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FirstBank: 130 Years of Enabling Success

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In a country with short-lived corporate excellence and a handful of centenary companies, hitting 130 years is undoubtedly a significant milestone for Nigeria’s premier financial institution, FirstBank. GEOFF IYATSE writes.

Experience, they say, comes with age. Nothing else aptly defines the consistent growth of First Bank of Nigeria Limited (FirstBank) and its consistent reinvention as the conscience of corporate Nigeria in the face of rising competition from traditional and other shadow banking brands.

Not many living Nigerians can list a single other existing Nigerian company founded in 1894, long before modern Nigeria was created. But FirstBank has not only survived the long 13 decades during which it etched itself into the socio-economic fabric of the country and created a niche as Nigeria’s banker, but it has also pushed itself into the frontier of financial technology evolution, making an inroad into the consciousness of tech-savvy Nigerian youths and the upwardly mobile banking public.

For an organisation that has stuck to Nigeria through thick and thin and enjoyed the monopoly of banking the country from the cradle, long before Africa tasted the beauty of financial system evolution, FirstBank could have been a dinosaur. That would have been easy. But it has chosen the tougher option; challenging traditions, breaking new ground, and constantly refreshing its operational template to stay ahead of the curve.

Established in 1894 as British Bank of West Africa (BBWA) by the late Sir Alfred Lewis Jones, a shipping magnate, FirstBank has been at the forefront of Nigeria’s economic growth and development through its superior banking services and social investments across sectors – manufacturing, small and medium scale enterprise (SMEs), agriculture, oil and gas and just about every other sector that has contributed to the country’s economic discovery.

The history of FirstBank is the history of Nigeria. At some point in its history, it even served as Nigeria’s Central Bank. Today, as the undisputed leader of the country’s brick-and-mortar banking, its nearly 800 business locations across the country give it robust presence in every local government across the nation.

Of course, in an era of ‘click’ banking, no financial institution is assessed by the strength of its physical banking network alone. Interestingly, the premier institution understands this logic, hence it has emerged as a force in continuously investing in cutting-edge financial technologies. For one, FirstMobile, its digital banking application, has also become a household name in the financial technology ecosystem. In 2015, when the platform was still at its infancy stage, its user base was about 60,000, a number that has soared to over six million (a growth of over 10,000%) as of last year. That has contributed immensely to its changed perception from traditional bank to innovative digital bank. Today, about 85 per cent of its transactions are initiated via digital platforms, according to insights provided by the bank in its public statements.

FirstMobile appears to have hit the bull’s eye in the bank’s reinvention drive and efforts to appeal to younger demographics. But the platform itself is only one of the potpourri of telecommunications-driven initiatives it has taken on to get young depositors on board. FirstOnline users have also grown from about 90,000 to over one million in less than a decade just as its USSD banking, which targets feature phone users, is even more successful with users increasing by close to 3,000 per cent in the last eight years, to about 15 million.

Last year alone, its Firstmonie Agent banking services processed over ₦1.1 trillion in transactions, more than double the amount handled by seven other big banks. Some of its strategic investments in technology include the development of its smart and interactive transaction banking platform known as FirstDirect2.0 and the introduction of the humanoid robot to the banking ecosystem in the country. The smart banking initiatives have been complemented by its Digital Xperience Centres (DXC) which are currently located in Lagos, Ibadan, and Abuja with plans to open more across the nation.

Overall, its digital banking has evolved in both volume and public perception even with artificial intelligence-driven commercials complementing its digital imprints. Ease, convenience and reliability created in recent years have moved the customer base from 0.6 million in 2015 to well over 42 million customer accounts as of 2023. This number, according to the Chief Executive Officer of FirstBank Group, Dr Adesola Adeduntan, during an interview with The Guardian last year, would double in no distant future as the organisation migrates aggressively to transaction-led banking. In September 2023 the bank’s non-interest income hit ₦293.0 billion, up 111.6% in comparison to September 2022 at ₦138.5 billion validating the bank’s commitment to a transaction-based era.

