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Friday, 04 March 2011 10:45

By Masato Masato

DAR ES SALAAM, Tanzania, March 4, 2011 (Tanzania Daily News) - THE government launched the Tanzania Women's Bank (TWB) in July, 2009, essentially to support capital starved women in their entrepreneurship projects. But, in just one and a half years on the road, the young bank is struggling to cope with the overwhelming demand for its services, according to the bank's Managing Director Margareth Chacha, in an interview with staff writer Masato Masato.

Q: Tanzania Women's Bank (TWB), described as the first of its kind initiative in Africa, was launched about one and a half years ago. How can you describe the bank's performance so far?

A: The bank, though still at its nascent stage, has its operations going well. Generally, the bank operations are progressing impressively, with fast growth recorded in almost all aspects - customer deposits, loan portfolio and assets.

The bank, for instance, managed to mobilise 5bn/- in customers' deposits just in its first six months of operations. The deposits have since then more than doubled to 13bn/- by last December.

This fast growth in deposits is, to us, an evidence of the trust and love the 'wananchi' have on the bank. Currently, the bank has 80 new accounts opened daily. It's customarily not easy for a bank to issue loans in the early days of its launching but TWB has tried its best to have its loan portfolio growing by almost 60 per cent in a three-month period from 5bn/- in September to 8bn/- in December, last year.

Q: The key motive behind the establishment of the bank was essentially to support women in the business initiatives. To what extent have you lived to that motive?

A: True, our goal is to reach those who cannot access the traditional bank services - we deal with the neglected, financially starved population, women in particular. The bank has already established 12 outreach centres or point of sales in Dar es Salaam where our customers go to get all the banking services.

At the centres, which save as branches of the bank, customers apply and receive loans as well as getting free enterprise training. We have so far disbursed 2.7bn/- in loans to these micro and small entrepreneurs who could not otherwise get such huge loans.

And most, actually 95 per cent, of the customers forming the groups at the outreach centres are women whom we give initial loans of 200,000/-, which grow gradually to 2m/-, the ceiling for microcredit category.

We are not only focusing on dishing out money to people because we take it as our responsibility to impart entrepreneurial skills to our potential customers. We teach them the benefits of using banking services and the importance of saving before asking for loans. The bank is also helping small businesses operating informally to formalise their undertakings. So, my firm belief is that the bank is walking its talks.

Q: It seems almost all the bank customers are women, why?

A: Yes, majority of our clients are women. While women form 95 per cent of the group members at the outreach centres, overall, women constitute 80 per cent of our customers and that is expected.

For, the bank is essentially for women as the name suggests but also the requirements for opening an account with TWB probably are more attractive to women. Unlike other banks, to open an account with TWB, one needs only 3,000/- and one's voter identification card.

We don't demand referees because we know for a typical Tanzanian woman who spends most of her time nursing children at home, it is an uphill task to have a network of bank referees. True, even though men are welcome, I think women are more attracted because they lack alternatives.

Q: Your services remain concentrated in Dar es Salaam but the most financially starved women, for sure are those in the upcountry regions. Any plans to go beyond Dar es Salaam?

A: That is our big concern too though we have nothing to do about it. Extending wings to upcountry regions require huge investment which we unfortunately lack. We started with small capital and decided to start with Dar es Salaam because of the infrastructure available.

Ours is a business that must be operated profitably and sustainably - this is not a charity or social service. But, believe me even here in Dar es Salaam, the demand for banking services among low earning women is extremely huge.

Right now, the banking hall at our lone branch is being overwhelmed...it can hardly accommodate all the customers. And, the bank is opening 80 new accounts, daily. We are trying to acquire vehicles to facilitate mobile banking that would enable us cover a relatively wider area but still funding is the serious problem. We have resolved to sell shares to raise 20bn/-, which we believe will boost our operations.

Q: And besides funding constraint, what else do you consider as challenges that the young bank faces?

A: Power blackout, I think it is the punchiest problem we face. Running the bank operations using generator power is too expensive for a small bank like ours to afford. The government should do whatever it can to rescue the country from this electricity mess, otherwise, the future is highly uncertain. Another serious challenge facing the bank is how to meet the ever rising demand.

You know what; TWB is dealing with an ignored, starved population. The bank has a ready market, with no competition, but has limited resources to supply banking services demanded. We have operated in Dar es Salaam without competition and I believe that wherever TWB goes, it will easily become popular. (END/2011)



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