By Segun Adams
As the coronavirus pandemic forces firms to downsize and cut their wage cost to cope with the adverse economic realities, First Bank of Nigeria Limited (FirstBank) is bucking the trend with a different approach that puts its staff first, writes Segun Adams.
In a pandemic year where employees are agreeing to pay cuts to keep their jobs and businesses are either downsizing or simply liquidating, First Bank of Nigeria Limited is an outlier, taking an unusual approach to demonstrate how organisations can still ensure the best outcomes for both employer and employees.
The first-tier lender last Friday promoted a crop of its staff across all levels in a rare show of corporate resilience in the banking industry and beyond, both locally and across the borders.
According to FirstBank, keeping staff motivated during these unprecedented times is not only crucial for the soul of businesses, but it also demonstrates corporate responsibility.
In the wake of the new coronavirus pandemic, there have been unprecedented layoffs across the world as companies went bust, unable to generate cash to sustain their operations.
The United States, the world’s biggest economy has recorded a historic rise in unemployment with over 45 million initial unemployment claims in the last three months.
In Britain, HSBC, a giant global bank, is reviving plans for a 35,000 job cut due to pre-existing problems thought to have been worsened by the pandemic. Big banks like Morgan Stanley, Deutsche Bank, Citigroup, Barclays, Société Générale among others have announced about layoffs exceeding 60,000 jobs.
In Nigeria, 38% of the workforce was jobless in April due to the virus and lockdowns, the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) estimates. In the MSMEs sector, 50,000 jobs were lost and 10,000 businesses have shut down according to Auwal Bununu Ibrahim, the National Vice President, North Central of the National Association of Small and Medium Enterprises, (NASME) and in the Aviation industry, some 24,000 jobs were lost as of April.
While banks in the country have been barred by the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) from laying off staff without regulatory approval, there is no obligation for banks to implement promotions or raise pay. In fact, most lenders have initiated pay cuts to cope with the excess capacity arising from skeletal operations and depressed levels of economic activities in the economy which is reeling from the coronavirus and lockdown shocks.
But against the odds, FirstBank promoted its staff and didn’t cut down salaries.
In a recent article, Forbes stated that the manner in which firms treat their employees during the ongoing health and economic crisis will not only be remembered for years to come but have a direct effect on their productivity going-forward.
“How businesses respond will have a lasting impact on employee behaviour including, engagement, productivity and loyalty,” the American business magazine noted.
Hertzberg’s Two-Factor Theory also known as dual-factor theory postulates that career progression is a motivating factor for employees to work harder.
As the coronavirus pandemic continues to take a toll on the mental health and focus of employees in the country, and across the world, due to uncertainty of job status, lower income and a disruption to their career development, FirstBank stands out as a safe and rewarding place to work.
The stability and confidence enjoyed by the bank’s staff are the vital environment human resources experts say is necessary for firms that will successfully navigate the tides of current realities.
In a recent BusinessDay Webinar, Nkemdilim Begho, CEO, Future Software Resources Limited advised that businesses can engage their team and see how they can help in creating new ideas and products that the company can deliver. The resultant effect will be greater efficiency of staff and innovation whereas, elsewhere organizations are bound to struggle with a demotivated workforce which could lead to inefficiencies and higher costs for the businesses with adverse implications for bottom-line.
To realise optimal human resources contributions, Begho acknowledged the need for firms to sustain team bond and ensure that morale of their staff is high.
Even before current events, FirstBank has always proven to be conscious of the impact a stimulating and rewarding environment can have on the overall employee performance and thus, provided value accretion to shareholders, customers and other stakeholders.
From its competitive remuneration across cadres including mid-level and senior-level employees to benefits that cover medical insurance and disability insurance, sick leave and vacation, and retirement options, FirstBank puts its workforce first ensuring that they are well motivated and equipped to deliver higher productivity.
FirstBank has featured on some of the best workplace rankings including A Great place to Work and Jobberman. Last year, the big bank ranked among the Jobberman 2019 best 100 companies to work for in Nigeria, a list that scrutinizes over 60,000 companies to pick the best 100 based on strict metrics. The bank has enjoyed positive reviews from credible job/career sites like Indeed where it banks a 4.1/5 positive rating.
A former employee of the bank Aderemi Adebiyi commended the institution for its keen interest in the welfare and career progression of its employees. “I worked in the Bank for 15 years and do not regret it. It’s fast-paced, performance-driven with varied streams of career development,” Aderemi said. “The company also offers paid trainings.”
FirstBank’s talent management strategy is aimed at supporting employee engagement, employee motivation and increased productivity, and leadership development across all levels of employees within the organization, according to its website. As a tenet of career development, FirstBank has devoted itself to creating a culture of continuous learning tailored to the needs and aspirations of the employees and the business itself.
The bank’s FirstAcademy and learning centres strategically located around the country allows for e-learning, mobile learning, physical classrooms and virtual libraries to allow all employees the opportunity to equip themselves for future roles that benefit both them and the organization. This means pandemic or not, learning is continuous and uninterrupted.
FirstBank also prides itself as an equal opportunity employer so that qualified persons irrespective of gender, culture, age, nationality, sexual orientation, disability or social background can participate in its business.
At the same time, FirstBank remains a performance-driven organization and merit-based, allowing individual talents to be rewarded for their hard work and contribution to overall organisational goals.
With people as one of the bank’s greatest assets, it strives to maintain a pool of multi-skilled and well-rounded employees relying on initiatives like Job Shadowing, Coaching, Counselling, Mentoring, Succession Planning and Career Maps to develop and retain talents at all levels of the organisation’s operations.
