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Financial Sector Overview

Economic Context

Sierra Leone is a small West African country of 7.6 million people. It has been a member of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) since its creation in 1975. The country experienced a rather strong and stable economic growth between 2003 and 2014, averaging 7.8%. After being hard hit by the Ebola epidemic in 2014, Sierra Leone was faced with a major economic shock that caused a significant 21% contraction in domestic GDP in 2015. Economic growth resumed in 2016 with an average of 4.7% over the last two years, driven by the good performance of the agricultural sector, which accounts for more than half of the annual GDP. However, the downward trend in the exchange rate and the rise in the country's energy bill have generated inflationary pressures that the central bank has contained with a tight monetary policy. Moreover, with the public debt ratio continuing to rise, reaching 66% of GDP in 2018, the World Bank and IMF have sounded the alarm about the risks inherent in public debt sustainability. The business environment continues to deteriorate, with Sierra Leone ranking 163rd out of 190 countries in the Doing Business 2019 ranking, down from 160th in 2018 and 140th in 2015. The country also suffers from a large deficit in basic infrastructure and opacity in natural resource management. This underscores the importance of ongoing reforms aimed at reinforcing state budget management, the environmental aspects of the mining code and the country's attractiveness to international investors.

Overview of the Financial Sector

Sierra Leone's financial sector is mainly dominated by commercial banks, with cumulative assets of SLL 7430 billion (Leone, the local currency) as of 31 December 2017, or USD 971.1 million, representing 79.2% of total domestic financial sector assets. The sector is small and underdeveloped, and at end-2017 consisted of 14 commercial banks, 17 community banks, 11 insurance companies, 23 microfinance institutions or MFIs (5 of which are authorised to collect deposits), a stock exchange, 2 mobile money operators, 62 bureaux de change and 59 associations providing financial services. Two state-owned banks hold about 30% of the total financial sector assets. However, these banks are facing governance problems that de facto threaten the systemic balance of the domestic financial sector. The Central Bank (Bank of Sierra Leone - BSL) is responsible for monetary policy and overall regulation and supervision of Sierra Leone's financial sector, while the National Social Security Insurance Trust (NASSIT) and the Sierra Leone Insurance Commission (SLICOM) oversee the pension and insurance sectors, respectively.

The BSL launched the National Strategy for Financial Inclusion (NSFI) in December 2016 in partnership with the Ministries of Finance and Trade and Industry to strengthen financial inclusion in the country for the period 2017-2020. In 2018, an IMF evaluation report highlighted the need for the BSL to strengthen its internal governance to effectively play its role in promoting the stability of the domestic financial sector and supporting economic growth.

The Banking Sector

Structure of the Banking Sector - Sierra Leone's banking system at end-2017 comprised 14 commercial banks with a network of 109 branches nationwide, including 4 locally owned banks and 10 foreign bank subsidiaries. The 5 largest banks hold 64% of total market assets. Sector assets in local currency increased sharply from SLL 3620 billion (USD 835.1 million) (21.9% of GDP) in 2012 to SLL 7430 billion (USD 971.1 million) (27.7% in 2017) in 2017. In contrast, the modest increase in the total volume of banking assets in dollar terms between 2012 and 2017 mainly stems from the sharp depreciation of the local currency against the dollar during the period in question (As of 31 December 2012, USD 1 = SLL 4335; as of 31 December 2017, USD 1 = SLL 7651).

Credit and Deposit Structure – Local currency credit to the economy increased by 2.1% between 2016 and 2017, from SLL 1500 billion (USD 273.1 million) to SLL 1530 billion equivalent to USD 278.6 million ( The exchange rate chosen is that of 2016, the reference year for the comparison, the local currency having depreciated sharply against the dollar during the period under review). The "Trade and Finance" (33.2%) and "Construction" (19%) sectors account for most of the credit to the economy. The volume of deposits collected represents about three-quarters of bank liabilities (72.2% in 2017).

