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Success and dynamism from a bank unlike all others

Article - August 5, 2014
CCEI Bank GE provides an example of African business otherness, leading as both a pioneer and role model for banks in the entire West Africa region
CCEI Bank GE was set up in 1994 as a subsidiary of the Cameroon banking group now known as Afriland First Bank. Equatorial Guinea had not at that time yet discovered its vast oil and gas resources and thus the bank came, virtually as a pioneer, into a very poor and under-developed country. The philosophy of its group, then as now, is that meaningful economic progress can come to Africa through Africans working together and finding solutions mirroring the African socio-cultural experience and through supporting and developing projects with both an economic and a social focus, so as to ensure that the African people benefit from the continent’s resources.

The bank has carried through this philosophy into every aspect of its operations, while investing continuously so as to be able to offer to all customers – from international oil giants to local farmers and shopkeepers – the very best in service and facilities. It is now the leading bank in Equatorial Guinea, holding 49% of bank deposits in the country and 69% of the lending portfolio. Just like Equatorial Guinea itself, CCEI Bank GE is now a regional giant, the fifth-biggest bank in Central Africa, according to the publication Jeune Afrique, quite an achievement for a bank based almost entirely in a country with far less than 1% of the region’s population.

International oil and gas groups such as Marathon Oil and Chevron from the U.S. and Total from France as well as the oilfield services giant Schlumberger are among the bank’s clients, as are GE Petrol and Equatorial Guinea LNG. In fact, CCEI Bank GE is recognized as the bank favored by oil companies operating in the country. So as to be able to provide international-class service to major international companies, the bank has now developed a network of more than 50 correspondent banks over five continents. The bank’s financial soundness, intimate knowledge of all aspects of local business and multilingual staff ease the way for international groups investing in the region.

The bank has invested continuously in expanding its scope and capability, both physically and technologically. It now has branches in the country’s four major cities, with new offices having been built in 2012 in Bata on the African mainland and in the national capital of Malabo. A major objective of the bank is to promote wider financial inclusion through facilitating the access by ordinary citizens to financial services, while it also very pro-active in endeavoring to foster the growth of local businesses and the development of local entrepreneurs, many of whom are building sound sub-contracting activities serving the multinationals operating in the oil and gas sector.

CCEI Bank GE thus sees its business mission in a very holistic way, aiming to make its own contribution to building economic growth and economic strength but while not overlooking the social purpose of its success in the countries and the communities in which it operates. The bank achieves this dual-purpose mission through identifying and targeting social areas where its contributions can make a meaningful and lasting change, for example in caring for people affected by tuberculosis, in combating AIDS, in treating illnesses in children, and in building schools, besides supporting cultural and sporting activities that simply make people’s lives more enjoyable.

International oil and gas groups such as Marathon Oil and Chevron from the U.S. and Total from France as well as the oilfield services giant Schlumberger are among the bank’s clients
Of course, the bank can only succeed in its dual mission if its management runs its business efficiently and profitably – and this it does. So much so that when its holding company, the Afriland First Bank, decided to set up a subsidiary operation in the neighboring country of Benin, it chose to do so through CCEI Bank GE. So CCEI Bank GE is now itself a fledgling international bank, taking one step further the original vision of its own founders with this expansion being, as Director General Joseph Celestin Tindjou comments, “an example of South-South cooperation...and a springboard for us to expand even further into the whole of the Central Africa region”.

So this is CCEI Bank GE: a bank that believed in Equatorial Guinea before anyone else, a bank that invested and continues to invest and is now reaping the rewards, a bank that devotes those rewards to fulfilling a social mission with roots deep in the socio-cultural context of Africa, a bank that counts among its customers some of the greatest of the world’s multinationals in the toughest of all businesses yet cherishes its other vocation of helping the small guy to build his own business dream, a bank that invests in helping people overcome illness and disease. This is a bank unlike others, a bank perhaps of paradoxes or a bank perhaps to emulate?

Empowering entrepreneurs

The vision for CCEI Bank GE sprang directly from African socio-cultural traditions, together with the ambition to be part of the new wave of Africans taking in their own hands their own future and determined to build a more prosperous continent for future generations. This vision is one from which the bank has never wavered, accepting and pursuing consistently an underlying responsibility in its operations to build for the future, to actively empower its customers to create successful businesses. This vision, very different from what can be seen in much of the world as the usual role of banks and bankers, is contributing to generating the continent’s next wave of entrepreneurs.

Many of the first local small- and medium-sized businesses helped by CCEI Bank GE were set up as sub-contractors to the large international groups who started to arrive in Equatorial Guinea in the 1990’s to develop the country’s newly-discovered hydrocarbon reserves. Then, as the revenues from oil and gas sales were used to develop the nation’s infrastructure and the country started to build a wider economic base, CCEI Bank GE helped entrepreneurs in the construction and services industries to establish their businesses, thus contributing tremendously to the success of Equatorial Guinea’s own long-term national vision, “Horizonte 2020”, to create a diversified, industrialized and sustainable economy.

