“There are problems in this industry that I need to sort out. It has problems and we are not willing to come out. We are smart in ties, in our offices but there are things we need to do,” a young man who until five months ago, was at the top of his game in one of Uganda’s banks speaks with confidence.
Mr Henry Ssegawa, the founder and chief executive officer of Financial Realities Limited, is on a mission. He set up an enterprise with Shs15m months ago to save distressed bank debtors.
Previously, he loved his job due to the comfort and expectation of a salary at the end of a month. But this was insufficient.
Born in 1982, Mr Ssegawa was inclined to banking accounting and finance as a teenager.
“I wanted to know about money for example I wondered if people are broke, why doesn’t the government print more money? Why does it say it has no money? Those are the things that puzzled me a lot,” he says.
However, due to financial constraints that did not allow him to study a business course at Makerere University Business School, Mr Ssegawa pursued a Bachelor’s degree in Development Studies at Makerere University. His dream of going into the finance world still lived on. In 2007, after school, he applied for a job in one of the banks in the city, did an aptitude test and joined the bank as a banking officer. At the time, getting a job in the bank was not tied to a course, since there were a few business courses unlike today. He counted money, did customer care service and opened new accounts.
A year later, he joined the bank’s credit section, which has been an integral part of his 10-year banking career. For 90 per cent of this period, he was in the lending section as a credit analyst, recruiting borrowers, assessing them and processing loans.
But two years ago, a business idea popped and after reflection, he decided to take the risk and do what he loves most especially because of the changing face of banking.
“People need to have their eyes open. The opportunities are narrowing with the coming in of agency banking, e-banking, mobile money,” he says. He had to think outside the box, he told himself.
Non-performing loans (NPLs) in the industry became the catalyst for setting up his company. According to European Central Bank, a bank loan is considered non-performing when more than 90 days pass without the borrower paying the agreed instalments or interest. Mr Ssegawa says statistics showed an upward trend, an indication of a slippery slope that has financial consequences for the banks and economy.
By the end of 2016, Uganda had 10.5 per cent (Shs1.2 trillion) in non-performing loans; a statistic he says grew from 7.5 per cent in September 2016.
“How can I find a solution?” he thought. In his research, he found that loans go bad from the level of inception, maybe because of financial illiteracy among customers or impunity on the bank’s side resulting into wrong products. More so, diversion of funds and a difficult economy topped that list.
Although Mr Ssegawa is helping clients to make the right choices on products from suitable banks and use them for their rightful purposes, his core business is to ensure clients who have failed to pay back bank loans find solutions.
“Somebody borrows money and they feel they cannot pay and there are reasons. Yet some banks are not willing to listen because the structure of the bank does not permit or some bankers do not know what to do,” he says.
Mr Ssegawa advises such customers. “I advise them because there are banks that are willing to understand and give you a product so you stop defaulting, reschedule the loan or even get another bank to buy off the loan,” he says.
Under his second business, Sacred Rock Limited, he also helps distressed clients who used their properties as collateral security to find buyers before the bank possesses and sells them.
For instance, if one’s property is valued at Shs500m, the bank may sell it at a discounted value of 70 per cent (Shs350m) yet a buyer is willing to take it at Shs450m.
Mr Ssegawa says he is determined to reduce lawsuits, a major problem facing banks.
“When I meet a client, I find the cause of default and if there is no solution, I advise them to sell. By selling off the property, it helps the client get some money over and above the bank’s sale. More so, when the property goes into newspapers, they run to lawyers who tell them they can win the case yet there is no case,” he explains.
He gets a commission depending on the stage of distress and solution needed.
Give it time and nurture the idea.
Be transparent so that you easily work with clients
Have a network with banks, the legal fraternity and bailiffs.
How Ssegawa found solution to high NPLs
Setbacks make better businessmen and for him, working in an industry that commands a lot of confidentiality is one of those. Some banks are unwilling to share information on clients but he initiates contact at all levels in banks.
But some clients refuse to share information until situations in the business get worse.
The business was rolled out successfully, something Mr Ssegawa attributes to experience, professionalism, knowledge, a strong network of property buyers and bank officials.
He has seven workers, including a lawyer and other financial experts. He also partners with bailiffs, lawyers, heads of credit and recovery managers in banks.
Market response has been overwhelming. His clients have grown thanks to social media.
So far, he has saved about 12 distressed clients and helped banks sell eight key properties, with others in the pipeline. He prefers not to disclose his profits though he says he recouped his initial capital in the first month.
Mr Ssegawa plans to partner with banks to earn a commission when he sells their auctioned property. He wants to target sale of bank auctioned properties to investors and Ugandans in the diaspora.