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FirstBank as Synonym for Growth of SMEs in Nigeria

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By Eric Elezuo

It is not by accident that banks need to be at the heart of the SME business, providing support, capital and innovative solutions to help small businesses prosper. It is also not accidental that most countries can boast of some quality banks that hold sway the prosperity of small and medium enterprises. In Nigeria, that bank is FirstBank Nigeria Plc, unarguably the best bank in the country going by its very many firsts, awards, honours and initiatives.

At inception 125 years old ago, FirstBank, having known that small and medium enterprises (SMEs) are the growth engines for much of the world’s economy as well as its sources of innovation, development and jobs, took it upon itself to pioneer the growth of the sector in Nigeria.

Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs) by every standard play a major role in most economies, particularly in developing countries, and especially Nigeria. SMEs account for the majority of businesses worldwide and are important contributors to job creation and global economic development. They represent about 90% of businesses and more than 50% of employment worldwide.

According to the World Bank, 600 million jobs will be needed by 2030 to absorb the growing global workforce, which makes SME development a high priority for many governments around the world. This is the yardstick FirstBank has keyed into to circulate among all and sundry through the provision of funds and technical know-how to practitioners of SMEs.

Again, in emerging markets, most formal jobs are generated by SMEs, which create 7 out of 10 jobs. But because access to finance is a key constraint to SME growth, and of course the second most cited obstacle facing SMEs to grow their businesses in emerging markets and developing countries, FirstBank has stepped in to bridge the gap with clear cut modalities and activities tested and trusted to grow SMEs and lift not a few out of the poverty line.

It is worthy of note that the business of SMEs invariably refer to ‘individuals who are working alone, in growing firms or as part of platforms to create economic well-being’.

However, SMEs can basically be explained as businesses with 10 to 2,000 employees and an annual revenue of US$1m to US$500m. They make up a large, diverse group — both globally and across the industry.  However, many of these businesses face common challenges throughout their lifecycle such as access to working capital, talent and the expertise needed for growth.

It is in the light of the above that FirstBank has taken it upon itself to raise men and women who have what it take to develop businesses from the scratch, and nurtured to great heights in other to continue generating diverse revenue to sustain world economy and eradicate hunger in every form.

According to Ernst and Young 2019 Global Fintech Adoption Index, 25% of SMEs worldwide have used services in the past six months provided by FinTechs in all of these four categories: banking and payments, financial management, financing and insurance.

The bar FinTechs and big tech companies have raised notwithstanding, FirstBank has remained resolute in providing the needed assistance to SMEs and other developing businesses through the provision of funds and needed enablements for growth and sustainability.

It is on record therefore that FirstBank has in a space of just two years (2017 – date) released a total of N170.3 billion in terms of loans to SMEs, the product type notwithstanding while in the same vein a total of 70, 703 different and diverse kinds of SME businesses have been supported and given new leases of life within the last three to seven years. That is pure, transparent dedication to lifting Nigerians from poverty, and out of financial doldrum.

Over the years, FirstBank has delivered innovative solutions to SMEs for basic financial services, such as customer payments, foreign exchange hedging and cash flow management.

And in retaining their dominance, FirstBank has remained at the heart of the SME business, using technology to better understand the needs and context of the business.

As part of its efforts to further launch its specialized SME propositions to its customers, FirstBank cleverly designed a wide range of events and activities during its SMEs week, specifically targeted to and for the growth of SMEs operators. This includes the SME Masterclass with a mind boggling theme “Designing and Implementing a Growth Strategy for your Business”. There was also a specialized one on one sessions with renowned business coaches, culminating in the launch of seven unique pillars which make up the brand’s SME propositions. These and many more are available via SMEConnect – The FirstBank SME portal.

The SME portal is a platform through which SMEs can access FirstBank’s unique propositions specially tailored with the essential tools needed for the growth of their business. The SME portal, according to FirstBank, is also designed to help SMEs identify various gaps that hinder their business growth leveraging the brand’s innovative Business Diagnostics Tool, with a view to proffering tailored solutions and creating opportunities for business improvement, profitability and sustainability.

