Non-Financial Offerings Group - Summary of its April Call

The operating model of SOWALFIN from Belgium.

A framework to ensure quality, increase professionalism and facilitate payment of non-financial services

April 16th, 2021

This morning, The Montreal Group hosted the April call of the Non-financial Offering (NFO) for SMEs during COVID-19 and post-crisis Key Topic Group. For the first time, most of the session was devoted to thoroughly explain the operating model of one of The Montreal Group (TMG) member banks, SOWALFIN from Belgium. 

To do so, Jean-Pierre di Bartolomeo, Chairman of the Executive Committee at SOWALFIN and member of TMG Board of Directors, welcomed participants from BDC (Business Development Bank of Canada), BNDES (Banco Nacional de Desenvolvimento Econômico e Social), Bpifrance, CCG (Caisse Centrale de Garantie), DBN (Development Bank of Nigeria), Finnvera and NAFIN (Nacional Financiera) who learnt about SOWALFIN’s 2018 reform and how the bank became the one-stop shop for Walloon SMEs, who can now access financing, information, guidance and support at every stage of their lifecycle. Mr. Di Bartolomeo highlighted why their role as a provider of information allows them to control that entrepreneurs get access to valuable information and the subsequent advice needed.

Jean-Pierre added that SOWALFIN is always open to global exchanges with other actors in the SME Development Finance space, as demonstrated by their give and share philosophy that is part of the DNA as citizens of the world.  

Nicolas Pirotte, Coordinator of Non-financial Offering (NFO) at SOWALFIN was in charge of presenting their operating model. His responsibilities include the coordination of this offering both internally and externally with operators, a mix of non-profit and private actors who implement the non-financial support locally.

To start off, Nicolas emphasized that the 2018 reform was a 180º shift because it meant that the model would move from privileging the offer versus the demand, and that now the NFO would be very result focused, making sure entrepreneurs are getting value out of the offer provided by local operators.

SOWALFIN has being working on reforming the non-financial SME landscape in Wallonia for 2.5 years and finding new ways to solve the problems stemming out of the heterogeneity of the operators implementing the NFO, including the need for an evaluation system. To pursue this goal, and to guarantee a similar level of professionalism across the offering, SOWALFIN acts as a second-level institution that coordinates the first level (field) operators who provide the NFO to Walloon entrepreneurs.

Since 2018, SOWALFIN integrated three big pillars into the non-financial reform. 1) A close partnership with operators (the bank and the operators work together in building the guidelines of the system); 2) Close collaboration with other stakeholders (governmental institutions and administrations); and 3) An evaluation system to ensure a good quality service will be provided to entrepreneurs.

In sum, the new evaluation framework built in pillars of partnership to better serve entrepreneurs is used to systemize the implementation, quality and payment of the deliverables that can be separated into 9 categories: awareness-raising, information/guidance, diagnosis, follow-up/coaching, specialists/experts, provision of resources, matching, facilitation & infrastructures and capacity building. The final step of the reform, which is still underway, is that now operators will be paid based on the outcomes instead of getting subsidized through the classical budget logic. Local operators shall provide a concrete deliverable that follows the framework, and thus it simplifies the administrative work to access funding, facilitates evaluation and increases professionalism.

SOWALFIN’s final quest is to find the formula for the system to properly work. They are working on a Flat Rate System to finance these operators. SOWALFIN believes that through this strict but fair evaluation system, they can guarantee high quality products and services to entrepreneurs and a good payment based on results and not costs to the operators.


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