Union Trust Bank (UTB) on Friday 12th February opened its latest branch in Makeni, making it the bank with more branches in Sierra Leone than any other Commercial Bank.
As he declared the bank open, President Maada Bio expressed happiness that Dr. Sanpha Koroma has done so much for the banking sector, and is the only person to make sure that UTB is the only indigenous bank in the country.
“Even with COVID, I am happy to be here in Makeni to open this branch of UTB. We must continue to protect ourselves and make sure that the international accolades we have received from our partners do not go in vain. We all are witnesses to the fact that the number of deaths from COVID is low, the infection rate too is low, and our economy has been stable together with prices. My government also makes sure that the social safety net interventions provided was highly appreciated as it helps thousands of people in their recovery process.”
President Bio averred that during this period banks opened regularly with more mining companies registered, but that banks cannot check credit lending to individuals due to the laws of the land. He said his government has worked to strengthen banking security and made sure that the banks continue to be viable.
“Expanding access to finance is a call my government has been working on that has led to financial inclusion in the banking sector, which has increased opportunities and is creating more jobs. Today mobile banking is thriving and financial institutions should continue to use financial technologies.”
The president stressed that in all these areas, UTB has been vibrant and ensured that people in the rural areas are catered for and have benefitted a lot from UTB.
He said even during the two weeks of cash challenges, UTB never had such problems. The president reiterated that his government will make sure that UTB will continue to have the support they need because all of their profits are invested in the country instead of outside, like the other banks.
The Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of the UTB, Dr. Sanpha Koroma thanked the president for his support and said 20 years ago UTB started working in Makeni when he introduced Western Union to the country.
“I brought Western Union to Sierra Leone when I was Bank Governor, and I had two outlets in Makeni that were viable. Today is just to consolidate our position in Makeni because this city is important to us, because it helps us operate in Kabala and other villages and towns around from other districts.”
Mr. Koroma said Sierra Leone is lucky to have many banks which he said “tells you that there is money.” However, he said the wealth or profit must be ploughed back into the country for economic growth, which is not happening as most of the banks take their profits to their head offices.
“UTB is the only bank without a parent in the country; we only have a board. But all the other banks have their parent office where they take the profit to. And the two other commercial banks; Rokel Bank and Sierra Leone Commercial Bank, have the government to turn to when things are bad. For us we have to turn to our shareholders and Sierra Leoneans for support.”
Dr. Koroma said he was the Bank Governor when Barclays was pulling out, and had to make sure that the bank was sustained, naming it Rokel Bank.
“I have been saying this for long time. Unless Sierra Leone has a stock exchange it will be difficult for Sierra Leonean businesses to succeed. With a stock exchange one needs to present his plans for other people to see and support financially. Years back we tried to start it but there are still problems for it to succeed. I just hope that Mr. Bank Governor you will look into it so that we have one like Ghana and Nigeria.”
Minister of Finance Jacob Jusu Saffa said he was happy to witness the only indigenous bank in Sierra Leone open its doors to Makeni residents, adding they are the only bank that raises funds within the country.
He said UTB has been in areas where no other banks have been, as UTB does not only go to major towns but also operates in villages and less attractive areas.
“UTB has been promoting micro credits and loans to the rural people and they have been successful. They have a strength staff of 300, all Sierra Leoneans. I want to admonish other banks to follow suit and promote local content and help the vulnerable people out of poverty.”
Mr. Saffa stated his commitment to promoting financial stability in the banking sector, which he vowed to continue doing. He thanked all UTB staff and advised them to continue to work assiduously to make the bank bigger and better.
Bank Governor Professor Kallon said since he took over as Governor of the Central Bank he has been promoting financial inclusion and said the bank has been working with the courts to help solve the problems affecting the bank.
“I have been working hard to develop deposit insurance for savers and also for customers to know their rights, and to protect both parties from scam.”
The Bank Governor averred that UTB is an example of success, asking whether Dr. Sanpha Koroma being a former Bank Governor had anything to do with it. He commended him and his staff for their relentless effort to build the bank to such a height and the stability they have helped bring to the banking world.
The Chairman of the Board, Andrew Bangali, said despite the challenges they are going through they continue to make strides to serve the nation well.
He said some of the challenges they face include financial capital and high administration cost and the delay in judgment from the courts to get a speedy trial when defaulters of the bank are taken to court.
Mr. Bangali noted that despite said challenges “they have succeeded in providing quality service to their customers and the country.”
Ambassador Umaru Bon Wurie, the MC of the programme, commended Dr. Sanpha Koroma for making sure that UTB is all over the country and defying all odds to compete at the highest level with the foreign banks in Sierra Leone.