Financial Strength of the Banking Sector – Although there are significant variations among banks, the sector is generally well capitalised, liquid and profit-oriented. The sector's capital adequacy ratio averaged 43.3%, well above the regulatory 15%. The level of non-performing loans tended to decline significantly between 2016 and 2018, from 22.6% in December 2016 to 12.8% in June 2018. That downward trend is attributable to efforts to recover and write off non-performing loans from bank balance sheets. In nominal terms, the profitability of the banking sector also increased by 77% in local currency between 2016 and 2017, rising from SLL 217.1 billion (USD 39.5 million) to SLL 384.9 billion (USD 50.3 million). In relative terms, return on assets (ROA) and return on equity (ROE) increased respectively from 2.9% in 2016 to 5.3% in 2017, and from 22.3% to 25.6%.

Financial Inclusion

Sierra Leone has one of the lowest rates of financial inclusion in the West African region and on the continent. According to Global Findex 2017 data, only 19.8% of the adult population has access to formal financial services; 11% of such adults have a mobile money account and 5.2% have access to credit from a financial institution. In comparison, sub-Saharan Africa has better performance on average, with 42.6% of the adult population holding an account with a financial institution, 20.9% for mobile money services and 8.4% with access to credit with a financial institution.

The number of automated teller machines (ATMs) and other electronic payment terminals (Point of Sale - POS) increased slightly from 70 in 2013 to 73 in 2017. The volume and value of ATM and POS transactions also tended to increase over the same period under review, although the geographic distribution was uneven, with the western region of the country accounting for more than 70% of ATMs and other electronic payment terminals (POS) in the country.

A National Strategy on Financial Inclusion (NSFI) has been designed to accelerate the financial inclusion of almost 90% of the economically active population, who are currently excluded from the formal financial system. Therefore, the BSL and the Government have identified six priority intervention areas to promote an inclusive financial system. These are (a) a coherent public policy combined with appropriate regulation; (b) customer-centric financial products and services; (c) digital financial services; (d) access to finance for very small, small- and medium-sized enterprises; (e) financial education and consumer protection; and (f) analysis of available financial data.

At the international level, BSL joined the Alliance for Financial Inclusion (AFI) in 2009 and the Government of Sierra Leone is also a member of the Better Than Cash Alliance Partnership, established by the United Nations, with the main objective of ensuring increased use of digital payments services for poverty reduction and strengthening global financial inclusion.

Microfinance and SME Financing

The microfinance sector in Sierra Leone is jointly driven by Community Banks (CBs), Microfinance Institutions (MFIs) and Financial Services Associations (FSAs). Some MFIs within the MFI niche offer exclusive microcredit services and are not allowed to collect customer deposits. There were 59 financial services associations, 17 community banks and 23 MFIs as of 31 December 2017, of which 5 were simultaneously offering credit and customer deposit management services. The combined resources of community banks and MFIs by end-2017 amounted to SLL 192.4 billion (USD 25.1 million), while their total loan portfolio at the same date stood at SLL 190.8 billion (USD 24.9 million). The volume of loans of MFIs licensed to collect deposits increased by 47% between 2016 and 2017. They also had the lowest portfolio at risk (PAR) level in 2017: 14.8%; compared to 17.6% for community banks and 33% for MFIs exclusively granting loans.

Furthermore, the central bank has set up an internal department in charge of managing the database of credit records and reports in the domestic financial system (called the Credit Reference Bureau - CRB), used by financial institutions to assess the creditworthiness of potential borrowers. Under the CRB, the BSL reported receiving an average of 100 daily inquiries and producing 44,302 credit reports

Mobile Money and Digital Finance

As of 31 December 2017, Sierra Leone had two (2) licensed mobile money operators namely: Orange Money and Afrimoney. During the same period, 4,557 independent agents were providing mobile money services throughout the country and 326,797 people had mobile money accounts, representing 4.4% of the Sierra Leonean population. By way of comparison, the mobile money penetration rate in West Africa in 2018 was 36%, representing more than 138 million registered accounts out of a total population of 377 million. Therefore, Sierra Leone is lagging behind in mobile money penetration, particularly within the sub-regional context. The value of mobile money transactions in Sierra Leone at end-2017 amounted to SLL 309 billion (USD 40.4 million) for 1.9 million transactions.