In addition, the number of users on the Bank’s digital channels has grown from about 600,000 users in 2015 to over 23.2 million users in 2023.

On the back of the extensive technology infrastructure overhaul FirstBank embarked on under Adeduntan’s leadership, its digital banking channels have become the most dominant delivery channel with the percentage of customer-induced transactions processed via digital channels increased from about 20% to over 90%. FirstBank has equally been consistent in its profitability. Its Group profit before tax (PBT) has climbed steadily from 10Billion naira in 2015 to 362.24Billion naira in 2023.
For an organisation that has not only created Nigeria’s banking industry but also dynamically shaped it, there is no reason the brand would not attract the best professionals. It attracted a blend of top Nigerian bankers and became the training ground for young professionals who have contributed to its rich history of corporate leadership. Despite this, Adeduntan who assumed office with a touch of dynamism, clearly understood the meeting point between institutional legacy and modern ‘click’ banking. In close to a decade since he first took over the reins at the Bank, he has brought this to bear, rejuvenating the rich corporate culture of the bank, competing actively in the youth space in both employment and business.

Nigerian banks have grown to become international brands, competing for businesses across Africa, (which they have dominated), Europe, Asia, and other Continents. With its United Kingdom subsidiary (which has a representative office in Paris, France) celebrating its 40th anniversary in 2022, FirstBank has led the revolution. Other subsidiaries of Nigeria’s premier financial inclusion services provider include FirstBank in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Guinea, Sierra Leone, and The Gambia; FBNBank in Ghana and Senegal as well as a Representative Office in Beijing, China.
Indeed, local banks have done well in recent years in opening offshore operations except that most of them are cost-centres, hence the promoters are often accused of ego-seeking and extroversion. And it is true because most of the subsidiaries’ operations have created a gaping hole in the bottom lines of the consolidated accounts of many of the institutions. But FirstBank turned the tide. In 2022, its overseas operations contributed a combined 21.3 per cent to the group’s pre-tax profit. Adeduntan has repositioned the financial institution from purely a Nigerian company to a multinational brand with African focus but a Nigerian nucleus.

Beyond its name, it has recorded several firsts in the industry it single-handedly created. Some firsts include – the first to be listed on the stock exchange, the first – amongst the existing banks – to adopt the use of ATM and the first Nigerian bank – and second in Africa – to reach the 10 million ATM cards-issued milestone. In addition, FirstBank is leading in AI and robotics with regards to the deployment of Humanoid Robots, in the financial services space in Nigeria. The robots are equipped with Video Banking and Artificial Intelligence (AI), taking on the role of friendly branch staff. The financial institution is the first to foray into arts, food, music, and other lifestyle sponsorships as part of the brand value proposition for clients of all ages.

Speaking on the resilience of the bank at a recent function Adeduntan disclosed what he called the bank’s secret of success: “At FirstBank, our purpose is to enable success, putting our customers and stakeholders at the heart of our business.

“For the years of our existence, we have focused on providing excellent financial services to meet the needs of our esteemed customers. We continue to improve on our products and create new ones that suit their specific needs. The reason why we have been successful is our ability to invent and reinvent ourselves. You can only be successful like that when you make your customer the centrepoint of all your actions. That is the secret of our success.”

The bank has demonstrated it is a responsible corporate citizen, playing a catalytic role in the economic and social development of the country. FirstBank’s sustainability/ESG focus, and commitments are in three key areas: Responsible Lending, Procurement & Climate Performance; Financial Inclusion & Diversity; as well as Education, Health, and Welfare.

Customers of the financial institution remain a vital element of its business. So, the bank constantly seeks responsible ways to provide lending and investment products and services that meet the customers’ needs, while ensuring that it manages the environmental social and governance (ESG) impacts in the process thus contributing to and promoting overall sustainable growth and development. About N5 Trillion worth of transactions were screened for ESG risks in 2023.