In addition, FirstBank through extensive research in the past years, has identified these seven strategic pillars to be essential for the sustainability and growth of the SMEs. These seven pillars are access to infrastructure, access to talent, capacity building, policy and regulation, access to resources, access to market as well as access to finance. The pillars, rightly named, have duly informed the bank’s strategy and propositions for SMEs.

To this end, FirstBank’s weeklong activity dedicated to operators of SMEs and held across six locations in Lagos, Abuja, Rivers, Oyo, Kano and Owerri in the month of August was practically centred on one on one coaching advisory sessions. The business owners came out of the sessions better equipped and prepared for the task ahead.

Buttressing FirstBank’s unalloyed leadership status in SME projection in Nigeria, the bank’s Deputy Managing Director, Gbenga Shobo, hinted thus:

“FirstBank has over the years, been at the forefront of supporting Businesses, especially the SMEs as we recognise that the SMEs are the engine of the economy. We are committed to ensuring that we leave no stone unturned as we connect with them in their continued contribution to national development in terms of the employment opportunities they create as well as their contribution to the nation’s GDP amongst many economic values.”

The event promoted the Bank’s SME proposition, and helped SMEs bolster their contribution to the growth and development of the economy.

Consequently, every SME operator can visit www.firstbanknigeria.com/SMEConnect/ to take the FirstBank SME Diagnostics test and get guidance for business improvement opportunities.

It must not be forgotten that in October, at the prestigious Oriental Hotel, Lagos, FirstBank celebrated some SME operators, better known as Firstmonie Agents, when it held the Agent Banking National award in an event themed Planting Community Heroes Nationwide. The Agent Banking Scheme was initiated in 2017, and ever since, has recorded giant strides at promoting financial inclusion across the nook and cranny of the country. There are about 40, 000 agents raised by FirstBank in the 774 local government areas of the nation. Through this medium, FirstBank is leading the effort at supporting the Federal government objectives to deepen access to financial services.

Summing it up, FirstBank’s Chief Executive Officer, Dr. Asesola Adeduntan noted “the unwavering efforts and remarkable contributions by our Firstmonie Agents at promoting financial inclusion in Nigeria, and indeed very much appreciated. Within the past two years, we have been able to create not only 40, 000 access points, but over 150, 000 indirect jobs. We remain committed to doing more, strengthening business activities, driving economic growth and development thereby reducing poverty.”

The CEO is of the opinion that FirstBank will never rest on its laurels as every individual’s contribution to national growth and development is important to the bank, and so will spiritedly continue to support the growth of SMEs.

Over the years, FirstBank has develop customer loyalty through development of a clear value proposition and strategy to partner with their SME customers, and offer them a broad range of solutions to run, control and grow their businesses. The following are some of the ways

  • Helping SMEs connect with an ecosystem of suppliers, distributors and other SMEs
  • Using their expertise across industries, channels and regions, to offer growth opportunities and insights
  • Supporting business productivity by offering solutions, such as cash flow management, HR, talent and tax; and keeping their businesses safe through education on regulatory compliance.

With all these, FirstBank has got the basics right, and it is therefore not surprising that the bank has become a synonym for growth of SMEs in Nigeria.

Additional information from:

https://www.worldbank.org/en/topic/smefinance

 

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FirstBank Conquers Financial Inclusion Challenge with Firstmonie Agent Banking

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By Eric Elezuo

When Nigeria’s foremost bank, FirstBank of Nigeria Plc rolled out drums to celebrate top performers among its over 37, 000 firstmonie banking agents, the reasons were obvious. In the first instance, the bank succeeded in proving that it remains the first name behind the quest to implement financial inclusion in the banking world as well as explain that the gap between the tech savvy and the low literacy clients has been breached. This is because the firstmonie agent network represents the convenient and comfortable alternative for customers that are acquainted with sophisticated digital channels.

Another reason stem from the fact that it has succeeded in looking into the future to create that ecosystem that allows easy financial transaction wherever a customer is in Nigeria.

