keep our environment clean. Most of the cleaning kits that you see cleaners wear across so many states in the country are provided by Sterling Bank.
“In addition to that, we organise a national cleaning exercise which promotes hygiene and sanitation on a regular basis. In 2017, we covered 14 states of the Federation. We participate in cleaning as bankers to encourage the belief that cleaning the environment is a task that must be done by all.
We also pioneered the conversion of used batteries for tree planting. We have companies that take away the batteries to properly recycle them and in return they use the proceeds for tree planting. It has been a success and we hope the industry will adopt it as a standard.
Still on the environment, we recently promoted an art competition tagged ‘Recyclart’ where we encouraged young and aspiring Nigerian artists to convert waste into artworks. It was very successful with the Vice President (Prof. Yemi Osinbajo) visiting the Recyclart exhibition booth during the African Culture and Design festival in Lagos. We invested in Recyclart to boost the culture sector while also championing the cause of the environment. It is about creating employment and at the same time calling attention to the environment.”With regard to other sectors of the economy, Adeola disclosed that over the last three years, the bank has been investing in education, and grown industry capacity
He said: “We are the first bank in this country to get approval for a student loan solution that will allow us to lend to students who are doing well in selected schools and courses. We have a financing plan and are working with relevant stakeholders to boost the education sector. We also invested in technology to digitise the content of the secondary school curriculum to make it readily available to schools. We have provided financing to some schools to enable them access this content. Using our Non-interest Banking solution, we built a secure and affordable hostel in the University of Ilorin in partnership with a real estate developer. We are exploring opportunities to replicate the same in other universities.”
In addition to these, the bank has also invested in the health sector, by being a premier partner to the Federal Ministry of Health, to improve primary Health Care Centres across Nigeria, and in particular with the Lagos State Government, and working with the manufacturers of original equipment for hospitals to enable it provide financing.
In the area of transportation, the Sterling Bank boss disclosed the lender is also investing heavily in the development of the mass transit system. “We are the number one financier of the mass transit system in Lagos. All the big blue and red buses were funded by Sterling Bank but more importantly, we funded a payment system that is like the world class master payment system you see in London and Chicago. It has been implemented and the ticketing system is working, and we are about to go live with contactless cards. Anywhere you come from in the world, you can use your contactless card to tap and get into the buses,” he explained.
Recognising the importance of power to the growth of the economy, Adeola said the bank is now investing in renewable energy, saying: “It is part of our response to the huge power problem which requires a lot of capital. We think there is an alternative, using solar power and distributed power grids. We are now working with the entities in the renewable energy sector to provide support and financing so that homes and businesses can have inexpensive solar solutions that work.”
To cap its investment in social infrastructure, the CEO it now supports as many Nigerians as possible through Three Fs programme, which covers Film, Fashion and Football. “We felt that the better part of the Nigerian population is covered under those three pillars,” he added. In doing all of these, Sterling Bank has also become one of the top banks championing financial inclusion to capture many more of the un-banked and under-banked customers.
According to Adeola, the bank had brought about 700,000 new customers into the banking system through its financial inclusion platforms, and become the primary partner for the government in disbursing funds in the rural communities through agent banking.