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Heritage Bank to disburse CBN’s N100bn loan to health, sells FX to SMEs, education sectors

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As part of proactive measures to cushion the effect of the COVID-19 and revamp the nation’s dwindling economy, Heritage Bank is set to disburse the N100billion set aside by the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN).

This is in line with the apex bank’s policy to introduce another intervention scheme directed to the health sector, which is known as the NGN100 Billion Credit Support for the Healthcare sector (the Scheme). Specifically, the scheme is to provide credit to indigenous pharmaceutical companies and other healthcare value chain players intending to build or expand capacity.

Also, the CBN resumed provision of foreign exchange to all commercial banks for onward sales to parents wishing to pay schools fees and small medium enterprises (SMEs) with plans to make essential imports needed to revamp economic activities across the country. In particular, the CBN is resuming the provision of over US$100 million per week for both categories.

Meanwhile, Heritage Bank serves as a conduit which will assess and channel the profiles of interested applicants to the CBN while using its platforms to create awareness for the scheme.

The CBN has also made complete arrangements to resume foreign exchange sales to the BDC segment of the market for business travels, personal travels, and other designated retail uses, as soon as international flights resume.

To access the N100bn loans provided by the CBN for firms in the healthcare sector, a corporate entity must submit its application to a participating financial institution (PFI) which could be either a Deposit Money Bank or a Development Finance Institution of its choice with a bankable business plan.

It stated in its latest guidelines that the PFI must appraise and conduct due diligence on the application; and upon approval by the PFI’s credit committee, the application would be submitted to the apex bank with relevant documents attached.

The CBN would process and disburse funds to the PFI for onward release to the project, it added.

The CBN stated that the PFI must receive and review applications submitted by its customers; undertake due diligence based on normal business considerations, and bear the credit risk.

They must also issue offer letters and forward qualified applications to the CBN; disburse the released funds to successful applicants; monitor the project and recover the loans from the beneficiaries, and maintain adequate records of all beneficiaries and facilities.

It requires the PFIs to register all movable assets with the National Collateral Registry; forward periodic returns in the prescribed format on the scheme to the CBN; comply with the guidelines, and carry out any other duties as the CBN may prescribe from time to time.

According to the CBN, eligible participants under the scheme comprise healthcare product manufacturers – pharmaceutical drugs and medical equipment; and healthcare service providers/medical facilities – hospitals/clinics, diagnostic centres/laboratories, fitness and wellness centres, rehabilitation centres, dialysis centres and blood banks, among others.

Others include pharmaceutical/medical products distribution and logistics services; and other human healthcare service providers as may be determined by the CBN from time to time.

Eligible activities under the scheme would include manufacturing of pharmaceutical drugs and medical equipment; establishment/expansion/upgrade of basic and specialised healthcare facilities; and medical/pharmaceutical supplies.

Others are medical/pharmaceutical research and development; distribution of medical/pharmaceutical drugs and supplies; Manufacturing of medical/pharmaceutical drugs distribution technology; and any other healthcare value chain activity as may be prescribed by the CBN.

The CBN said the term loan had a maximum of N2billion per obligor; and the interest rate under the intervention would not be more than five per cent per annum up until February 28, 2021; and that interest on the facility would revert to nine percent as from March 2021.

To access further details on the modalities, interested persons and institutions can logon Heritage Bank’s website (www.hbng.com).

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Banking

COVID 19 Rebound: We are building Entrepreneurs and supporting financial Inclusion through Xpress Point Agents – Ecobank

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Ecobank Nigeria has reiterated that its agency banking scheme, also known as Xpress Points, is building entrepreneurs and pushing financial inclusion to the large unbanked and under-banked population in Nigeria. The Ecobank Xpress Point enables eligible Agents to carry out financial transactions on behalf of Ecobank (www.Ecobank.com) and earn commission on every transaction processed. The consumer experience is very good as customers can do simple deposit, payment and transfers in their own neighbourhood rather than travel for hours to a bank branch. Ecobank Xpress Points is also a channel that can be used for the deployment of national social intervention programmes of the Government.

