By Eric Elezuo Photos: Ken Ehimen
In the past, financial service houses were regarded as Sherlock homes, where it is absolutely difficult for anyone to access loans for whatever project he is interested in. And when he does, he pays back through his nose, not without attendant harassments from the borrowing house.
But all that has changed now with the emergence in 2009 of a first class financial services company, UT Financial Service Nigeria Limited, a subsidiary of UT Holdings, with headquarters in Ghana.
Under the able leadership of a man who had all his life been involved in co-ordination of figures, Mr. Ade Adebajo, the customer friendly non-banking financial institution, which performs most of the functions of the regular bank and more, has surpassed the expectations of its customers, who have nothing but good will for them.
Recently, The Boss encountered the management team of the evergreen establishment vis a vis the Chief Executive Officer, Mr. Ade Adebajo, the Chief Operating Officer, Mr. Felix Osadiaye and the Head Projects and Investments, Mr. Michael Adeolu-Olaiya, in a no holds barred interview, where they revealed the intricate details that make the company the best anyone can experience.
Sometimes in April 2009, UT Financial Services came on board with the sole aim of correcting certain anomalies in loan assessment among individuals and SMEs. It had said it was not a banking institution, but today, it has sort of derived banking tentacles.
According to Mr Adebajo, “We do not operate as a conventional bank; we only do some of the things that banks are allowed to do but in actual fact, we are not a bank. We take market borrowings, popularly known as fixed deposits from our clients and also give loans like banks, but we are not a bank. As a result, we are classified as a non-banking financial institution with the Central Bank of Nigeria.
However, it is imperative to note that the functionality of the institution is made available based on their distinction from other outfits based on services rendered. Mr.Adebajo continued:
“One of the very many things that distinguish us from others is our rate which is very competitive. Again, we have the capacity to process a loan within 72 hours and in most cases 48 hours. Our operations are designed in such a way that when an application is received today, by the next day, the customer may have access to the funds. The power of timing is one of our strength. We understand that anybody who asks for loan is in dire need of it, and so we swing into action immediately. Our speed has been highly commended by our customers”.
“Consequently, our rates and speed of response are factors you can’t overlook, and is much better than what obtains in the industry.
“Unlike some companies in the industry, UT’s loan is available to all classes of people without much restriction; individual or corporate, salary earners, government and private sector workers, businessmen as well as contractors”.
The management explained that in satisfying customers, the team of professional staff, which is down to earth in its performance, takes time to sieve through all applications towards determining the valuable and viable projects worth undertaking.
“As a result, our integrity, acquired in the last nine years of operation speaks for us. In these years, not a single case, or scandal has been linked to us. Everybody who is supposed to be here is there. So integrity is a key factor in this organisation,” he pointed out.
However, while most customers proverbially repay loans with their ‘blood’ because of the high rate, UT puts it straight:
“Here, no one pays with his blood, but with his money, and it is so convenient. From the start, we actually consider the business for which loan is sought, ensuring it is viable and profitable and then offer as much assistance as we can. We do all these because we know that it is only when you make profit that you can repay, and it is when you repay that we make profit.
Buttressing the point, the Chief Operating Officer, Mr.Osadiaye added that with so much considerations made, nobody pays with his blood.
“We are very flexible as well. We also negotiate with clients, and circumstances determine the negotiated rate and repayment structures to be adopted, which will definitely suit the prospective customer”.
As regards selecting or preferring one request over another, Mr. Osadiaye intoned:
“Yes, we give loans in some instances and also reject applications in others. But this is all in line with our industry standard and practice, and has nothing with preference.We narrow ideas down to the specific.”
And how is it easy to know applications to consider and the ones to set aside?
“We have mentioned earlier that our staff are one of the best in the industry. They are professionals. We don’t just employ, we employ good hands; those who had worked in the banking industry, as well those who have financial service experiences with references. So, first and foremost we have capable hands. Not only that, when you are engaged here at UT, you are trained according to our ethics and code of conduct in order to deliver exceptional services.
With the parent company domiciled in Ghana, UT Financial Services also has branches in the new Tejuosho Market, Yaba, and Trade Fair, Badagry Expressway, both in Lagos State.
The company is also into housing, runs a subsidiary arm called UT Homes, which presently is making plans to offer affordable homes to residents of selected cities in the Southern part of Nigeria with Port Harcourt as its starting point.
“UT Financial Services Nigeria Limited is not actually into housing, but its sister company, UT Home. The scheme is into building affordable houses for all strata of the populace not just the rich. We sell what people can afford;something a civil servant, teacher or any other person can buy. The company is also into property management”.
In a situation where most companies are folding up as a result of the economic recession which has plagued the country recently, UT’s prudent management saw it coming and is staying above board.
“We are riding against the tide of recession. It is biting hard but we are living above board. While it lasted, what we did was to cut down cost, be more accurate in loan applications to consider, and we have not had any slip.”
UT Financial Services is not an island on its own. It works strictly by the books, especially as its operations are continuously being examined by the regulators such as the CBN. The management explained that none of its policies, decisions and loan disbursement is done without the approval of its regulators.
