“You have to stay relevant.”
For, Rita Aba Tsegah, a young woman with a newly minted MBA in Finance from the University of Ghana, this advice stuck. She had just joined Ecobank Ghana and was pleased to find that it was among the leaders in gender parity in the sector; the Head of Finance, Legal, and HR were all women. These women advised her to stay relevant.
Tsegah took their advice to heart. Her graduation 25 years ago was not the end of her education. It was the beginning. She still takes classes online to stay up-to-date. She recently completed one in digital banking and did so well that the instructors asked her to help them develop the next course. It also seems like Ecobank, where Tsegah is now the Regional Head for Corporate Communications & Marketing for Ghana and the Anglophone West Africa Cluster, has taken it to heart.
In Africa, to stay relevant, you have to appeal to the youth. The United Nations predicts that there will be more than 450 million African youth by 2055, twice the 2015 population. Two years ago, Ecobank created a new division specifically catering to the needs of young people. They launched the ‘Express Account’. “It’s like a wallet so that you can bank on the go. Young people don’t want to come and wait in a branch. They believe in self-service,” said Tsegah.
Tsegah and the bank also invest in capacity building for youth. Last year, they hosted Student Entrepreneurship Week Pan-Africa at their Ghana Head Office. Student Entrepreneurship Week is an initiative of SFAN: Stars from all Nations which was “established to help budding entrepreneurs access actionable, experiential knowledge and tools for building sustainable businesses.”
To stay relevant, you need to go digital. Ecobank has all the online banking and mobile apps that you would expect from a multi-national bank, but they have taken it to another level to make sure that even customers who do not have a smartphone can access digital banking services. By dialling a short code, a three-digit code starting with a star an ending with a hash (*000#), a customer is led through a series of prompts which allow them to conduct core banking functions.
Using the same short-code system, customers can even invest in treasury bills using mobile money and any cell phone. Through the TBill4All program, any Ghanaian can invest a minimum of 5 Ghana Cedis (less than $1 at today’s exchange rate) in 91- or 182-day Ghanaian T-bills. This is a big deal considering the rates are 14.75% and 15.25% respectively.
To stay relevant, you need to expand access to financial services. Financial inclusion is a hot topic across the African continent. With their youth banking, digital apps, and accessible investment vehicles, you would think that Ecobank could say they checked all of the boxes and move on. That is not the case. Tsegah believes that it is the bank’s role to make sure that even “people who are not socially included are financially included.” In Ghana, that means making sure that the country’s entrepreneurial women have the financial tools and know-how to thrive.
“Just knowing you must separate your personal finances from your business finances can put a lot of vigor into a business.”
While Ghana is not an outlier in terms of the amount of money invested in women entrepreneurs, Tsegah reminds you that “Women here are very entrepreneurial. It’s just that most of the businesses they start do not come from VC, but from friends and family. They are especially involved in the informal sector.” According to the International Labor Organization (ILO), 6% of Ghanaian women in the informal sector are employers. They actually create jobs. On this measure, they outperform both the world average of 1% and the developed economy average of 4%. These women benefit from Ecobank’s inclusion initiatives which focus heavily on training. From these programs, Tsegah has noticed that “just knowing you must separate your personal finances from your business finances can put a lot of vigour into a business.”
Whether you are a person trying to stay relevant in your career, a young entrepreneur building the next big thing, or a bank working be where the markets are moving, Tsegah has three pieces of advice. First, you have to remember that “it’s a journey. You have to surround yourself with a support group ready to help you reach your goals.”
Second, best practices matter. “It doesn’t matter how small your business is. If you use best practices right from the beginning, it’s easier for you to grow,” she shared.
Finally, the best advice is timeless. Although it’s been around 25 years since Tsegah was a young MBA just starting her career in banking, she wants you to remember the wise words of her mentors. By this point in the article, it goes without saying what those words were. Now it’s time to go out and do it.