The aim of the Xpress Point is to let every Nigerian and household have access to Ecobank services within their neoghbourhood to provide easy banking services.

Speaking in Lagos, Nike Kolawole, Head, Agency Banking, Ecobank Nigeria, said unemployed and retired persons should avail themselves the opportunity to earn extra income by keying into services offered by the bank as Xpress point agents. According to her, the Ecobank Xpress point which are in various neighbourhoods across the country, are well positioned to facilitate basic financial transactions, with the process and services simplified to attend to a broad spectrum of the society.

She further disclosed that agency banking in general, brings about economic and youth empowerment by way of job creation and earning extra income, adding that small savers can easily do their savings at home or near their home. This leads to financial inclusion of the underbanked in the country.

For now, Ecobank has over 43,000 agents across Africa. The agents carry out financial transactions on behalf of Ecobank and earn commission per transaction processed. Xpress Points can also be used as a channel for the deployment of national social intervention programmes, especially at this time that we are fighting the impact of lockdowns due to the COVID-19.”

Kolawole listed the services offered by the Xpress point agents as; cash in, cash out, fund transfer, bills payment, airtime recharge, remittance and account opening, among others. She added that the services are available for “sole proprietors, partnerships, co-operative societies, microfinance banks, companies with large distribution network – like petrol stations, FMCGs, telecommunication companies, super agents, aggregators and unregistered businesses such as petty traders, hair saloon and others.”

Ecobank boasts of a bouquet of digital channels comprising solutions aimed at delivering convenient, accessible and reliable financial services. For instance, users of the bank’s USSD code, *326# carry out transactions without paying session charges. The USSD platform, *326#, makes it possible to open an Xpress account and Xpress Save account instantly. The bank’s mobile banking app, Ecobank Mobile offers the option of generating a virtual card; this comes in handy as customers are continually turning to web payments for their shopping and payments. The Ecobank virtual card offers the flexibility and convenience of creating a shopping card that is not linked to a customer’s account but is fully capable of carrying out online payments. The virtual card can also be shared with loved ones as a gift card for their own shopping.

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Mastercard Builds on COVID-19 Response with Commitment to Connect 1 Billion People

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Extends effort beyond 500 million financially included over the past five years; Maximizes technology, partnerships to deliver aid, insights and access to businesses and communities; Programs like the Mastercard Farmer Network and Kasha are connecting people across East Africa.

The health and economic consequences of COVID-19 have highlighted the critical need to support vulnerable populations, many of whom are disproportionately impacted. In this time of global crisis, Mastercard (www.Mastercard.com) has expanded its worldwide commitment to financial inclusion, pledging to bring a total of 1 billion people and 50 million micro and small businesses into the digital economy by 2025. As part of this effort, there will be a direct focus on providing 25 million women entrepreneurs with solutions that can help them grow their businesses.

The extended commitment builds on Mastercard’s ongoing efforts to address the COVID-19 related health and economic challenges facing individuals all over the world, including in Sub-Saharan Africa.

“Financial inclusion remains key to unlocking the potential of Sub-Saharan Africa, and will become crucial as we support Governments in driving long-term, sustainable economic recovery. Digital transactions are both safe and efficient and giving access to these for as many people as possible, is an important part of supporting the most vulnerable parts of the population through the current situation. Our focus right now – beyond philanthropy – is to steadfastly continue collaborating  with governments and private sector partners on solutions that are safe, viable, and most importantly, socially impactful for communities across the region,” said Raghav Prasad, Mastercard’s Division President for Sub-Saharan Africa.

At the 2015 Spring Meetings of the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank Group, Mastercard committed to bring 500 million excluded individuals into the financial system. It achieved that goal through more than 350 innovative programs across 80 countries.

The Mastercard Lab for Financial Inclusion (www.Mastercard.us) – the technology company’s first lab focused on financial inclusion – is committed to empowering millions of Africans through the use of public-private partnerships, and the innovation of locally relevant technology solutions. One such solution is the Mastercard Farmer Network, a mobile platform that improves market access, increases price transparency and digitizes payments to connect small farmers in Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania.

