Sun | Dec 5, 2021

Access Financial shareholders approve board expansion

Published:Saturday | September 11, 2021 | 12:09 AMKarena Bennett - Business Reporter

Marcus James, executive chairman of Access Financial Services Limited.
Marcus James, executive chairman of Access Financial Services Limited.

Shareholders of microlender Access Financial Services, AFS, on Thursday approved a resolution that will see the company adding four directors to its board, moving from seven to a maximum of 11.

The amendment to the AFS Articles of Incorporation follows recent changes at board-level and senior management, which saw founder and former CEO Marcus James being elevated to executive chairman, effective June 3. The chair was previously held by Christopher Williams for just a year as fill-in on the retirement of the former chairman during a period of transition for Access Financial. Williams is the head of Proven Management Limited, the management company for Proven Investments Limited, which holds a 24.7 per cent stake in AFS. He remains a director of Access Financial.

Fredrick Williams, who previously held the post of general manager, was appointed CEO, while non-executive director James Morrison was named lead independent director.

James previously told the Financial Gleaner that in his new role as executive chairman he would be bringing opportunities to the table for management to execute on, both in relation to the Jamaica operation and Florida subsidiary Embassy Loans Inc.

The current board members of Access Financial Services Limited are James, Williams, Proven Management Senior Vice President Charmaine Boyd-Walker, communications consultant Neville James, and three independent directors: chartered accountant James Morrison, banking executive Michael Shaw and attorney-at-law Justine Collins.

Following the company’s virtually held annual general meeting on Thursday, CEO Williams told the Financial Gleaner that the new additions to the board should happen within within a few months.

“The amendment will allow us to improve our corporate governance framework and increase the number of non-independent directors on the board,” he said.

After Proven, the three largest shareholders are NCB Capital Markets, 8.28 per cent; NCB Insurance Company Limited, 3.84 per cent; and QWI Investments Limited, 3.08 per cent, none of which currently has a seat on the board – a status that is unlikely to change.

Williams said AFS is not looking to include representatives from those shareholding companies on the board, at this time. Access Financial’s Articles of Incorporation allow for shareholders with a minimum of 20 per cent issued shares to appoint no more than one shareholder director.

“The additions will complement the skill set of our existing directors and assist in driving the strategic direction of the company,” he said.

Access Financial’s reorganisation of its leadership team and structure comes amid changes in the regulatory landscape as the microfinancing sector comes under central bank oversight.

Over the short to medium term, Access Financial is investing heavily in technologies that will enable the company to serve its customers through online and electronic channels.

A year into the shift towards delivering more services online, Access says more than 30 per cent of its clients now submit loan applications via its website, and more customers are opting to have the loan proceeds sent directly to their bank accounts.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has provided the opportunity for us to fast- track some of our medium-term technology strategic priorities. Customers can now complete most of their loan applications online or by using electronic mediums,” Williams said.

Its also considering new products for Access Financial and DamarkMCL customers in Jamaica, and Embassy Loans in Florida.

Access’ plan to introduce more offerings to the market would help the company recoup some of the revenues lost to the COVID-19 pandemic. The 2021 financial year marked the most challenging period in the history of Access Financial, and was reflective of the industry experience.

Access Financial’s earnings plunged 19 per cent $266 million at year ending March 2021, and revenue by 16 per cent to $1.8 billion over the prior year.

Measures taken to contain the fallout included the reduction of the AFS branch network from 24 to 18, and revised compensation packages.

“The programme allowed us to consolidate branches based on a number of factors which includes: proximity to the nearest Access location that would still provide geographic coverage for the area, and profitability. These consolidations allowed use to reduce our lease and other premises related expenses, as well as minimal impact from staff separations as most team members were redeployed throughout our network,” Williams said.