Abiodun Olubitan is group head of the W Initiative at Access Bank Nigeria, where she leads the Initiative’s work to promote women’s economic empowerment in Nigeria. A huge part of her role involves understanding the needs of Access Bank’s women customers, and then supporting them with access to financing and other opportunities.
The W Initiative launched in 2014 with three main objectives in mind: to inspire, connect, and empower women.
“That’s the mantra for us and everything that we do is always tied to those three things,” Olubitan says. “It’s actually our vision to ensure that every woman is able to thrive, no matter the space that they find themselves [in]. And of course, the initiative is positioned to make Access Bank the bank of choice for every woman.”
Understanding that a large percentage of women-owned businesses lack access to adequate financing, the W initiative tackles this challenge in some unique ways. Instead of focusing on just one financial services offering, Access Bank has several loans available to customers based on their needs. This falls under their W power loan financing scheme, which is designed to close the financing gap for women-owned businesses.
“Our vision within the group is to ensure that every woman is able to thrive no matter which place or sector that you find yourself,” Olubitan says.
The W power loan offers women discounted interest rates and a flexible collateral structure that considers factors like business and cash flow in place of traditional collateral. This means the program is able to grant loans to women even if they don’t own a home or property. With a qualified guarantor, women can loan up to $22,000 without collateral.
“The unique thing about it is that it sets a discounted interest rate for women up to five [or] seven basis points lower than what the men would borrow,” Olubitan says.
Access Bank also created the MPower Biz Account offering, which is a high yield account with minimal costs that allows account holders to maximize funds required for business costs and opportunities. In three years, the W Initiative grew savings account balances by 46% for its women customers.
The W Initiative also sustains and empowers women in ways that extend far beyond financial services. “We do not only support women financially being a bank, we are also very concerned about their total wellbeing,” Olubitan says.
The program offers women mentorship as well as skills acquisition and capacity building programs. As part of their efforts, they even have a program that teaches women to drive, opening up job opportunities that require this skill.
“Empowerment is not only financial,” Olubitan says. “It comes sometimes with knowledge where you know something—you are empowered to go out there and make a difference.”
Offering non-financial support as a bundled value proposition helped Access Bank create goodwill among WMSMEs and was key in expanding the program to involve more women.
Olubitan says Access Bank Nigeria has a strong business case to continue the W initiative moving forward. The nonperforming loan (NPL) rate for the W power loan program is 2% and some other programs at Access Bank have NPLs as high as 5%. “I can tell you that we don’t have any plans to stop,” she says. “As we expand, as we grow as a bank, we are increasing the numbers every day.”