SMEs in Ghana: Take it to the bank


The World Bank Group recently published a 2014 Doing Business Report titled Understanding Regulations for Small and Medium-Size Enterprises in which Ghana topped the ECOWAS region. Overall the report compares the rate of reform among 189 countries as an indicator of how easy it is to start a business from a regulatory perspective.

Last week at The Economist Conferences’ Ghana Summit there was much discussion of the kinds of business Ghana needs to cultivate in order not to fall foul of Dutch Disease* – a term coined by economists to describe negative impacts of natural resource discoveries. More agricultural processing, manufacturing in general and services were highlighted as being of key focus for job creation.

As a services company entering the Ghana market from the UK, our experience is that once you have made your choice about whether to joint venture with a local Director, or create a wholly owned subsidiary, it’s fairly straightforward. The next step is to get yourself a business bank account. But where to start?

According to Wikipedia there are 1,800 banks in Africa. Very few of them are making a play for international business outside of Africa – Ecobank and GT Trust being the two exceptions that spring immediately to mind for their ad campaigns. It would be great if there was a resource that made it possible to compare banks and get recommendations from customers – happy or otherwise.

African banks have a reputation for being conservative and charging high interest rates for business loans (if they give them at all). Here’s hoping that someone will build a website that compares rates and functionality in key areas such as online banking as well as customer service. That’s a great way to give a boost to the ‘missing middle’ of SMEs in Africa and to tip the balance of power back in their direction, enabling them to partner with banks who are the most competitive and who try hardest.


*The Financial Times Lexicon definition of Dutch disease is the negative impact on an economy of anything that gives rise to a sharp inflow of foreign currency, such as the discovery of large oil reserves. The currency inflows lead to currency appreciation, making the country’s other products less price competitive on the export market. It also leads to higher levels of cheap imports and can lead to deindustrialisation as industries apart from resource exploitation are moved to cheaper locations. The origin of the phrase is the Dutch economic crisis of the 1960s following the discovery of North Sea natural gas.