The bank has shown its commitment to playing a key role in the transition to a global net-zero economy by decarbonising its operations and value chains, driving climate finance, and promoting climate thought-leadership. For example, its partnership with Nigeria Conservation Foundation has seen the financial giant begin 50,000 trees planting with this year 2024 set as target year for this audacious goal.

FirstBank’s community development initiatives are anchored on its strategic Education, Health, and Welfare pillars. In 2023 alone, FirstBank executed various projects under the Start Performing Acts of Random Kindness (SPARK) initiative with growing impacts across 8 countries, including 60 beneficiary schools with over 150,000 secondary school students, and 30,000 underprivileged people and widows; over N100,000,000 (one hundred million naira) donations covering books and infrastructure for students, food items and clothing for the underprivileged, provision of capital for small and micro businesses.
Its FutureFirst programme in partnership with Junior Achievers Nigeria (JAN) has impacted over 1,000,000 (one million) people across the regions of the country including Lagos, Port Harcourt, and Abuja with the knowledge of financial literacy and entrepreneurship. It has also strategically driven partnerships with over 100 Charities/NGOs including LEAP Africa; International Women Society; UNGC; UN Women; Junior Achievement Nigeria.
Following the COVID-19 lockdown, FirstBank stepped in to donate cash (over 1 billion naira) and food to support the government in the fight against the pandemic. It also provided an innovative e-Learning initiative enabling the education of one million Nigerian students to drive sustainable efforts towards improving education for all. In partnership with the Lagos State Employment Trust Fund (LSETF), it launched a N5 billion LSETF-First Edu Loan scheme to cushion the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on low-cost private schools in Lagos State.

For 30 years, FirstBank has remained a sponsor of the annual Nigerian Economic Summit, organised by the Nigerian Economic Summit Group, a think tank group with a mandate to promote and champion the transformation of the Nigerian economy into a private sector-led economy.

It is known for other sponsorships including, the Kaduna Georgian Cup Polo Tournament, now in its 103rd year, which is perhaps the longest-standing sports sponsorship in the world. FirstBank is also a long-standing sponsor of the Lagos Amateur Open Golf Championship at the Ikoyi Club, a property it has faithfully sponsored for 62 years.

The bank has played a crucial role in empowering entrepreneurs, women, students and the rapidly growing creative industries locally, which are gaining global recognition. Its strategic interventions through DecemberIssaVybe, FirstGem, SPARK, FirstBank Women Network and numerous other campaigns have been impactful, especially in addressing some key United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

FirstBank has demonstrated its commitment to Diversity through policies, partnerships, and initiatives, such as its employees’ ratio of female to male (39 per cent :61 percent); and 32 percent women in management, and 11 women on the Board of Directors across the FirstBank Group as well as various initiatives aimed at addressing the gender gap and increasing participation of women at all levels within the organisation.
In addition, the Bank’s membership of the UN Women is an affirmation of a deliberate policy that is consistent with UN Women’s Women Empowerment Principles – Equal Opportunity, Inclusion, and Non-discrimination.

And there have been rewards via awards for its leadership and life-changing initiatives. The recent ones include Best Corporate Bank at the recent Euromoney Awards for Excellence, Nigeria 2023; Best Corporate Bank Western Africa 2023, by Global Banking and Finance; Best Internet Banking in Nigeria 2023, by International Business Awards; Most Innovative Banking Brand in Nigeria, by Global Brands Awards; the Financial Institution of the Year 2023, by Afreximbank Pan-African Business and Development; Best CSR Bank Western Africa 2023 by Global Banking and Finance Magazine; Market Leader Nigeria in ESG – Euromoney Market Leaders 2022. For six consecutive years (2011 – 2016), FirstBank was named ‘Most Valuable Bank Brand in Nigeria’ by The Banker Magazine of the Financial Times Group and ‘the Best Retail Bank in Nigeria’ from 2011 to 2018, an award of the Asian Banker International Excellence in Retail Financial Services Awards.