At the event, FirstBank compensated 37 leading agents with N15, 250, 000.00 as follows; the sum of N250, 000 to 31 agents at the state level; N1, 000, 000 to five agents at the regional level and a whopping N2, 500, 000 to the grand prize winner at the National level. Zayyanu Hassan Ishaq from Abuja emerged the grand prize winner.

FirstBank’s Firstmonie service is providing financial/banking solutions to rural and semi-urban locations across the country. Through this channel, the Bank is providing convenient services that endears trust and provides ease of access to banking products, irrespective of location, literacy levels, familiarity with technology and accessibility to modern infrastructural facilities.

The firstmonie initiative of FirstBank is borne out of the fact that 38 per cent of the adult population in the country is financially excluded. Of this number, according to EFINA 2018 Survey, 41.1 percent are male while 55.9 percent are female. There was need therefore, to get all hands on deck to bring about financial inclusiveness among all and sundry, invariably fostering economic development.

Trancing the origin of firstmonie, the Deputy Managing Director, First Bank of Nigeria Plc, Mr. Francis Gbenga Shobo stated that “It actually started in 2009 when it was just a concept in the bank. We have branches all over nigeria; we are one of the most spread branches in the country. But we felt that there was still an opening out there. It was in 2010 that we launched the firstmomie programme.”

Lending credence, the Group Executive eBusiness and Retail Products, Mr. Chuma Ezirim, confirmed that steps were taken between 2014 and 2017 to give the programme the top of spot status it enjoys today.

“In 2014, we took a decision to change the scheme from wallet base to account base. It took us another two years to test the concept and officially started the pilot in 2017,” Ezirim revealed.

It is worthy of note that the firstmonie initiative had undergone several operating structure changes and value proposition. In December 2017, the bank ran its pilot test with over 400, 000 transactions processed. The success of the first run necessitated its re-launching in 2018.

With a key motive of ‘planting community heroes nationwide’, FirstBank has not only succeeded in developing the small and medium scale enterprise sector but has created independent finance experts and men and women who can hold their own financially.

Giving further details, Managing Director/Chief Executive Officer, First Bank of Nigeria Plc. Dr. Adesola Adeduntan, described how it is FirstBank’s proactive stance to leverage on gaps in the society to provide long lasting solutions beneficial to citizens towards financial inclusion, addressing poverty, hunger, unemployment and reducing crime.

He said: “The key part of our history and our future is about development and economic growth, and the key strength of our franchise is our ability to look at gaps in the society, develop products and services that address that gap. So as an integral part of our strategy, we believe that by significantly working with the Central Bank, we can improve the financial inclusion index of the country. We would, as FirstBank, be assisting this country to address poverty, hunger…thereby also promoting security of life and property because when people are gainfully employed, the implication is that they think less of crime.

He noted that FirstBank’s intention with firstmonie is to try as much as possible to make agents the ‘centre of the financial ecosystem in the country’.

Across the length and breath of the nation, tidings of great joy are the order of the day following presence of FirstBank’s firstmonie agents, even in the remotest parts of existence. The scheme has eased the stress of trading and has raised financially independent entrepreneurs as well as thoroughbred employers of labour.

In Aiyetoro, a riverine community in Ilaje, Ondo State, there are no banks, but FirstBank has positively impacted it. A firstmonie agent, Stephen Adeleye, confided that;

“People can easily walk in without having to travel and that has developed a savings habit because we have easy access to the bank and can deposit their money easily,” he said.

Testifying to the positive impact of the scheme, a beneficiary, Tina Farodoye revealed that “The transaction has really helped my business to grow. I buy my things in bulk and do a transfer from here. And the things I buy from Lagos gives me more gains because they are expensive here.”

Again, Agent Emphraim Osinachi from Obohie, Asa Ukwa West of Abia State explained that people of all ages have embraced the scheme because of its positives, saying that customers are better given attention by the agents as against what is obtainable at the ATMs.

