Small and Medium Entrepreneurs (SMEs) account for the majority of businesses globally and serve a critical role in shaping national economies through such factors as employment creation, boosting of the local production capacities, as well as augmenting the local fiscal coffers, among other benefits. As of 2022, according to the Zambia Development Agency (ZDA), SMEs are said to account for more than 97 per cent of local businesses, employing more than 88 per cent of the employable population and contributing over 70 per cent to the Gross Domestic Product (GDP). It is thus safe to conclude that SMEs are the backbone of the Zambian economy.
However, it is unfortunate to note that SMEs remain fundamentally excluded in the product development initiatives of many organisations, as most service providers tailor their products to suit the capacity of larger organisations. On the other hand, for organisations that do consider structuring products for SMEs, not enough sensitisation is done to alert the audiences for whom these offerings are tailored.
It is against this backdrop that Octagon Financial Services Limited (OFSL), formerly Alexander Forbes Financial Services Limited (AFFSL), was motivated to engage and partner with the Zambia Chamber of Small and Medium Business Associations (ZCSMBA) and the Ndola District Chamber of Commerce and Industry (NDCCI) for a ground-breaking training dubbed ‘Employee Benefits Management Training’ held recently at Protea Hotel in Ndola. In attendance were several SMEs from across the Copperbelt region.
Octagon Financial Services Limited narrowed the conversation with the SMEs to two fundamental themes, around which remain a critical information and knowledge gap within the SMEs sector, namely ‘Employee Benefits’ and ‘Insurance for SMEs’.
Mrs Phyllis Tiller, CEO and Managing Director at Octagon Financial Services Limited in Zambia, reiterated that the Company’s desire is to continue providing employee benefits packages and financial solutions that do not leave anyone behind. SMEs, though seemingly, are collectively viewed, as a force to reckon with, evidenced by the fact that they are the largest employer and accounted for the largest footprint in GDP growth last year.
On the sidelines of the workshop was the Ndola District Chamber of Commerce and Industry, through its Vice President, Mr Joseph Malisawa, appreciated Octagon Financial Services Limited’s dedication to providing employee benefits packages and financial solutions that factor in the context of the Zambian SME’s sector. Mr Malisawa, who is passionate about everything SMEs, further indicated that the financial future of SMEs could not be overemphasized and appreciated Octagon Financial Services Limited for being awake to this reality and endeavouring to close the existent information and knowledge gap.
Also in attendance was the Provincial Representative for the Zambia Chamber of Small and Medium Business Associations on the Copperbelt, Mr Joshua Mukonko, who thanked Octagon Financial Services Limited for the initiative and encouraged that this pilot project be upscaled to accommodate SMEs at a greater scale. Mr Mukonko also encouraged the SMEs present in training to take advantage and utilize the information and knowledge gained to make informed mid to long-term financial decisions as they go about their business operations.
In the training, Octagon Financial Services Limited also took time to directly hear from the SMEs present the challenges SMEs often encounter, zeroing into employee benefits management as well as the aspect of insurance for SMEs.
Regarding employee benefits management, some of the SMEs present indicated a general lack of sensitization, particularly to the SMEs audience, on the other available alternatives in the management of employee benefits. Octagon Financial Services Limited was thus urged to continue on this trajectory of bridging the information and knowledge gap.
On the Insurance front, some attendees indicated a lack of policies tailormade to align to the context and manageability of the SMEs sector. Also cited is that certain service providers do not labour to explain in detail the technical jargon as well as all critical aspects of an insurance policy at the point of signup to ensure optimal clarity. This thus causes some to shun away from such initiatives. “The devil lies in the details,” added one attendee to further amplify this gap. Other challenges raised were inadequate guidance on the claims processing procedure and the lack of post-sales initiatives between the service provider and the client after sign-up, among other complaints.
Through the interaction with the SMEs in the Copperbelt, Octagon Financial Services Limited has pioneered an ongoing platform through which SMEs are able to communicate and provide feedback about their operational limitations to enable tailormade solutions which address the context of SMEs in Zambia.
Octagon Financial Services Limited is an award-winning leading regional financial services provider with significant industry consolidation within the non-profit, the public and the private sector in five (5) strategic divisions, namely: Pensions; Insurance; Property Management; Training; and Actuarial Services.
Source: Efficacy Media