Under the National Strategy on Financial Inclusion 2017-2020, the development of digital financial services is one of the four priority areas for government intervention since such services generate significant flows of customer data that financial institutions can harness to better meet the people's financial needs. In 2018, BSL and the United Nations Capital Development Fund (UNCDF) shared the results of a joint survey indicating that 10 operators are active in the growing digital finance market in Sierra Leone, of which 2 mobile money operators and 8 commercial banks.

Insurance Sector

As of end-2017, the sector was driven by 11 insurance companies whose assets had increased significantly in recent years. Assets increased by nearly 200% between 2010 and 2014 to attain SLL 111.6 billion, i.e. about USD 25 million. A new regulatory framework was put in place in 2016 to strengthen the sector's penetration rate, financial solidity indicators and governance. The Sierra Leone Insurance Commission (SLICOM) is the sector's regulator.

Capital Market

The local stock exchange, the Sierra Leone Stock Exchange (SLSE), had only 3 listed companies as of 31 December 2017, with relatively low capitalisation estimated at USD 30 million. Although the corporate bond market was non-existent on the SLSE at that time, Government bond issues in local currency increased between 2016 and 2017, from SLL 2838.3 billion (USD 517 million) to SLL 3830 billion (USD 697.5 million). The largest share of the portfolio is held by commercial banks - SLL 2785.3 billion (USD 507.2 million) in 2017, representing 72.7% of the government's bond portfolio. The value of such portfolio held by the BSL between 2016 and 2017 also increased by more than 172% due to the partial repurchase of treasury bills held by commercial banks to enhance liquidity in the banking system. The BSL's share actually increased by SLL 420.9 billion (USD 76.7 million) over the period reviewed, from SLL 244.5 billion (USD 44.5 million) to SLL 665.45 billion (USD 121.2 million).

Social Security System

Sierra Leone's pension system is managed by the National Social Security Insurance Trust (NASSIT) and covers both civil service and private sector employees. Negotiations have recently begun between NASSIT and associations of informal economic stakeholders to include them in the national pension plan. The legal retirement age is 60 years, and the payment of benefits is subject to a minimum contribution period of 180 months. Contributors' premiums increased to SLL 347.7 billion (USD 45.4 million) in 2017, while NASSIT retirement benefits in the same year amounted to SLL 80.3 billion (USD 10.5 million). Based on BSL's 2017 financial stability report, NASSIT's investment portfolio consists of real estate investment (31.5% of the total portfolio), corporate loans (19.8%), equity investments in firms (14.4%), government bonds (12%), term deposits (11.3%), demand deposits (8.2%) and land investment (2.8%).  

Contact details Information of Banks Operating in Sierra Leone







 29/31 Siaka Stevens
Street, Freetown

 (+232) 22-225-264


 25/27 Siaka Stevens Street Freetown

 (+232) 22-222501


 9-11 Lightfoot Boston
Street, Freetown

 (+232) 22-225-21


 2 Howe Street, Freetown

 (+232) 22-221-155


 12 Wilberforce Street,

 (+232) 22-228-493


 2, Charlotte Street,

 (+232) 22-220-117


 22 Rawdon Street,

 (+232) 22-222877


 3 Charlotte Street and 6
Lightfoot Boston Street,

 (+232) 22-221704


 30 Siaka Stevens Street,

 (+232) 22-229-772


 30 Liverpool Street,

 (+232) 22-222-606


 15 Charlotte Street,

 (+232) 22-228-099


 31 Siaka Stevens Street,

 (+232) 22-220-095


 18- 20 Rawdon Street,

 (+232) 225-338655


 3 Rawdon Street, Freetown

 (+232) 22-229-767



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At a Glance

At a Glance Source
Population in thousands (2019): 7,813.21
GDP per capita (current US$) 2019 - World Average 10,721.61: 504.46
Account (%) age 15+) - (2014 vs 2017): 16% | 20%
Agriculture Orientation Index - Credit ( Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries share of GDP) (2015 vs 2016): n/a
Financial Inclusion Strategies: National Strategy for Financial Inclusion 2017 – 2020
Domestic credit provided by financial sector (% of GDP) 2017: 21.94
Made or received digital payments in the past year (% age 15+) (2014 vs 2017): 13% | 16%
Remittances % of GDP for 2017: 0.015
Mortgage Interest Rate / Mortgage Term (years): 23% | 15

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