“We serve all ages, from adults to minor. Unlike the ATM machine where there is no assistance, the people feel relaxed here. Sometime ago, armed robbers invaded a house and were able to get only N50 from a home after ransacking the house while the owners were away. The reason is because of the firstmonie agent banking in place now.”

He maintained firstmonie is a veritable option to enforcing the Federal Government policy on cashless economy.

Aliu Adeleye spoke from Lekki-Aja in Lagos, and excitedly narrated how people have come to support and patronise the scheme, stressing that business improved when he added ‘mobile banking transaction using our firstmonie platform’.

“This place is heavily buzzing with transactions, especially in the evenings when the banking halls are already closed. Presently we have about six other locations because of the demands, and they are all doing well,” an elated Adeleye said.

Surajudeen Adebisi Bada from Abeokuta, Ogun State stated that “we open by 8am but people are already lined up by 7am, and there over two hundred customers trying to transfer money and over a thousand trying to collect money. If I look at our data base, I am convinced that we can beat some of the banks.”

Noting the importance of Firstmonie agents, Shobo emphasized that they are the ones the customers go to, to open accounts, take deposits, make payments, sell airtime and all the rest, adding that ‘they are the most critical part of that ecosystem’. He further lauded the CBN for its regulatory role and enablement and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation for their contributions and oversight functions.

“The regulators are very important, and we must give it to the CBN and its governor, Godwin Emefiele; they have done a lot of changes in regulation that have allowed the programme to scale as much as it has, today. A very, very important partner of ours has been the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation; they helped us with grants, advice, and insight of what they had in other countries. We’ve used all that in coming up with the testimonies with which we are running now.

“Today, we have 36, 000 agents, with each having about one or two persons assisting them. We have opened more than 500, 000 accounts, processed more than two trillion transactions through the firstmonie agency, indirect employment in excess of 100, 000 people working across the entire value chain. More than 8, 000 women have been fully empowered servicing different customers, and they can begin to improve for themselves,” he said.

Sustaining the avalanche of positive feedbacks, Kehinde Kudirat Kasali from Ogun State, confessed that ‘FirstBank has been able to help me a lot. This is so that I can stand on my own. I can hold my own anywhere I am, and I appreciate Firstmonie.”

In the words of Uchechi Amogu from Obowo in Imo State, ‘There’s really been a great change in my life. I can tell you that in this very location, sometimes we do up to 200 transactions each day. I was working alone, but now I have employed two other persons.”

From Warri, Delta State, Orode Hesse, said that “Firstmonie has really impacted me; it has empowered me financially, and I have been able to employ six staff; five female and one male. I see firstmonie as a business to employ and empower women.”

Abubakar Aki Bolaji from Abuja puts it this way ‘the nearest bank here is about 15 kilometres away. We have cut the cost of transportation, and we have about 350 footprints here on a daily basis’ exposing a massive influx of customers each passing day.

Conquering harsh terrains and topography, the firstmonie agent banking scheme has reach the nook and crannies of Northern Nigeria and made impacts indelible to neglect.

“We have built up a significant number of firstmonie agents in the Northern parts of the country. A top government officer from Jigawa State told me of a couple of agents at somewhere in Gumel. This is about 70 kilometres to the nearest bank-town. Along the 70 kilometres, he said he saw two agent locations. That’s a testimony of our presence in the North.

We are not stopping. It’s going to be a marathon; we believe there’s a lot to be done, not just in Nigeria. We also have other locations across Africa. Ghana is of interest to us, and we have started rolling our agency banking in Ghana. The Democratic Republic of Congo, a country of about 80 million people, is also a significant opportunity for us to help Africa, to promote financial inclusion and begin to address poverty across the continent,” Adeduntan said.

The assessment of Mohammed Tatari from Bauchi state seems to summarise the unquantifiable advantage of firstmonie.

He said: “We are thankful for this bank that has come closer to us. Before this time, people travel far just to enjoy banking services, but now firstmonie has brought banking close to them. This firstmonie service is helping people in many ways, as a result, we are experiencing large numbers of people here.

