Eric Tsiri, Head, Enterprise Banking – Stanbic Bank Ghana

Economic slowdown is a phase marked by reduced economic growth, often identified through indicators such as gross domestic product (GDP), employment rates, industrial output, and consumer expenditure. During this period, economic expansion is limited or absent. Numerous factors contribute to an economic slowdown, including inflation, high interest rates, decreased consumer spending, reduced investments, global economic influences, and tightened monetary policies.

In Ghana, the World Bank (2023) reports a decline in GDP growth from 5.4% in 2021 to 3.2% in 2022. This downtrend is projected to continue, with growth expected to drop further to 1.6% in 2023 and remain sluggish in 2024 before gradually recovering. Economic slowdowns are a natural aspect of the economic cycle, varying in intensity and duration. Despite this inevitability, businesses must adopt suitable strategies to overcome challenges posed by economic downturns and maintain their operations.

Today’s business environment is increasingly uncertain, complex, volatile and ambiguous. With globalization and internationalization of business operations, crises have become recurrent occurrences in organizational development and businesses. Among those hit hardest during such economic turbulence are Small and Medium-sized Enterprises (SMEs). SMEs play a vital role in the socio-economic progress of developing nations like Ghana but are more susceptible to these external shocks and economic slowdowns than larger corporations. SMEs must therefore deploy or be assisted to deploy deliberate strategies and interventions to withstand and survive these turbulences.

Similar to using raincoats, umbrellas, or finding shelter to endure heavy rainfall, small businesses must undertake strategic measures to remain robust and adaptable during harsh economic conditions. While these tactics may differ based on business types and economic scenarios, they all aim to ensure uninterrupted business continuity.

Firstly, SMEs should evaluate their financial health by analyzing financial statements, cashflows, debtors, creditors, asset conversion cycles, etc.. This assessment aids in comprehending their present financial status, including cash flow, current debts, operational expenses, and reserves. Regular monitoring of financial performance, market conditions, and consumer behaviour is crucial. Effective cash flow management should be a priority for SME owners to cover essential expenses, postpone non-essential costs, and concentrate on critical operational outlays. A contingency plan that delineates necessary expenditures is also beneficial.

Secondly, embracing agile business models is paramount. This approach enables companies to swiftly respond and adapt to market shifts, whether they originate externally or internally. Businesses primed for rapid adjustments and flexible responses to customer needs are better positioned to prosper. Diversifying revenue streams by exploring new products, services or markets diminishes reliance on a single income source. Investing in digital tools and e-commerce capabilities enhances resilience, expanding reach and adapting to evolving consumer behaviours. The essence of navigating an economic crisis lies in adaptability. Businesses must be prepared to adjust plans as circumstances evolve. Seeking counsel from financial advisors, consultants, and industry experts tailored to specific business contexts is invaluable.

Strengthening customer relationship management is equally crucial, achieved through excellent service and personalized communication. Building strong customer connections fosters loyalty and enduring partnerships. Beyond transactions, engaging with customers cultivates a sense of community and sustained support. Incorporating value-added services, discounts, or loyalty programs can stimulate repeat business. Transparent communication with stakeholders, including employees, customers, suppliers, and investors, is advised.

Stanbic Bank plays a pivotal role in supporting businesses through unforeseen circumstances, mitigating the impact of economic challenges. Stanbic Bank’s Enterprise Banking proposition is specially curated for SMEs across various industries, sectors and markets, and covers moments that matter across the life cycle of the business – including, starting a business, managing it more effectively, growing and expanding the business, recovering from shocks and downturns, etc.,. The Enterprise Smart Loan, for instance, offers unsecured short-term working capital support to small businesses with frequent trade cycles and steady cashflows.

Additionally, our Africa China Trade Solution, as well as our Stanbic Trade Club Serves to create access to market for both importers and exporters of goods and services to suppliers and/or buyers across the globe including China, leveraging on strong partnerships that exist within and outside of the Standard Bank Group.

The Stanbic Bank Enterprise Direct centre is a specially designed virtual business centre manned by experienced and well-trained professionals that offer bespoke solutions and advisory services to businesses, including how to navigate economic downturns like we currently experiencing. SME owners and managers do not require to travel to the bank’s premise to engage their relationship officers or undertake a banking transaction but have 24/7 access to their bank through the Enterprise Direct centre of the Bank.

SMEs should institute a structured monitoring system to track indicators and periodically review business plans for swift adaptation to unexpected changes. Remaining informed, fostering agility, and nurturing a culture of innovation, while staying close to clients, suppliers, vendors and business enablers, are pivotal for resilience amidst uncertainty. By taking proactive steps, SMEs can position themselves not only to weather challenges but also to thrive and capitalize on opportunities in an ever-evolving business landscape – thereby living the mantra of “survival of the fittest”.

Source: Ghana/