East Africa is also served by Kasha, an e-commerce platform optimized for women’s health and personal care. It offers confidential and convenient service, online/offline digital ordering and delivery to both urban and low-income rural areas. In Uganda, Mastercard launched Kupaa in partnership with UNICEF Uganda and the country’s Ministry of Education. It enables parents and caregivers to pay school fees and other school expenses with their mobile phones securely, easily, and in small payments when they are able, easing the burden of lump sum payments.

Mastercard also expanded its partnership with Unilever to create Jaza Duka (fill up your store) – a digital program for micro-merchants in Kenya with more than 18,000 duka owners already registered. The program provides a micro-credit eligibility recommendation to Kenya Commercial Bank (KCB), which can then assess a retailer’s credit worthiness and extend credit for stock purchases.

Additional efforts include ongoing work on government disbursement solutions, wage digitization of private sector workers, solutions for gig workers, scaling efforts with fintechs, digital platforms and digital wallets/apps, solutions addressing needs of the financially vulnerable and the expansion of CityKey and Community Pass programs.

This announcement builds on Mastercard’s ongoing efforts to support an inclusive recovery by leveraging the company’s technology, capabilities and reach. That work includes:

  • In the first weeks of the global health crisis, Mastercard committed up to $25 million in seed funding to establish the COVID-19 Therapeutics Accelerator (www.TherapeuticsAccelerator.org) in partnership with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Wellcome, The Chan Zuckerberg Initiative and others to help speed up the response to the COVID-19 epidemic by discovering, developing and scaling-up treatments for deployment around the world.
  • Mastercard has committed $250 million in financial, technology, product and services support over the next five years to small businesses in many markets where it operates, supporting the vitality of businesses and the financial security of their workers.
  • Mastercard is leveraging its network to provide support to governments around the world in a range of areas. This includes providing data insights to inform policymakers about the economic impact of the pandemic; increasing the speed and efficacy of aid disbursements to communities and business segments that need it most; developing donation platforms to enable emergency fundraising; and working with governments to assist business owners and consumers with cyber vulnerability assessments.
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BUSINESS

COVID-19, 5G Network and the Place of Common Sense in Technological Advancement

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By Jude Ndukwe

With the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic and its devastating effect on humanity, the world was obviously caught unawares and became distraught. People of this generation had never witnessed such a devastating pandemic of monumental proportions as this. So there had to be an “explanation” for it even if it meant concocting one just to defend the vulnerability and the unpreparedness of the entire world. That was quite understandable!

However, no matter the theory anyone is propagating as the reason for the outbreak of the coronavirus and the vulnerability of the human race to it, such a theory should be factual, evidence-based and scientifically proven. That is because if factual, it will help the world to defeat the virus and defend itself against a similar outbreak in the future, but if not, the world would wallow in the darkness of ignorance concerning it while also losing what should be the huge benefits of the 5G network, a system that has had the misfortune of bearing the blame for what it does not seem to know anything about.

Although there has been theories linking 5G to the global coronavirus pandemic, trends in the world have come to prove that such linking is vacuous and untenable as most countries in the world that have rolled out the 5G network have experienced some of the sharpest and most significant decline of the pandemic even while they are increasing the deployment of 5G.

For example,  South Korea which is one of the countries with the highest deployment of the 5G network, deploying to 85 cities as at January, 2020, did not suffer any coronavirus infection until February 19, 2020 when 27 cases tested positive. The country suffered her highest number of infection, 851, in a day on March 3, 2020, but has since experienced a steady decline to the extent that she recorded no single infection on May 6, 2020, despite not suspending her 5G deployment.

More interesting is that of Sweden which went live with the 5G network since December 2018 but only suffered her first coronavirus infection one year and 3 months after on March 3, 2020 with 15 cases testing positive. The place of common sense here is, if it were true that 5G had any link whatsoever to the COVID-19 pandemic, why then did it wait one year and three months after deployment in Sweden before it started affecting the citizens, and only after the scourge had become a worldwide pandemic? When one also considers the fact that a country would have done testing of the deployment years earlier before going live, then we can safely conclude that 5G in Sweden is not responsible for the outbreak of COVID-19 just like it is not in any country anywhere in the world!