“Before firstmonie, goods have to be loaded into vehicles and will not be delivered until money has exchanged hands. But now, we just transfer the money to the supplier and the goods will be delivered without question so this has really changed our lives.”

While the tradition among people is that banks have about 600 locations, FirstBank has 37, 000 locations, and they are present in 99 per cent of the 774 local government areas of the Federation, and there’s no one close to the record. The beauty of the opportunity is that it is being used to impact positively on the society.

The Head, Marketing and Communication, FirstBank Nigeria Plc, Mrs. Folake Ani-Mumuney, was full of praises and encouragement for the Firstmonie agents, urging them to continue in their giant strides while encouraging others to follow suit to further raise the banner financial reach and inclusion, and the Nigerian economy.

“This is about your future and the growth of your locality and the country in general. Continue to thrive and win, and do not rest on your laurels,” she admonished.

“The  unwavering efforts and remarkable contributions by our Firstmonie Agents at promoting financial inclusion in Nigeria is indeed very much appreciated. We remain committed to doing more, strengthening business activities, driving economic growth and development; thereby reducing poverty,” the CEO, Adeduntan concluded.

 

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FirstBank’s Ibukun Awosika Becomes President of IWEC Foundation’s Board of Directors

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The International Women’s Entrepreneurial Challenge Foundation (IWEC) has announced the appointment of Chairman of First Bank of Nigeria Limited, Mrs. Ibukun Awosika as the new President of their Board of Directors. FirstBank is Nigeria’s Premier and Leading financial services provider.

Mrs. Awosika was elected to replace Miguel Valls, former President of the Barcelona Chamber of Commerce and president of the IWEC Foundation, who passed away last month. “The Foundation is very excited to announce the appointment of our new president,” stated Ruth A. Davis, IWEC Chairwoman and distinguished former U.S. Ambassador. “Ibukun Awosika has been a solid, steady presence at IWEC since its inception, and she is also a past IWEC awardee.  Ibukun has not missed one IWEC Conference since 2008 and has lent her voice and experience not only to our conferences, but to our meetings after joining our Board in 2017.  We are delighted that our Board of Directors voted on her appointment, and we’ll introduce her as our president at our upcoming 12th Annual IWEC Foundation Conference in New Delhi, on November 10th.”

The Foundation’s 2019 Conference will focus on “Connecting Women Businesses Globally: Leading the Way to Innovation and Integration”. The event would be hosted locally by the FICCI Ladies Organization (FLO) of the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce & Industry (FICCI), which represents over 5000 women entrepreneurs and professionals across India. This year, IWEC welcomes 39 awardees from 18 countries, with a combined revenue of over US$5.7 billion among all awardees to date.

IWEC Foundation Vice Chair, Carmen Castillo, CEO of SDI International, adds: “Ibukun has demonstrated a significant commitment to IWEC over the years.  Her breadth of knowledge extends from being an entrepreneur running ‎SOKOA Chair Centre Limited, to overseeing the board of directors for the renowned First Bank of Nigeria Limited.  We are looking forward to her wise counsel and to continuously drive IWEC globally as a source of support, connection and impact for women business owners all over the world.”

Ibukun Awosika heads Nigeria’s premier bank, and she is also the founder and CEO of the Chair Centre Group, an association of large companies in the manufacturing, retail, and financial security services.  Mrs. Awosika further holds seats in the corporate boards of Cadbury Nigeria, Digital Jewel Limited and the Convention on Business Integrity, and she is a former chair of several other enterprise boards.   

Ibukun is a graduate of Chemistry from University of Ife (now Obafemi Awolowo University), Nigeria, an alumna of the Chief Executive Program of Lagos Business School, the Global Executive MBA of IESE Business School, Wharton’s Global CEO Program, and the IESE and China European International Business School (CEIBS). Ibukun is a multiple award-winning entrepreneur and the first Nigerian recipient of the prestigious International Women Entrepreneurial Challenge (IWEC) Award as a nominee of the US Department of State in 2008.  Ibukun is also a best-selling author and motivational speaker.

