Researcher of the Month; Lilian Ollows- The Value of SME Lending
Captivating finance guru and lecturer Mrs. Lilian Ollows enjoys teaching, a career path that was never her passion, but one she has now come to enjoy. Her love for SMEs has allowed her to develop great interests in improving systems in place, with a hope of enabling SMEs to get easier access to finance. The mother of two, a boy and girl, is passionate about what she does and aspires to do even greater things with time.
Lilian is grateful to the School of Management and Commerce for the immense support granted to her as she undertakes her PhD work.
I am a finance lecturer at Strathmore University, where I have been teaching for the last 14 years. I started as a CPA and ACCA lecturer at the School of Accountancy still at Strathmore, before moving to the School of Management and Commerce.
Teaching was not in my career path, but once I started the motherhood journey I realized I needed flexi time; and teaching posed as a great option. I was previously working in the banking industry for about six years.
I am stickler to detail. I believe in doing my best and letting God do the rest. I put God first and He informs my decision.
I went to a predominantly Indian school for my primary level, therefore I could easily understand Gujarati and speak it; I also learnt to love spicy food. For my high school I went to Precious Blood Secondary School, a school I believe has informed a huge part of my character to date; I believe we are a product of nature and nurture. After high school I joined the University of Nairobi for my Bachelor of Commerce (BCOM) Finance major and two years later MBA Finance option for my masters degree.
The reason I ended up in the finance field, an area I have come to love, was because it became my default course. I was never interested in accounting but I loved working with numbers, and I was not a fan of statistics either. Therefore, the only course at the time that was enticing numerically was finance. Ironically I ended up teaching accounting as one of my pioneer units.
After completing my masters, I embarked on a DBA (Doctorate of Business Administration) course at GIBS at the University of Pretoria, South Africa. I did directed learning seminars, likened to course work, after which we sat for our open book exam to finalize on the course work. I was happy about the open book exam because I knew I will ace the exams, but I ended up not opening any of the books I carried with me to the exam room; the exam was that rigorous. Fortunately I passed and moved on to the research stage.
For my research, I initially wanted to explore Financial Development and Capital Structure for SMEs but unfortunately there was no database for SMEs in Kenya, causing the collection of data for this study to be difficult. I also found it challenging to work with an online supervisor as opposed to one on the ground and because of these issues, I took a 3 year break as I tried to get a supervisor based in Kenya and find a new topic of study.
I still had an interest for SMEs, so I thought to tweak my topic a little bit to involve SME financiers-this meant that I would collect data from banks which I was able to do using the links obtained while working at the bank. I was also lucky because after thorough searching I got an external supervisor who was already researching on this field, and an internal supervisor who was also very interested in this topic.
I have not obtained my PhD yet, I believe am 60% underway on this journey.
My topic: The value of Small & Medium Enterprises (SMEs) Lending to Commercial Banks in Kenya
From what we read in current literature we learn that SMEs are known to be the growers of the economy, as a result the financial access to promote their businesses is key. In the past banks avoided funding SMEs, a situation that has rapidly changed. I grew an interest in finding out what changed such that banks are now keen on funding the SMEs. Big corporates never find it difficult to get funding because they are listed, but for SMEs it was not the case initially. We need to fund SMEs so that their dreams for growing into large businesses are realized.
I defended my proposal last year in November and passed. Currently I have collected a lot of data and successfully produced three papers; I have presented one paper in a conference in Dubai, one paper during the IAABD conference that was held at Strathmore, and I have another paper which am presenting with my supervisor in September this year. It has been a very exciting year.
I am targeting to finish this PhD by November this year.
I have not interviewed SMEs in my research because the view of SMEs is well documented. I dont believe I will add any more value to research from the SME perspective as nothing has changed from what is documented.
Financial institutions in Kenya are about 44, 43 being commercial banks. I have not found a list of SME banks in my research. Therefore, I used the Think Business Survey to get bank information and the list of SME banks.
Benefits of this Research
To SMEs they will get easy access to funding or be able to understand what banks are looking for in order to finance them. Currently, SMEs shy away from borrowing from banks, fearing that they will be exposed either because of the number of businesses they do, or probably because they fear competition once exposed (which is never the case).
To commercial banks To enable them set policies conducive to SME lending and understand better SME financing. Their contribution to SMEs should eventually benefit their bottom line.
To Policy Makers To create policies that will enable banks to finance SMEs in a manner that covers the banks from risks.
What are your 5-10 Years Plan?
Once I complete my PhD I would like to consult in the financing of SMEs, and find out what can be done to improve access to finance for both SMEs and banks.
I also hope to continue teaching at a higher level. We dont do PhDs for the sake, the joy is to use it to improve the society.
Your greatest achievements in life
I am happy that I am able to juggle family and PhD; I have had to work past midnight to finish this research. It is a great achievement to note that my family is doing alright and my PhD is progressing.
What challenges have you faced?
It took some time for me to get the external supervisor who is the principal supervisor.
Getting the interviews confirmed and especially transcribing them same, is very time consuming.
My research is more qualitative rather than quantitative which means the amount of data content is large.
Where do you draw your motivation from?
God is my number one source of drive.
My children are also another source of motivation as they keep asking me when I am finishing the PhD.
I also look up to my father: He went back to school and completed his degree and masters and is currently undertaking his PhD.
What advice do you have for potential PhD students?
Start. If you want to play the game you have to get into the pitch. And once you start you have to push to the end. It is a lonely journey but it is doable. Be very clear on when you want to start and when you want to finish.
If one can get time off work and do the PhD that is the ideal but of course it depends on the stage of life. It is easier to undertake PhDs when you have less commitments elsewhere.
In your spare time
I still enjoy watching movies, although I dont watch from start to finish in one sitting.
I also enjoy baking, music, swimming and travelling within Kenya.
I aspire to ride a Harley Davidson for my bucket list.