“Whatever we do, whatever loan we give, CBN knows about it.They come here to audit us from time to time because we have to be compliant.”
In its very little own way, UT is involved in various corporate social responsibility. Presently, it is planning to set up its own charity organisation on its 10th year anniversary coming very soon. But at the moment, UT gives donations to different organisations as well as for charity purposes.
How does the operational arm of the company function? Osadiaye was down to the basic details:
We give a lot of attention to documentation.We have streamlined our documentation process to give customers easy access to loans, to the extent they are not required to present hundreds of papers while processing the loan. The customer just fills a form and any other supporting documents are restricted to what is actually needed for a loan.
Also, our professionalism has made us strictly customer-centric, and we strive to make sure that we even exceed the customers’ expectation and one way we do that is to ensure that applications are processed within 48 hours, and like magic, your loan is ready.This brings out the wow factor in our customers.
We also provide quality business and financial advisory services to our customers free of charge, and our repayment structure, which is very vital, is also very accommodating. We have designed our repayment structure in such a way that it allows customers to pay just the interest portion over most period of the loan. A standard six months long loan will attract just the interest component for maybe four or five months so that the customer can have enough time to get payment for his contract. By so doing, the bulk payment is shifted towards the end of the term,and the burden is reduced on the client. It can also be on quarterly basis instead of monthly depending on what suits the customer.
These operational services have in no small measure created a trust relationship in the customer as feedbacks attest. It is not therefore, surprising that a company that is not too much in advertising gets more and more customers on a daily basis mainly through referrals. The feat has been achieved through customers’ tell-tale. One customer tells another and another tells another. All is a testimony of the A-class services received, and it has been very tremendous.
Yes projects; how are the viable ones determined? Mr. Michael Olaiya is the expert:
“In terms of project viability, which we lay emphasis on, we try to merge real life scenarios with what has been presented to us on paper in form of business cases. We don’t just sit in the office and look at your paper, we go into the field to have a first-hand look. Whenever a client walks in here with a properly packaged business proposal, we make a comparison with the actual situation.Ideally, what the company wants from every project we finance is money back and of course profit for whoever owns project.
So apart from the fact we are trying to ensure that the money we give returns, we also want to make sure that your project succeeds, and that’s the beginning of a long lasting relationship.”
One thing connects the threesome; CEO, COO and HPI, and that is customer satisfaction, and end to end solution, which runs through down to consultants and other members of the organisation.
“Basically, what I do in the company is to monitor the on ground situation and work with those businesses, especially the small and medium businesses to ensure that their businesses succeed and the company makes profit,” Olaiya said.
For all UT has already offered its customers, it is bent on improving its services by the minutes, and adding more value to businesses and its growth. Among such improvements achieved and still being researched are the professional design of the product to accommodate even the low income earners, and provide insurance benefits to certain clients as a value addition.
It was further disclosed that UT Homes will also cut the prices of houses just as rates are reduced and staff quality is continually improved.
Mr. Ade Adebajo did not just wake up one morning to run such a customer oriented organisation. He had been baked thorough to be at the helm of affairs.
“My background is financial service and I have been in the industry for about 22 years. I had the first taste of financial service job in the United Kingdom and had functioned in the banking industry thereby grounding myself thoroughly for the job I am doing now. My background has always been finance, and some property development. I have not strayed from it,” Adebajo said emphatically.
For a UK trained professional, his love for his country drove him back home to contribute in its development.
“It is always good to train there, then come home and practicalise them, bringing with you new modalities like quick response to loan application etc,” he added.
With a vision as big as UT Financial Services, the management believes that they are competing with no one but themselves much as there are other players in the industry.
In the same vein, the customer oriented services the outfit is known for today, is sure to catapult the company to a greater level in the next five years, when it is expected to become a global name in finance related enterprise, as well as a brand everybody will be interested in.
“UT stands alone amongst all, and that is why our brand and our quality is different. I will leave the numbering to others. We stand tall and we are proud of where we are. So another thing that stands us out is our link with Ghana; that is the advantage that most other finance companies do not have.
But is there an enabling environment the government of Nigeria can provide to help the industry perform optimally, a question which does not in any way beg for answers but is obvious.
The company, which belong to the Finance House Association of Nigeria (FHAN), believes that an amendment of the stringent measures that regulate the institution will be a welcome development so that companies in the industry can become stable.
“The government should encourage us knowing that the challenges we are facing is as a result of challenges in the economy. We need support like the intervention funds which banks and other institutions always get and many more.”
So what’s the umbrella body of the industry doing about it?
“They are actually speaking out, and the CBN has promised to look into ways of assisting, and we hope they will walk their talk.”
Acknowledging that the finance business is a lucrative one, Adebajo admitted that it takes commitment, determination and hard work with focus and doing the right things to make it lucrative, adding that the profession has bestowed on him everything he can boast of today.
“Dear customers, I encourage you to come to us a bit more; we have a lot to offer, and doing business with UT Financial Services will open a lot of doors for you.”