Ibukun was just honoured last month with the International Friendship Award presented at the IESE Business School by the Queen of Spain.

About the IWEC Foundation

IWEC is a New York-based international economic empowerment organization exclusively for women business owners, formed in 2007 with the assistance of the U.S. Department of State.  In addition to the State Department, its founders include the Barcelona Chamber of Commerce, Manhattan Chamber of Commerce (MCC), FICCI/FLO Chamber in New Delhi.  IWEC’s mission is to develop a global business network for successful women entrepreneurs, helping them gain and expand access to international markets by presenting a platform to exchange knowledge, experience and connections, and to promote dialogue among women entrepreneurs and business leaders throughout the world.

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FBNHoldings, FBNBank Ghana Visit Ghana President, Akufo-Addo in Accra

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The Group Board Chairman, FBN Holdings Plc, Dr. Oba Otudeko CFR in company of Directors of FBN Holdings, FirstBank of Nigeria Limited and FBNBank Ghana Limited, have paid a courtesy call on the President of the Republic of Ghana, Nana Addo Dankwa-Akufo-Addo in Accra.

The visit was to appreciate the President for participating in First Bank of Nigeria Limited’s 125th anniversary activities held earlier this year as well as update him of recent investment activities of the Group.

In his speech, Dr. Otudeko assured President Akufo-Addo of FBNHoldings’ belief in the Ghanaian economy and indicated that it was evidenced by the recapitalization of FBNBank Ghana by its parent bank, First Bank of Nigeria Limited. He pointed out that the Group’s investment of US$100 million was well above the new minimum capital requirement set by the Bank of Ghana into its Ghana operation.

Otudeko added that the bank’s confidence in the Ghanaian economy and the talent of Ghanaians had resulted in the appointment of Victor Yaw Asante as the first Ghanaian Managing Director of FBNBank Ghana Limited.

Dr. Otudeko lauded the President of Ghana for giving the youth opportunities to serve in his government, saying it will prepare them to take over the leadership of Ghana in the near future. He congratulated the President on the choice of Ghana as host of the Africa Continental Free Trade Agreement, saying that it must have taken significant effort to bring this to Ghana.

President Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo thanked Dr. Otudeko for his kind words and recounted the crucial bilateral and economic ties as well as historic bond, pre and post-independence, that exist between Ghana and Nigeria.

While stating that it is important for the economies of both Ghana and Nigeria to do well for ECOWAS to succeed, the President thanked FBN Holdings Plc for investing in Ghana and gave the assurance that government will provide the necessary support to FBNBank Ghana Limited and the entire business community.

The President also touched on the banking sector reforms and observed that Nigeria also had to embark on a similar exercise in the recent past. He said it was a painful but necessary exercise to strengthen the financial services industry and position it to support business and the economy.

President Akufo-Addo emphasized the importance of providing opportunities to the youth to enable them support the nation’s growth and development agenda and the need for all citizens of the two countries to find avenues to give back to their nations.

Members of the delegation pledged, on behalf of FBN Holdings Plc and FBNBank Ghana, their commitment to helping build a stronger Ghanaian economy, as well as forging stronger economic ties between citizens and businesses of Ghana and Nigeria.

The FBNHoldings Group Board Chairman, Dr. Oba Otudeko, CFR, was accompanied by Mrs. Ibukun Awosika, Chairman, Board of Directors, First Bank of Nigeria Limited; Mr. U. K. Eke, MFR, Group Managing Director, FBN Holdings Plc.; Dr. Adesola Adeduntan, Chief Executive Officer, First Bank of Nigeria Limited; Otunba (Mrs.) Debola Osibogun, Non-Executive Director, FBNHoldings; Dr. Hamza Wuro Bokki, Non-Executive Director, FBNHoldings, and Mr. Victor Yaw Asante, Managing Director, FBNBank Ghana Limited.

FBN Holdings Plc is the most diversified financial services group in Nigeria and includes FirstBank of Nigeria Ltd the mother company of FBNBank Ghana and other subsidiaries around the world.

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