Ecobank’s Ade Ayeyemi: Give banks the flexibility they need to put the economy back on its feet

Ecobank Group CEO Ade Ayeyemi talks to us about the impact of Covid-19 on African banking and the role of banks in bringing about economic recovery. Interview by O mar Ben Yedder

The first time I interviewed Ade Ayeyemi was in September 2016, a year after he’d joined the bank from Citi as the Group CEO. We met in Montreal during the Global Fund’s replenishment conference.

The Global Fund is the biggest organisation in the fight against AIDS, TB and malaria. The replenishment conference had raised $13bn and Ecobank had pledged to commit $10m to support the Fund’s efforts in Africa, where most of its work in terms of prevention and treatment happens.

My meeting with him this time was against a backdrop of a health crisis that has effectively locked down half the world, with economic consequences that could prove very grave for the continent. Like most meetings in a Covid-19 world, this one took place via Teams, Microsoft’s own virtual collaboration platform. Public health and economic wellbeing

During our first meeting, I’d wondered if that commitment to the Global Fund had been little more than ticking the CSR box. So I decided to ask him, now we’re experiencing a once-in-a-lifetime health crisis, whether he felt somewhat vindicated. “The crisis is demonstrating the importance of public health as one of the foundation infrastructure for economic wellbeing,” he tells me, hinting that economies and governments will have to recalibrate their priorities.

“As a society, there will be some re-alignment and some changes. It was good to have supported those initiatives at that time.”

The private sector across Africa has risen to the challenge during this latest pandemic. Given the continent’s fragile healthcare systems, companies across the spectrum have mobilised efforts to support the most vulnerable and provide assistance to purchase protective equipment and tests and thus build resilience into the system.

The week before our video call, Ecobank had just announced a $3m contribution supporting various agencies and international organisations on the continent in the fight against Covid-19. Uptake in digital services

That same week, they’d also announced a partnership with the AU’s development agency ( AUDA-NEPAD ) to support MSMEs, the lifeblood of African economies. Given their large African footprint in 36 countries, did they see any major trends – shifts in patterns of spending, in transactions?

With lockdowns in many of the countries they operate in, he told me, and enforced physical distancing, […]

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