Joseph Celestin Tindjou, Director General of the bank since its inception, sums up the bank’s successful approach, “with a belief that ‘good business is good for all’, in addition to providing credit and loans, our bank also prides itself on the practical support it has to offer entrepreneurs of all sizes to expand their businesses and make their money work effectively”.

CCEI Bank GE thus seeks to educate this new generation of entrepreneurs. As Mr. Tindjou remarks, “the biggest obstacle to local companies accessing credit is not being able to structure a financial proposal, so we are trying to empower entrepreneurs to develop their long-term business plans.” The bank therefore works with local accounting firms to teach financial management and business planning to entrepreneurs.

However, its role in actively seeking solutions to smooth the path to growing new businesses goes far beyond that. An example is the bank’s leadership in implementing the national Partial Credit Guarantee Fund, set up to enable local companies to break out of the under-capitalization trap in which many have fallen. As Mr. Tindjou explains, “many local sub-contractors find themselves in a vicious cycle of being unable to obtain credit without a confirmed contract and unable to win a contract without developing their operations, for which credit is required.”

The initiative, funded by the government, provides a guarantee on a percentage of the amounts needed to get qualifying and selected small and medium-sized enterprises into business. CCEI Bank GE sees the fund as one of the most effective tools to expand the country’s SMEs. As Mr. Tindjou adds, “we do not need 100% guarantees in all cases, the most important thing being to have a starting point to begin working from.”

The bank’s approach is one of working constructively and co-operatively with entrepreneurs, mirroring in many ways the African community socio-cultural model, working together to achieve outcomes beneficial to all. Mr. Tindjou states that he expects his bank to continue to play a major role in fostering the growth of SMEs, adding that “for us, the development of Equatorial Guinea, in particular, and of Africa in general depends upon promoting and supporting local private initiatives...and, in any case, everything that is good for Africa, everything that is good to develop our SMEs, every project that will generate income and create jobs, will have the active support and involvement of CCEI Bank GE.”

People at the heart of the bank

The corporate credo of CCEI Bank GE and that of the Afriland First Bank, to which it belongs, is to change the reality of the African continent through a focus on economic development but also and equally on the wider social benefit the bank can bring to the community it serves. The bank’s vision and its mission are to generate and facilitate improvements in both the economic wellbeing of the countries in which it operates and in the lives, life environments and futures of its customers.

As Joseph Celestin Tindjou, the bank’s Director General, puts it, “since its creation, customers and community have been the focus of this organization and its concerns.”

Since establishing itself in Equatorial Guinea well before the oil boom started, the bank has now set up branches in all the major towns of the country and is the biggest bank by far in terms of deposits and lending. Quite simply, CCEI Bank GE is now “the” bank for most of the country’s citizens. By continuously extending its network and the range of its services, the bank is increasingly an integral part of people’s lives, contributing immeasurably to one of the key objectives of the country’s vision for economic and social development, Horizon 2020: the promotion of financial inclusion.

Horizon 2020, as well as the UN Development Program’s Country Plan 2013-2017, identify one of the country’s key goals as being to strengthen the capital worth of its individuals and to empower entrepreneurs with the tools necessary to develop their financial capabilities. CCEI Bank GE has taken up this challenge, working with employers to set up loan plans for their staff and developing education programs for entrepreneurs and financing packages in such areas as agriculture, besides investing in technology such as ATMs.

Mr. Tindjou includes as further objectives the development of online banking, promoting the wider acceptance of the use of credit cards, and the possibility of making loans available for home purchases by individuals. He adds that, “there is still work to be done in developing the public’s interaction with financial institutions and to complete the country’s transition from a cash economy.”

CCEI Bank GE sees its social responsibilities as being true to its roots in the African socio-cultural context, as a way of giving back to the communities in which it operates in ways that are meaningful and that contribute to the betterment of people’s lives and to the alleviation of social problems. Examples of the bank’s involvement just in the area of healthcare alone include the funding of the construction and equipping of a tuberculosis wing at the Malabo Hospital, work in fighting the prevalence of HIV infection and the provision of medicine for sick children.

The bank has invested in a ferry to connect Bata, on the mainland, to Malabo and also supports sporting activities, being the patron of the national tennis team and of the Akonangui soccer team, besides funding musical events and women’s day celebrations in the communities it serves.

This pioneer bank, the bank that believed and invested in Equatorial Guinea long before the country’s oil riches were discovered, is determined to continue serving the communities it has helped to build and develop. Comments from its customers and the public such as, “CCEI Bank is the biggest because they are the ones who truly believe in GE”, “they listen to the client all the time and they try hard to satisfy the client’s interests”, and “they help the community, like building schools, helping with hospitals, fighting AIDS, they gave CAF50m to the national soccer team” demonstrate that the people, too, appreciate the bank’s emphasis on community and social involvement. The customers know and the customer is always right.