Charlotte Lily Baidoo: a champion of women’s access to quality finance

Financial inclusion matters not only because it promotes growth, but because it helps ensure prosperity is widely shared. Access to financial services plays a critical role in lifting people out of poverty, in empowering women, and in helping governments deliver services to their people,’ – Sri Mulyani Indrawati, an economist and Indonesia’s current Minister of Finance.

The above quote sums up Charlotte Lily Baidoo’s mission in life: providing access to quality finance to those who need it most, women. Access to quality finance, according to Charlotte, does not only change the lives of these women individually, but deepens financial inclusion on a larger scale.

As the Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of Women’s World Banking Ghana (WWBG), the premier savings and loans company dedicated to supporting mostly women, Charlotte’s daily ability to put smiles on the faces of her customers bring her joy and the sense of fulfilment that the most vulnerable in society can be adequately supported to develop the economy.

Since joining WWBG in the early part of the third quarter of 2015, Charlotte, whose in-depth knowledge in small and medium enterprises (SMEs) markets and an understanding of different consumer behaviours has been her biggest asset, has led the company through challenges and now posting modest profits and increasing customers base and market share.

“When I look at my clients who need credit facilities, some as low as GH¢500, to bring a change in their lives, those are the things that motivate and push me to make a change,” she says in an exclusive interview with the B&FT.

She explains that when she visits villages and communities with her WWBG team to administer individual and scheme loans, those are the times she gets the best of joy and happiness because “I look at people taking GH¢100 or GH¢200 to go and do something and that is just inspiring.”

The WWBG, in her view, makes a marvellous impact in the lives of thousands of women annually because without this financial institution, some of women will not be where they are today.

“Some people started with us when they were selling on a table top. Right now they have built mansions and stores in Madina, Kaneshie, Makola, Kejetia, Takoradi, and people have bought houses and these are the things we see that make us very happy,” she notes.

Despite the strong emphasis on women, more than 80percent of the savings and loans company’s loan book is dedicated to women, men have equally benefitted since it opened its doors about three decades ago.

The beginnings

But how did Charlotte, born in Twifo Praso, a small town in the Central Region, end up rubbing shoulders with the elites of banking and finance?

Her answer, for such an enormous achievement is simple: the Grace of God. Sprinkling most of her responses to my questions with ‘by the Grace of God’, Charlotte credits the maker of all things, God Almighty, with her success.

Growing up in Twifo Praso with her grandmother was an eye opener and firmed up her foundation for the challenges ahead. As an industrious woman who sold mainly cloth in the village, Charlotte, who has three other sisters, helped her grandmother retail the cloth around and used to sell tea and fried eggs in the evening.

Starting her education in Twifo Praso from primary all the way to the first two years of senior secondary school, Charlotte went to Fijai Secondary School, also in the Central Region for the last three years of second cycle education including Sixth Form before ending up at the University of Cape Coast where she graduated in 1999. In addition, she has an MBA in Finance from the Central University.

Right after graduation and national service, Charlotte began her life in the corporate world at M&J Travel and Tours where she rose to the position of Supervisor at Student Travel Services, a subsidiary of M&J Travel and Tours, which specialized in issuing student tickets for British Airways.

In newspapers, she got her dream jobs

But here is where the story gets interesting. It is August, 2005 and Google has gone public a year before, and Facebook is just a year old, therefore there were no job placement websites like Jobberman on the internet.

But Charlotte strongly felt she needed another challenge in her career path and what most people do is try to rely on the ‘who you know’ to get the job they desire. But that was not and has never been Charlotte’s story.

When she felt she needed a new job, she went to the one place that advertised the jobs, newspapers. Looking through the Daily Graphic in August, 2005, she saw the request from UT Financial Services for Project Officers.

She applied, got interviewed and that was her beginning in the world of finance. With stints in helping set up UT’s Nigerian business, she worked at Express Savings and Loans as acting Managing Director and Deputy Managing Director; at Ideal Finance as Chief Operating Officer; Firstrust Savings and Loans as Deputy Managing Director and now as CEO of Women’s World Banking Ghana (WWBG).

‘Do not remove your pants for jobs’

Through it all, she looked through newspapers in search of jobs. To her, no lady deserves to sleep with anyone for any job because once you believe in yourself, you will get whatever you want.

“It’s being wonderful so far and I know that people don’t believe you can get a job from newspaper but through it all God has given me jobs through that medium. No one should think that if you don’t know anybody, you will never get a job. I have never known anyone but by the Grace of God I have always had a job.

I will urge all the young ladies that you don’t need to remove your panty to get a job. Be focused, upgrade yourself. If you don’t have the degree you can’t work so try as much as possible to work hard, sacrifice your lunch, your dinner, try and do little savings and pay for school fees,” she says.

To her, the mind works in such a way that if one believes that something will not work, then it will not work and vice versa. Due to her experience, when the WWBG needs to recruit new staff, she uses the newspapers.

Turning WWBG around

Since her appointment, she has seen to it that the company moved into its ultra-modern office complex adjacent the Tesano Police Station and has also returned to profitability.

She explains that her first move, in turning around the fortunes, was to inspire the WWBG’s assets, which is mainly the workforce, to understand the need to return the company to where it belongs.

This was followed by a strategic media campaign to place in the minds of Ghanaians what WWBG stands for.  “These days, the brand ‘WWBG’ is becoming more visible than it used to be and people are beginning to know us. We used to mind our own business but now we want people to mind our business too.”

Challenging the status quo and honour

As a God fearing woman, Charlotte main objective in life is to challenge the status quo. “I am a very hardworking person and I don’t take no for an answer. I am a firm person and I don’t easily change my mind so I focus and I make sure that if I set my mind on something that I want to do, I want to do it.”

Having acquired rich experience and knowledge in credit administration, portfolio management, human resource management, credit analysis and restructuring of loans, Charlotte has established herself as a professional and an astute credit expert with international exposure, which saw her honoured by the Institute of Certified Economist of Ghana (ICEG) as an honorary fellow.

Of sacrifices and delegation of authority

Charlotte notes that any woman who wants to climb the corporate ladder must be ready to make sacrifices and quickly learn the art and science of delegating authority, especially to people than can be trusted.

“Even though it is difficult, I sometimes miss some events in the life of my family due to work. But what you have to do is try to let people help you, it is delegation that has brought me this far.

In my household and office I delegate duties to people I trust and know they can handle. You can’t do it all; you need people to help you. With strategic sacrifices and adroit delegation of duties, you can still have a good balance of both work and family.”

Appreciating influencers along the way

Charlotte believes that despite the constant Grace of God, the impactful influence of some leaders she met along the way has shaped her to be where she is now.

First, she sees Kofi Amoabeng, founder of now defunct UT Bank, as the man who imbibed in her the need to respect every human being and treat every day of work as though it is a hospital’s emergency ward.

She adds that she learnt the rudiments of corporate finance and another side of people management from Nii Kotei Dzani, President of Groupe Ideal, a conglomerate of businesses in finance, oil and gas, media and manufacturing.

“Through his teaching I am able to know how to manage a lot of people and what to do in times of trouble. He did so much,” she says, adding that the founder of Express Savings and Loans Obed Danquah, gave her the freedom to express herself in leading the organisation.

WWBG in the future

She envisages WWBG to become a household name and will reach out to more women across the country. “We have the license from the BoG to do digital financing, and so we are now doing agency banking where we are partnering mobile money agents, shops and vantage businesses, to offer WWBG products and services to our clients.”

By Bernard Yaw Ashiadey