At the heart of FirstBank’s success story – which includes enabling the success stories of its customers and other stakeholders – lies its ability to continuously reinvent itself. And the reinvention seems to have started in earnest. For instance, its stock soared recently, pushing the Group into the exclusive club of stocks with over one trillion (SWOOT) capitalisation. A few months after the remarkable feat, it went, shoving other lenders aside to reclaim the most capitalised banking stock on the stock exchange.

It has been 13 decades of rising and growing with Nigeria. But FirstBank is obviously not slowing down in its journey with the country its operation pre-dated.

Culled from The Guardian

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Business

Abbey Mortgage Bank Cleared of Insider Trading Allegations

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Abbey Mortgage Bank Plc has been cleared of allegations regarding insider trading during a closed period, as initially stated in the Nigerian Exchange’s X-Compliance Report. After a review of the circumstances surrounding the case, the Nigerian Exchange (NGX) has decided not to enforce any penalties against the bank.
The initial report, dated May 10, had implied a breach of Rule 17:18, which governs the period of closure for trading activities by insiders who possess material, non-public information. Such periods are critical in maintaining market integrity and investor trust. However, upon closer examination and considering the explanations provided by Abbey Mortgage Bank, the NGX concluded that there was no substantial violation warranting a penalty.
Instead of a penalty, the NGX has mandated that Abbey Mortgage Bank attend a compliance training session, which is intended to reinforce adherence to regulatory standards and further ensure the bank’s commitment to best practices in corporate governance. This training, costing One million, two hundred and thirty thousand, one hundred and eighty (1,230,180) naira, highlights the NGX’s dedication to education and compliance over punitive measures.
Abbey Mortgage Bank, a leader in the Nigerian mortgage sector since its incorporation in August 1992, has continually demonstrated resilience and stability. With strategic growth initiatives, such as the addition of a significant investor in 2020, the bank has shown remarkable progress, including a 250% increase in customer deposits from N6 billion to N21 billion in 2021 and shareholders’ funds exceeding N8.5 billion.
This positive resolution highlights the importance of due process and the NGX’s role in maintaining transparency while supporting the growth and integrity of listed companies. Abbey Mortgage Bank’s proactive response and subsequent exoneration reinforces its reputation as a trusted and compliant financial institution, poised for continued success in the mortgage banking sector.
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FirstBank, Rotary Empower 102 Beneficiaries with N20m Start-Up Kits

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The First Bank of Nigeria Limited, with Rotary Club International, District 9110, has distributed N20 million worth start-up kits to 102 beneficiaries in Lagos to empower them across various trades.

The News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) reports that start-up kits distributed included: grinding machines, plumbing kits, deep freezers, sewing machines, generators, gas burners and cylinders, barbers and hairdressers kits, among others.

NAN further reports that the community intervention project had beneficiaries from the three major ethnic groups in Nigeria drawn from Lagos, Ogun and Oyo states.

Mrs Helen Ihonre, Unit Head, Other SME Products e-Business and Retail, FirstBank, during the presentation, offered insights on financial management and economic discipline. She emphasised the importance of maintaining records and accessing low-interest loans to support business growth and expansion.

She urged beneficiaries to prioritise saving from the inception of their businesses, while discouraging them from keeping funds at home, which might lead to misuse. “Start saving from the beginning of your business. Don’t wait till you sell then keep the money in your house”, she said.

Rotary District 9110 Governor, Ifeyinwa Ejezie, spoke on the significance of economic empowerment in Rotary’s initiatives and called for government collaboration to reach grassroots communities effectively. She emphasised the role of Rotary in complementing government efforts and stressed the need for recognition and partnership to enhance community development. She added that the N20 million items distributed were the largest the district had done in one empowerment initiative in recent times.

