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A strategic public partner for SME development

Article - February 14, 2014
The national investment bank, BNI, helps to clean up the environment for small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs)
Côte d’Ivoire’s banking sector has undergone a steady transformation over the past three years since President Alassane Ouattarra’s election, with financial firms looking to make the most of new financing opportunities and enable more economic growth.
As one of the country’s major financial players, Banque Nationale d’Investissement (BNI) has experienced much of this development first hand. 
The state-owned institution began operating over 50 years ago and underwent further commercial expansion in 2004, but its CEO Eugène Kassi N’da says he has ambitious plans to develop the bank and the ways it can assist the wider economy.
Although personal banking amongst most Ivoirians remains relatively low at 15 per cent, the burgeoning businesses that helped drive Côte d’Ivoire’s GDP up by 9.8 per cent in 2012 are increasingly demanding high quality, secure and efficient financial services.
“Our role as a development bank owned by the state is to participate in the increase in the rate of banking by two main routes,” explains Mr Kassi. 

“BNI is a public bank but it is run as a private operation. That means... there are no civil servants within our current staff of 500 people”

Eugène Kassi N’da,
“The first is to promote banking nationwide, not just with services in Abidjan but to extend banking throughout the territory. The second is to promote banking with individuals, small and medium enterprises (SMEs) and larger firms.”
The CEO says that its activities today, particularly with firms from the country’s large SME sector, will help to improve the accountability and trustworthiness of those businesses and to develop the economy. 
As part of this, the bank is working with legal and accounting professionals to assist the business world by providing a more standardised approach to Côte d’Ivoire’s SME sector. Mr Kassi says that in helping to create a more formalised environment, the inherent risks of dealing with such companies can become better understood and that in turn can help cut interest rates on loans and encourage further investment in the country’s businesses. 
BNI’s role as a state-funded institution is another important aspect of the organisation, but Mr Kassi says the bank’s activities are actually very similar in many regards to those of a commercial operator with a difference in financing the SMEs. "BNI is a public bank but it is run as a private operation,” he explains. “That means we’re not entitled to make any losses and we have to respect all regulatory ratios. There are also no civil servants within our current staff of 500 people." 
Certainly its roots of ownership have not affected its performance, with BNI the recipient of several commendations in 2013, including ones from the International Council of African Managers in Paris and the Global Trade Leaders Club in Madrid. Nevertheless, Mr Kassi says he is keen to work further with the country’s Prime Minister and Minister of Economy and Finance, Daniel Kablan Duncan, to encourage more foreign investment, by providing legitimate and secure financial services.
“There are many investment opportunities here in Côte d’Ivoire but the capital is not available,” he explains. “We want to play our role in this range of opportunities and we are calling on financial institutions that have the resources. Now we are waiting for their input.”