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Andrew Robertson is Standard Bank’s Business and Commercial Clients Head for East Africa, responsible for client business growth in Kenya, Malawi, Uganda, Tanzania and Zambia. Picture: SUPPLIED/STANDARD BANK
Andrew Robertson is Standard Bank’s Business and Commercial Clients Head for East Africa, responsible for client business growth in Kenya, Malawi, Uganda, Tanzania and Zambia. Picture: SUPPLIED/STANDARD BANK

With the right capital and capacity interventions, East Africa is set on a sustainable path to prosperity – with the possibility of creating middle-income economies in this generation. 

Standard Bank says the proliferation of small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) in East Africa holds the key to the kind of broad-based economic inclusion that leads to long-term prosperity, stability and security. 

There are about 10-million SMEs and other commercial businesses spread across East Africa. These businesses contribute significantly to their economies, driving GDP growth and providing employment opportunities. 

Standard Bank’s Business & Commercial Clients (BCC) division is building a capital and capability ecosystem to help small traders, agribusinesses, emerging manufacturers and entrepreneurs grow into formal enterprises. These enterprises can also become national corporations or cross-border multinationals.

Connecting with clients differently 

By understanding business networks, Standard Bank can use its platforms to build capacity among local client teams while unlocking growth in their broader ecosystems. 

Most East African economies are net importers. While facilitating cross-border trade, Standard Bank can also identify opportunities for local manufacturing. 

Over the next decade, Standard Bank aims to point to a stable of new trans-regional businesses operating across East Africa . Picture: SUPPLIED/STANDARD BANK
Over the next decade, Standard Bank aims to point to a stable of new trans-regional businesses operating across East Africa . Picture: SUPPLIED/STANDARD BANK

The bank recently helped a Kenyan manufacturer produce paper locally, replacing expensive international inputs with domestically sourced wastepaper and sugar-cane by-products. As a result, more local exporters have branded boxes made to order at home, at a fraction of the cost of imported products. 

Deploying digital to remove friction  

In East Africa, BCC’s digital capability is providing a deeper understanding of clients and the ability to remove friction more effectively. 

Examples include:

  • Unayo, a platform that provides a broad range of services including cash-in cash-out, payments and more. Any trader, entrepreneur or business can use Unayo - even if they don’t have a formal bank account. All they need is a phone.
  • In Kenya, Standard Bank developed a home-grown fast-moving consumer goods business support platform, enabling distributors to order products, pay suppliers and track orders in real time. 
  • In Zambia, Standard Bank launched a platform linked to key suppliers that allows small traders to access stock loans daily. This means they never need to leave their stores to place orders or travel to the bank to get loans or manage their daily cash. Everything happens digitally. 

Expanded view of growth finance 

In Africa, growth finance is more than just a loan. For some businesses, finance is needed to buy stock. Others have to connect to reliable international suppliers of quality goods, while some require a local manufacturing solution.  

Using airtime sales data or GPS location, Standard Bank can see and track smaller businesses’ activities, transaction growth or stock movements. 

In Africa, growth finance is more than just a loan

This digital intelligence provides a reliable way of advancing growth finance on terms that support repayment structures aligned to businesses’ cash, stock or sales positions. 

Guidance from business banking professionals can catapult an operation that is barely surviving onto a growth track. This includes helping SMEs track and gather financial information, secure loans, meet international bank-approved dealers or suppliers, negotiate forex quotas or letters of credit, complete cross-border paperwork and finance vehicles.

Over the next decade, Standard Bank looks to nurture a stable of new businesses operating across East Africa that have climbed the enterprise development ladder supported by BCC's insights, digital value-chain optimisation and expanded growth finance capabilities.  

This article was paid for by Standard Bank. 

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