The phrase, Keep It Simple, Stupid (KISS), comes from the world of design. Its underlying principle recommends that designs and/or systems should be kept simple. This requires that as far as practical, a design or system should be made simple rather than complex because simplicity remains the fast lane to securing the acceptance of its users.

The KISS principle readily comes to mind in the face of frustrations being experienced by potential beneficiaries trying to access the stimulus package introduced by the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) amid the Covid-19 pandemic, and being midwifed by NIRSAL Microfinance Bank (NMFB).

First, a brief recap of the scheme.

Small Business Owners, with going concerns interested in accessing the N50 billion CBN loans for Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises (MSMEs) affected by the Covid-19 pandemic, must do so with bankable plans that outline their capacity to utilise the fund profitably and repay the loans according to terms. The businesses must be active in agriculture, hospitality, health, airline service, manufacturing, trading or any other income generating activity as may be prescribed by the CBN. The facility extends a loan amount up to N25 million at an interest rate of Five percent per annum, all inclusive, up to February 28, 2021.

The collateral shall be as may be acceptable by NIRSAL MFB, and may include any one or more of the following: Moveable asset(s) duly registered on the National Collateral Registry (NCR); Simple deposit of title documents, in perfectible state; Deed of Debenture (for stocks), in perfectible state; Irrevocable domiciliation of proceeds; Two acceptable Guarantors; Personal Guarantee of the promoter of the business; Life Insurance of the Key-Man, with NMFB noted as the First Loss Payee; and Comprehensive Insurance over the asset.

The loan requests are submitted to NIRSAL Microfinance Bank with Bank Verification Number (BVN), business registration (where applicable) and business plan that includes evidence of the opportunity or adverse impact as a result of Covid-19 pandemic. NIRSAL Microfinance Bank appraises and conducts due diligence on the application and, upon satisfaction, forward it to the CBN which reviews and gives final approval for disbursement from the CBN’s Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises Development Fund (MSMEDF), to NMFB for on-lending to the end user.

The foregoing requirements are tough at the best of times. For a Small Business Owner whose business is eligible for the stimulus package, and can meet the terms and conditions of the loan, and proves that the business has been adversely affected by the Covid-19 pandemic, the application process can become complex at the point of interaction with NIRSAL Microfinance Bank.

The loan application process begins online. More than a few applicants desiring to sign up were unable to do so for long periods, a fact acknowledged in NIRSAL’s apology on its website, saying: ‘‘We are experiencing a downtime due to traffic on the nmfb.com.ng. Kindly use these links as alternative to accessing your application forms; tinyurl.com/r6yefgf (SME), tinyurl.com/sobmj7f (HOUSEHOLD).’’

While this alternative may have brought some relief, the real complexity (and frustration) in the loan application process comes with the opening of the NIRSAL website. It opens with the following sign-up options:

Click here for Mini SME Category

Click here for SME and SME Plus Category

For non-automated users, send Business Plan to TCF-busplan@nmfb.com.ng

In welcoming applicants to the optional Mini Business Plan development portal for access to the Covid-19 Relief Fund, it notes that the link should only be used by SMEs seeking funding of between N3 million and N10 million. It advises SMEs seeking funding between N10.1 million and N25 million to access Covid-19-Plus.

The Mini Business Plan offers the following support:

  • Evaluating the feasibility and sustainability of your business.
  • Access of micro and small enterprises to professional business development services at low costs.
  • Structure your operations, marketing and pricing appropriately towards sustainability and growth.

This basic plan, which is said to be a free option, is offered for ₦5,000!

The other plans add post-credit monitoring, management finance, etc. to the basic plan, with price ranges of N25,000 for a start-up and N45,000 for up to five businesses. Seamlessly, the sign-up moves from the NIRSAL website to www.simplifiedcredit.net. It is not clear if Simplified Credit is a subsidiary of NIRSAL or an independent service provider. This is confusing to a visitor.

More important, the website appears incomplete and dotted with missing links. Some of its cells are blank, without content, suggesting that the website is still under construction. The designer, seemingly aware of this, asks and answers the question: ‘‘Not sure which plan is right for you? Just pick up the phone and give us a call (+234 706 5000 835). We’ll help you choose the perfect plan to suit your needs.’’

It is worrying that small businesses are looking to get the help they sorely need from a set up that doesn’t seem to be executing a clearly-thought plan. Small businesses are most vulnerable to the Covid-19 stay-at-home order. They are struggling to keep staff and stay afloat at a time they don’t have customers that bring income. The CBN has done well to initiate the stimulus package of loans at below-market rates. Businesses applying for the loans should not be getting a hard time in accessing the funds. NIRSAL Microfinance Bank, charged with processing applications, deciding who meets the requirements and handing out the loans, must up its game and deliver on its assignment.

As it now stands, the chance of a Small Business Owner passing through the eye of a needle is about the same as that of signing up for the Covid-19 loan on the NIRSAL portal, which is the first step for accessing it. This should not be so. The CBN and NIRSAL must simplify the loan application process, to enable the stimulus package reach Small Business Owners in good time. Keep It Simple, Stupid!

If you are a Small Business Owner experiencing a challenge in accessing the Central Bank of Nigeria-funded and NIRSAL Microfinance Bank-managed Covid-19 loans, contact us at https://smefinance.org/thesmelab