By Ezra Ikpeama
LAPO Microfinance Bank (MFB), the country’s largest microfinance bank is an ubiquitous presence across the country especially consistently accounting for over 20 percent of the MFB sector while serving over five million customers through over 535 locations nationwide.
The value of the institution not only to the small business sector but also to the overall economy was further confirmed recently when it emerged as one of Nigeria’s highest employers in a report by Statisense, a data consulting firm with expertise in analytics and research.
The research study focused on the country’s top 15 largest employers. The ranking depicts LAPO MFB as a hugely impactful organization that is also contributing immensely to job creation.
In the Statisence analysis, LAPO MFB came in at number five with 7,320 employees, ahead of cement giant, Dangote Cement PLC (seventh with 6,176 employees), as well as popular commercial banks like Access Bank and Guaranty Trust Bank and some companies from the country’s labor-intensive private security industry.
LAPO, Nigeria’s first publicly traded MFB was in good company with other strong corporate brands in the top five. The first to fourth positions were taken by Julius Berger Nigeria Plc, Chinese construction firm CCECC, Zenith Bank Plc and Halogen Security Ltd.
Furthermore, LAPO was the only microfinance bank on the list, which reflects its clear lead within the sector as well as the growing impact of the SME sector in job creation.
The research study is significant because unemployment in Nigeria has been a perennial challenge that has now compounded by the effects of the widely disruptive Covid-19 pandemic. The country’s unemployment rate rose to 33 percent in the fourth quarter of 2021, the second highest in the world. It means that one third of Nigeria’s 69.7 million-strong labor force did nothing or worked for under 20 hours a week. The unemployment rate for women was 35.2 compared with 31.8 for men.
It is also significant that LAPO prides itself as a female-centric bank with numerous services tailored to women and 58 percent of its staff being women as well. Women make up roughly half of the country’s working population outside their disproportionate role at the domestic level. LAPO’s gender policies which are in line with international development goals are also reflected in its board which is 50 percent female and its appointment of a female Managing Director, Cynthia Ikponmwosa.
Speaking on the organization’s gender-friendly focus, Ikponmwosa says: “It’s just natural that as a pro women institution, our staff would consist of more women than men,” says Ikponmwosa. “We try as much as possible to create a balance and although we have many women-friendly policies, we also incorporate policies that support men. For example, the board approved a policy on paternity leave of five working days for males.”
She adds: “We have great staff who are committed to the vision and mission of this bank. We can’t emphasize that enough because we have seen that demonstrated in the littlest of things in the bank and I think to a very large extent that has been the main oiler of the wheel of this bank.”
LAPO’s impact on employment goes far beyond its workforce. Not only is it a large and socially conscious employer, it also provides sustainable finance to millions of medium and small-scale businesses (MSMEs) which has a significant multiplier effect on job creation in the country. In Nigeria, SMEs account for 96 percent of businesses and 84 percent of employment according to a survey by PricewaterhouseCoopers.
LAPO helps to address a major challenge encountered by such businesses: limited access to funds due to the category of funding they qualify for. The bank also organizes training and other capacity building initiatives for MSMEs as part of its offerings.
A good number of its tailor-made financial products and services are tailored to agriculture which is the dominant sector for many households in Nigeria, particularly in rural areas where it employs almost 84% of households and accounts for 56 percent of rural net income.
As a result of its keen support for farmers, in March, 2021, LAPO was awarded ‘The Most Supportive Bank’ national category in the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) Agricultural Credit Scheme Funds (ACGSF). The institution was also commended by the CBN for financing and producing the best farmer in 2020 under the ACGSF.
Considering the high rate of unemployment which is projected to rise as population growth continues to outpace output expansion, LAPO’s role as a major contributor to job creation is commendable and worth emulating