Bukola Bakare, Rotary International District Governor Nominee Designate, explained the process and challenges of raising funds for the project and how they incorporated Rotary from Singapore to absorb shocks from inflation. She said, “everything that has been given here today is free for the beneficiaries”.

She mentioned that FirstBank was a major sponsor for the project, adding that the 102 beneficiaries were chosen based on a needs analysis from Igbos, Hausa and Yorubas resident in Lagos, Ogun and Oyo states.

“FirstBank is our major supporter for this programme” she said.

Mr Babatunde Adewale, Permanent Board Member, Lagos State Universal Basic Education, lauded the empowerment programme, while reeling out contributions and projects of Rotary International to schools in the state. “We really appreciate Rotary and SUBEB will always continue to collaborate with them,” he said.

Mrs Kemi Kalesanwo, Director, Lagos State Agency for Mass Education, said that 22 out of the 102 beneficiaries were from the agency’s vocational training centres. Kalesanwo said that the state government believed in public, private partnership and was happy with the collaboration with Rotary and FirstBank.

She listed projects donated by Rotary to include construction of one of the eight vocational training centres, owned by the agency in Igbogbo area of Lagos. Kalesanwo, therefore, urged other Nigerians to support government programmes.

Otumba Wemmy Osunde, Chairman, Illisan Development Association, Ogun State, pledged personal commitment to ensuring beneficiaries utilise the items for economic gain. Adekunmi Adeniyi, an industrial gas burner and cylinder beneficiary alongside other beneficiaries expressed gratitude to Rotary International and FirstBank for the initiative. He acknowledged the impact on their respective trades and crafts.

Culled from NAN

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Embrace Artificial Intelligence, AI Expert Tells SMEs

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Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs) in the country have been advised to embrace Artificial Intelligence (AI) technology to grow their businesses. Founder AI Nigeria, Ehia Erhabor, made this submission in his presentation titled “Using AI for business innovation” delivered at the Ecobank MySME Growth Series webinar. He emphasied that AI is a gamechanger particularly for small businesses.

According to him, AI is rapidly transforming industries by automating processes, enhancing analytics, and enabling personalized customer experience, stressing that the future of AI is its democratization where companies of all sizes including SMEs can harness its power to drive innovation and gain competitive edge.

Specifically, Erhabor pointed out that “AI technology holds the key to the future. It is quite pervasive. It is part of our existence and will impact businesses the way we can ever imagine. It can help SMEs develop new products and services by analysing data and identifying customers’ needs. AI can also be used to automate repetitive tasks, streamline workflows, and improve efficiency by reducing operational costs.”

He listed the challenges and risks of AI as bias, explainability, privacy, transparency and misuse, debunking claims in some quarters that AI will lead to the end of the world but rather a tool for development.

Also speaking, former Chief Operating Officer, Flutterwave, Bode Abifari said AI technology holds the key to the future, explaining that it simulates human intelligence to perform complex tasks like research, decision making, pattern recognition and problem solving.

She submitted that AI was capable of improving customers’ experience and engagements for the SMEs, adding that the technology can personalize interactions, provide personalized recommendations and enhance customer service leading to increased customer satisfaction and loyalty for small businesses.

Ecobank MySME Growth Series which started in February this year is designed to empower SME operators across the country. It is part of the bank’s commitment to train over 1 million SME operators in various sectors of the economy in 2024.  The training will provide resources for starting a business, registration processes, industry statistics, and essential considerations for running a business. The series cover key areas such as accounting, credit, sales & marketing, taxation, and inventory management.

Additionally, articles on important topics like increasing sales, advertising ideas, business management practices, case studies, and leveraging technology will be provided.  Ecobank also plans to launch an SME Mentorship program to collaborate with successful entrepreneurs. Taken together, the MySME Growth Series reflects Ecobank’s dedication to fostering growth and success within the SME community.

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