Making women in rural banking more relevant: The time is now

Rural and community banks (RCBs) have over the years fought their stands in the banking industry of Ghana, by way of contributing to socio-economic growth of the country.

They provide the space for financial intermediation of the unbanked rural and community compatriots.  In some areas, they are the main sources of employment for the relatively well-educated youth.

Currently, there are 141 RCBs providing the very important financial – and to a greater extent, business – advisory services not only to our rural farmers, but also to small- and medium-scale enterprises (SMEs) in those areas which would otherwise not have had access to traditional commercial banks. The Banking Supervision Division of the Bank of Ghana, through ARB Apex Bank, provides quarterly classifications of the rural banks into weak, satisfactory and strong banks.

RCBs such as Amenfiman, Fiaseman, Ahantaman, Odotobri, Lower Prah, Atwima Kwanwoma, Otuasekan Rural Bank, to mention but a few, have consistently been among the ‘strong’ category, meeting most of the Bank of Ghana’s requirements.

Unlike the past, when RCBs were cowed into their shells and remained quiet, these days they have stood to be counted – stepping up to the plate of banks and other businesses.

In the last decade or so, RCBs have fought their way into the Ghana Investment promotion Centre’s (GIPC) Ghana Club 100, and on a number of occasions swept many awards. In 2017, for instance, the performance of RCBs in the league of successful businesses attracted awe from the Senior Minister, Yaw Osafo Maafo.

He was so astounded by the performance of RCBs that it drew a comment which tended to be little sour in the mouths of most RCBs present. The performance of some of the RCBS has even attracted international attention. Amenfiman Rural Bank, arguably the leading RCB in Ghana, has for four successive years, been recognised by the Global Confederation of Businesses (GLOCOB) for outstanding performance. As recently as July 2018, Amenfiman Rural Bank received a prestigious award from the Global Confederation of Business for consistently high performance.

My take in this article is not so much about the RCBs performance and the awards they have deservedly been winning. My issues are about the gender-imbalance – which to be fair is not peculiar to the RCBs but a historical anomaly that needs to be corrected. The system of patriarchy and paternalism in our businesses must change, and the change must begin with the RCBs.

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The Future of Women in the Rural Banking Sector

Let me begin with traditional universal banks. If a roll-call were to be conducted for women in leadership positions of Ghana’s banking industry, we woild only get to hear of Abiola Bawuah of United Bank of Africa (UBA); Subu Giwa-Amu of International Commercial Bank (ICB); Nilla Selormey of Merchant Bank; and lately, Patience Akyianu of ABSA Barclays Bank Ghana. This number is not considerable, given the predominance of women in the banking industry.

The story is not any different in rural banks. There are only three RCBs among the 141 which have women as their General Managers – Nsoatreman Rural Bank (Agnes Gimmson Nstiful); Kwahu Praso Rural Bank (Lucy Opoku-Archur); and Akyem Mansa Community Bank (Victoria Boadi). Besides, none of these women has attracted the media attention that would throw the spotlight on them to encourage upcoming women in the industry.

Young, upcoming women in the rural banking industry do need personal women mentors in the industry who would be looked up to. The few we look up to as mentors, however, are in the traditional banks. While we are excited to look up to the likes of the Abiolas, Nillas, Subus and Patiences, we notice that none of them has any rural banking experience. Not that it makes a huge difference, but it is not the same given the peculiar nature of RCBs.

Empowerment for the Women in RCBs

In search of our own heroines in the RCBs, the question that easily comes to mind is: are the RCBs considering any empowerment tools for women? Certainly, the focus on RCBs’ performance and growth is a great thing; however, for it to be sustainable, women must be at the core. I dare say that the strong vision and growth performance many RCBs cherish will lead nowhere if capable women are not a central part of the equation. Let us not forget that a nation built without strong women has no future.

At the recent 34TH Annual General Meeting of Amenfiman Rural Bank, I heard the speech of our hardworking and visionary Board Chairman Dr. Toni Aubynn, who shared his next line of vision for the bank. He said: “The target is no longer the rural banks. Our performance must now mimic the performance of the leading commercial bank, or even be better”. Yes, a very challenging and really ambitious vision; but chairman, have you considered this: the CEO of Barclays is a lady, that of UBA is a lady; and many more very illustrious lady leaders are all making it great in their space as far as banking is concerned.

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My addition to your vision is that you ought to consider building and improving the capacity of the young and enterprising women in your bank, and consider them as part of your competitive trump-card for the traditional banks which have now become your new target-line to compete with.

A further nod to feminine prominence is that out of thirteen members of UBA’s management team, five are women. At Fidelity bank, 7 out of 21 members of the management team are also women.

The question is what is the state of women in the management of RCBs? The time to consider women in the management teams of RCBs is now.

I see the rural banking industry as building more masculine hands instead of making it competitive. My greatest fear is that the industry is shelving the great ideas from their female workforce – and this can be distasteful to the future of rural banking.

Let us not forget, once again, any nation built without the involvement of women has no future.

Suggestion

To conclude I would like to humbly suggest that discussions at the various Chapters of the Association of Rural Banks should begin to include the issues of gender in their programmes.  Fellow women must also show interest in the leadership of their respective banks through their performance.

I do not see women’s role in leadership as an entitlement, but they must be given equal opportunity with men. Sustainability discussions must be around the capacity of women for the future of the rural banks industry.

 

The writer is the Branch Manager of Amenfiman Rural Bank, Sefwi Dwenase 

Mrs. Agnes Grimmon Intsiful, GM,

Nsoatreman Rural Bank

 

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