Why Nigerian banks will never lend you a dime

We all go broke at different times, and the natural thing would be to turn to our bankers. After all, we have been putting our meager savings in there for a while; and one good turn deserves another, right? Wrong!

You are probably rolling your eyes now because we all know that Nigerian banks hardly lend to individuals no matter how compelling the case is. Yes, I know a few connected or lucky souls get loans that don’t come from your account going into debit because of SMS alerts. I also know a few banks, such as Access Bank, will readily give you loans under 30 seconds. These are outliers, and 2 trees don’t make a forest. The official numbers paint a grim picture. According to the National Bureau of Statistics (yes, they keep tabs!), loans to individuals, which averages N88,000, constitutes just 0.7% of all loans while the ones to awon baba alaye of N1B and above is 82% of all credits Nigerian banks have advanced.

We can both see that it would be easier for a polygamous camel, with its harem of fat camel wives with luscious humps, 100 baby camels, and 3 side-chicks camels, to stroll through the eye of a needle than for you and me to walk into a bank and walk out with our loans.

Everyone who’s got least a D in Economics knows that credit is the grease of every economy and the cogs are the individual spenders, while SMEs are the backbone. So why are bankers bent on keeping Nigeria from attaining great heights? I guess this is the reasons why bank CEOs get bashed at every turn for the poor state of the economy. It has become unpardonable as they deliver multi-billion profit year on year.

It seems the bashing, name calling, and mudslinging doesn’t work on the bank CEOs anymore. They just don’t care.

To rub salt into injuries, the few times banks want to give you a loan, they demand so much documentation and collateral that people are stumped “if I had this much collateral and documents, I wouldn’t even come for a friggin’ loan!”.

So, let’s go get our pitchforks and deal with these evil bankers! Not so fast; there are at least two sides to every story.

Let’s do a walk back and ask ourselves, why does anyone even set up a bank in the first place? To make tons of cash! Shareholders ain’t Father Christmas. Nobody goes through the pain of setting up a bank for charity.

And the way banks make money is simple. They take money from those who have excess cash or who want to save and lend part of it to those who need money. The gap between the interest they pay the savers and what they charge the borrowers is their profit (after paying off your cousin’s salaries and the cost of the ATM withdrawal you made at another bank’s ATM).

If banks only make money when they lend, why ain’t they lending to me and you yanfu yanfu? Obviously, if the money won’t come back, they can’t lend it because if they can’t pay the savers when they come for their money, kasala go burst.

There are two critical things lenders look out for when thinking of handing over cash to you; ability to pay and willingness to pay.

Ability to pay refers to the capacity of your cash flow to pay back according to the repayment schedule, the probability of your business to grow as to generate enough revenue to pay, etc. This is where complex models are used to check you out. For example, it’s a standard practice that you must not use more than 33% of your monthly salary to pay back loans because irrespective of the sincerity of your heart, anything more could impair your day-to-day ability to pay back. Therefore, when banks ask for your statement of account, payslips, invoices, contracts, blah blah, this is what they want to calculate.

If you ask for much more than a bank think you can pay back, they will reduce it or the bad ones will kick your scrawny ass out of their office.

Willingness to pay back loans is a big deal, and it is so fundamental to credit that if you get this wrong, you are dead. I mean deader than a joint of beef. If the ability to pay back is impaired, a loan can be restructured, and it happens every time. However, when borrowers don’t want to pay back, hell boils over.

Willingness to pay back is a function of a working society and I ain’t sure if Nigeria can be classified as working, per se. In other countries where individuals get easy access to cash, you are in so much trouble if you don’t pay back. In fact, nobody needs to warn you to respect yourself. In places like Dubai, it’s even a criminal offense not to pay back: you skip your loans, you find yourself a lovely prison studio apartment.

Nigeria, being a place where law and order is an illegal alien, banks go around this issue by demanding collateral, things they can sell on Jumia or Balogun market if you don’t pay back. And not only do they request these, they do extensive checks on the documentation to ensure it actually belongs to you and that you haven’t pledged it to another bank. Stories of fake documents used for loans are twelve a kobo.

Crosschecking validity of documents in Nigeria is extra difficult as our governments are not automated. Just try to confirm land titles and vehicle authenticity and you can have an idea of the stress.

Since these processes are painful, long and super annoying, Nigerian banks quickly wised up to save their energy for higher ticket loans. Why spend 2 weeks on documentation for a N100,000 that you only make N2,500 on when you give someone for a month at 30% per annum? It would take precisely the same efforts to document an N1B that you make N2.5M at the same rate.

Of course, loans go bad for small and big borrowers. While we hear of the bigger boys with bad loans, the percentage (count) of smaller loans going bad is higher. Banks can afford to get a Senior Advocate of Nigeria to go after the big boys to get their money back and trust me, lawyers are not cheap and don’t do promos. What is the cost-benefit analysis of sending lawyers after a N75,000 loan when the amount in question isn’t enough to even pay the lawyer for a day’s job?

The good news is that fixing willingness to pay, that is to make it extremely painful and expensive for borrowers to default, can be easily fixed. The bad news is that it takes so many political balls only few would attempt it because it would hurt a lot of politicians. We don’t even need the FGN to do any law, there should just be a regulation between banks, backed by the CBN, that if you don’t pay your bills, you should be banished from the financial system. No need to take you to court or send lawyers after you.

If that happens, expect banks to start lending easily without going through too many documentations. They know you will pay back. Easy credit will allow people to have access to good things (consumer spending) while paying back over months. Mortgages will become available. Builders will build more and cheaper as there is a ready flow of buyers. Suppliers of labor and materials to builders will sell more.

Multiply that for every sector of this damned economy and you can only imagine how we will rule Africa.

For want of a nail the shoe was lost.

For want of a shoe the horse was lost.

For want of a horse the rider was lost.

For want of a rider the message was lost.

For want of a message the battle was lost.

For want of a battle the kingdom was lost.

And all for the want of a horseshoe nail.

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