London Stock Exchange Welcomes Ecobank Nigeria’s Senior Bond Issuance
Ecobank Nigeria on Thursday opened the market at London Stock Exchange via a virtual ceremony to mark the listing of its five-year fixed rate senior unsecured US$300 million bond.
Ecobank Nigeria, a subsidiary of Ecobank Transnational Incorporated, the parent company of the Ecobank Group, provides the full suite of banking products, services and solutions through multiple channels to retail, commercial, corporate and public sector customers.
The bond carries a coupon rate of 7.125%, significantly below its Initial Price Thoughts of 7.75%. The successful launch was three times oversubscribed and is the lowest coupon/yield by a Nigerian financial institution for a benchmark bond transaction since 2013. It has an Issuer Rating of B- from Fitch Rating Agency and S & P. Citi, Mashreq, Renaissance Capital and Standard Chartered Bank acted as Joint Lead Managers and Bookrunners.
The proceeds will provide medium term funding and help to enhance the capacity of the Bank to support international trade and service across Africa.
Patrick Akinwuntan, Managing Director, Ecobank Nigeria: “The strong demand for our bond shows the international appetite for the Ecobank franchise in Nigeria, its unique positioning for facilitating pan-Africa trade and the attractive opportunity for the many investors seeking to back world-class Nigerian corporates.”
Nigeria Unexpectedly Exits Recession
Nigeria’s economy unexpectedly came out of a recession in the fourth quarter as growth in agriculture and telecommunications offset a sharp drop in oil production.
Gross domestic product grew 0.11% in the three months through December from a year earlier, compared with a decline of 3.6% in the third quarter, the Abuja-based National Bureau of Statistics said on its website on Thursday. The median estimate of five economists in a Bloomberg survey was for a quarterly decline of 1.86%. The economy contracted 1.92% for the full year, the most since at least 1991, according to International Monetary Fund data.
The surprise rebound means Africa’s largest economy may recover faster than expected as the oil price and output increase this year. It could also point to the growing importance of the non-crude sector.
Oil production fell to 1.56 million barrels a day in the fourth quarter from 1.67 million barrels in the previous three months. While crude contributes less than 10% to the country’s GDP, it accounts for nearly all foreign-exchange earnings and half of government revenue in the continent’s biggest producer of the commodity.
The non-oil economy expanded by 1.7% from a year earlier, the strongest rate in four quarters, with agriculture growing 3.4% and telecommunications increasing 17.6%.
A stronger recovery could ease pressure on the central bank to stoke activity, paving the way for a renewed focus on its price stability mandate. That means the monetary policy committee could start raising interest rates again to fight inflation that’s been above the target band of 6% to 9% for more than five years. The panel eased by 200 basis points in 2020.
The government’s forecast for growth of 3% this year is double that of the IMF. The lender has warned a slow roll-out of Covid-19 vaccines could threaten the economy’s recovery.
“The fact that we have seen a recovery in non-oil GDP growth is positive,” said Razia Khan, chief economist for Africa and the Middle East at Standard Chartered Bank. “However, the headwinds associated with the second wave of Covid-19 may still be considerable.”
Marketers Raise Petrol Price to N170, Blames Supply Shortage
Fuel marketers have started adjusting their petrol pump prices amid the supply shortage facing private depots in Apapa.
The Punch observed that some filling stations in Lagos and Ogun states increased the pump price of petrol to N170 per litre on Tuesday from N162 per litre.
Some of the stations were Capital Oil and Gas, Fatgbems and Amo Oil, all along the Lagos-Ibadan Expressway. Another station, Enyo Retail, adjusted its pump price to N165 per litre from N162.
The National Operation Controller, Independent Petroleum Marketers Association of Nigeria, Mr Mike Osatuyi, told our correspondent that members of his association had to increase the pump price because they bought the product at N160-N161 from depot owners.
IPMAN members had disrupted loading of petroleum products at private depots in Apapa last Wednesday as well as Ibadan, Ejigbo and Mosimi depots belonging to the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation.
They picketed the facilities to protest their inability to get products due to a new payment method introduced by the Petroleum Products Marketing Company, a subsidiary of the NNPC.
“My members buying from DAPPMAN members are buying at N160-N161, and they will have to add their transportation costs to it. So, at what price do you want them to sell? Even that N170 is still very cheap,” Osatuyi said on Tuesday.
He said the PPMC had told marketers to register under the new payment method, called ‘PPMC Customer Express’, before they could buy products from it.
“Right now, PPMC has said that the era of ATP (Authority to Pay) has gone. It means that payment has to be made online. So, my members are now in the process of doing that, and without doing it, we cannot lift products,” he added.
The NNPC, which has been the sole importer of petrol into the country in recent years, is still being relied upon by depots and marketers for the supply of the product despite the deregulation of the downstream petroleum sector.
The Punch also gathered that many private depots in Apapa, Lagos, from where many marketers get petroleum products for distribution to other states, were running dry of petrol due to supply shortage.
When contacted, the Group General Manager, Group Public Affairs Division of the Corporation, Dr Kennie Obateru, denied the shortage of petrol supply from the NNPC.
He said, “We have 1.7 billion litres of product as at today, which will give us about 40 days’ sufficiency. Even some more vessels are on the programme.
“And we have not increased our ex-depot price; even though we know some of them (marketers) are sort of slowing down because they are expecting that we will react to the crude oil price increase. But for now, we haven’t done that.”
One of the major private depots told marketers to stop payment for the petrol because of the supply shortage and the uncertainty over when it would get the product.
A top official of a Lagos-based oil marketing company told our correspondent on condition of anonymity that there had been erratic supply of petrol to private depots in Apapa since last week.