Although Estonia, like Sweden, went live full blast with 5G in December 2018, the country did not record any case of coronavirus until March 5, 2020 when she recorded 3 cases. That was another one year and three months after the launch of 5G in the country. And since then, the country has experienced a rapid and steady decline in the number of people infected by the virus to the extent that on May 10, the country recorded only six cases. This is in spite of the fact that the country has never suspended 5G services. While 5G services are going up, the pandemic in Estonia is going down. This is a clear indication that 5G is never responsible for COVID-19.

On her part, Japan had a target of launching its 5G mobile service in 2020, and her largest wireless carrier, NTT DOCOMO, began its quest for 5G in 2010 with initial experiments. The company rolled out pre-commercial 5G services in September 2019 and with its success, started offering consumers 5G services on March 25, 2020.

In is instructive to note that a country that is as advanced in research, science, technology and medicine would not have been as callous as offering her citizens 5G from March 25, 2020, in the climax of the coronavirus pandemic, if, indeed, 5G had any link with the novel virus. Like many other countries, Japan has since seen her worst days of the COVID-19 pandemic as she recorded her highest infection of 743 on April 11, 2020 but has since experienced decline in the number of infections to the extent that she recorded 114 cases on May 9. The most interesting part of this is that, while Japan started experimenting on the 5G network in 2010, she never recorded any COVID-19 case until 10 years later, in the aftermath of the outbreak worldwide. If 5G was responsible for coronavirus pandemic, it would not wait ten years to strike in Japan.

I am still just trying to make commonsense of this technological advancement

Although China has some of the highest numbers of infection, she has experienced a speedy and steady decline since February 12, 2020 when she had 14,108 cases in a day, and had no single case for a long time despite her 5G services still being very active.

There is no way the United States of America would not have cancelled her 5G services having recorded the highest number of coronavirus related deaths in the world if truly there was any link between 5G and the virus.  These are countries that place premium value on the lives of their citizens and would do anything including outright cancellation of any technology that so much ravages their citizens. It is time to stop being scared of technological advancements, it is time o embrace them tightly.

Contrary to the rumours making the rounds, it is not true that Switzerland “has placed an indefinite moratorium on the use of 5G network because of health concerns”. In fact, according to Swisscom, the largest telecoms firm in Switzerland, a whopping 90% of Swiss population already enjoys 5G services with such cities as Lutzelfluh, Bern, Davos, Nyon, Zurich, Burgdof, Basel, St Moritz and Estavayer already covered with over 2,000 antennas installed last year alone. Only few cantons in the country have expressed concern about placing the 5G equipment in their locality, hence, prompting the country’s Environment Agency to write the government on what steps to take with further testing in order to assure the few cantons that have expressed concerns.

Denying placing a blanket ban on 5G in Switzerland, the Swiss Federal Office for the Environment described reports of such ban or suspension as misleading. It went further to say that although it wrote a letter to the government, such letter did “not contain any recommendation to stop the permitting of 5G base stations. Rather, it sets out how the cantons can proceed with the permitting of 5G and adaptive antennas until FOEN’s enforcement aid on adaptive antennas is available.”

In all these, the advantages of having the 5G network cannot be overemphasised. It will certainly change how we do things radically, making life easier and better. With unprecedented speed of up to 10Gbit/s over time, a response time that will fall from the current 25 to 35 milliseconds to just a few milliseconds, with more devices enabled to transfer far more data which could mean we can transfer as much data in a day as we currently do now in one week, its efficiency and many other merits of the new network, it would be economically suicidal, socially asphyxiating and technologically retrogressive if we allow the rest of the world to leave us so far behind because of some unfounded fears over a technology that we should be racing to embrace rather than demonise.

The coronavirus pandemic like every other pandemic that has hit the world in the past will soon pass. When it does, the 5G network will remain and the world would be better for it. The earlier we embrace it, the better. While I understand the fears of people and sympathise with them on their fears for 5G, evidence from around the world where 5G has since been in operation show that the network is innocent of all the charges leveled against it.

—jrndukwe@yahoo.co.uk; Twitter: @StJudeNdukwe

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