Putting CSR at the core of its strategy has positioned Bridge Bank Group Côte d’Ivoire as a sustainable finance leader with an expanding regional footprint. Ehouman Kassi, Managing Director of Bridge Bank Group Côte d’Ivoire, discusses the bank’s ESG policy, initiatives and results as well as SME and inclusive financing that is stimulating economic growth and reducing socio-economic disparities.
Global Finance: How is CSR influencing Bridge Bank Group Côte d’Ivoire’s governance, business model and strategy?
Ehouman Kassi: Our CSR strategy is fully aligned with our business model and integrates governance best practices through strategic projects we are implementing by 2026.
CSR has significantly influenced our business strategy. Sustainable finance is a priority for Bridge Bank. Our SME financing is stimulating economic growth at the local level, we are aligning our loan portfolio to our CSR requirements, and we are increasing our green finance projects, with 5% of all financing currently dedicated to projects with a positive environmental impact
We are also better serving our community with business practices focused on the highest professional and banking industry standards. Every Bridge Bank employee is trained in our rules of ethics and in the prevention of financial fraud.
Through our eco-friendly strategies to reduce our carbon footprint and manage resources sustainably, we will be reducing paper consumption by 25% per site by 2026.
Our efforts to champion gender equality have been very successful. Women now represent 52% of our total workforce, and we are on track for reaching our goal to have women holding 50% of management positions by 2026.
GF: What are Bridge Bank’s ESG goals?
EK: The climate emergency and sustainability are major global concerns. As a responsible corporate citizen, Bridge Bank Group Côte d’Ivoire is committed to complying with international requirements for sustainable development and has integrated environmental, social and governance factors into our global strategy.
Since announcing our commitment to global ESG standards in 2022, we established ESG as core to our governance, business model and strategy. We also developed an ESG-focused reporting matrix and sustainable financing criteria for our financial products and services.
The main goals of our ESG policies are: caring for underprivileged children; optimizing financing analysis and bank risk management by screening for environmental and societal impacts; assisting asset management companies in capitalizing on new growth opportunities from responsible investment; improving our analysis, management and reporting of climate-related financial risks; and enhancing our reporting on client ESG performance.
As part of our social responsibility program, the bank provides scholarships for disadvantaged youth, primarily girls, via its partnership with Sainte Marie’s Foundation for Education in Abidjan. Bridge Bank recently donated tablet computers to the school for students to use in school and at home.
During 2023, we increased the bank’s ESG budget by more than 180%, from XOF 49 million to XOF 135 million to better support key ESG objectives.
GF: How is your inclusive finance program addressing socio-economic issues?
EK: Through increased funding of microfinance institutions, our financial inclusion program is helping to reduce social disparities. Our loans to microfinance clients increased from XOF 7 billion in 2021 to XOF 8.774 billion at present.
One of the most crucial issues for Côte d’Ivoire is lack of access to financing for SMEs, which are vital to economically thriving communities. To support the development of small businesses, Bridge Bank has allocated 35% of our portfolio to SME financing.
We are also committed to supporting women entrepreneurs: 16% of our SME clients have women in leadership positions.
GF: As Bridge Bank Group expands geographically, how will the bank apply its CSR strategy beyond Ivory Coast and Senegal?
EK: The CSR strategy encompasses our two branches in Senegal as well as our operations and all 14 of our branches in Côte d’Ivoire. Our near-term geographic expansion strategy includes opening subsidiaries in major economic hubs of Burkina Faso in 2024 and Mali in 2025, with a focus on serving corporate clients, SMEs and middle and upper-middle class individuals.
As we launch into new countries, our core CSR goals and policies will be consistent across all of our operations. We plan to develop specialized CSR initiatives for our new markets that also address cultural norms and socio-economic issues that may be unique to each country to ensure they are effective, impactful and supported by our customers.