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FirstBank’s Giant Strides in FinTech Leadership

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By Eric Elezuo

It is not by accident that Nigeria’a leading financial institution and financial inclusion services provider, FirstBank of Nigeria Limited, scaled all hurdles to hit the peak among players in Fintech network.

Fintech, a portmanteau or what can easily be referred to as abbreviation of finance and technology, forming the phrase financial technology, is the technology and innovation that aims to compete with traditional financial methods in the delivery of financial services.

While to most financial institutions, the process is emerging, to FirstBank, it is an already established and improved variety that has helped customers conduct banking activities without making physical contact with the bank or bank staff, but leveraging on the use of handheld mobile smartphones, and regular phones as in the case of *894# services. By this means, the bank has provided mobile banking, investing, borrowing among many other financial technologies aimed at making financial services more accessible to the general public.

Fintech is an integral part of FirstBank, and both are interrelated and are more like twelve and a dozen. In the words of the Group’s Executive, e-Business and Retail Products, Chuma Ezirim, FirstBank is a technology company offering financial services. Nothing could be farer than this truth!

FirstBank, without a doubt, the foremost player and leader of Fintech via its various electronic and digital offerings, boasts of the following but not limited technological innovations including the ever reliable *894#, highly prolific Firstmobile, FirstOnline, Whatsapp banking which thrives on the simple mobile number, 08124444000, FirstAdvance details among a host of other ‘first’ innovations and services.

Consequently, the bank has picked awards after awards with the FirstMobile App, among which is the Best Mobile Banking App in Nigeria in 2019 by the UK-based Global Business Outlook.

These services, have in no small measure, become the focal point, using alternative channels and electronic banking, especially as the world battles the ‘new normal’ with the principle of safe distance, thus reducing the risk of spreading the coronavirus.

To this end, the Chief Executive Officer, FirstBank Nigeria Limited, Dr. Adesola Adeduntan, during the just concluded edition four of the FinTech Summit, which reiterated activation of vibrant ecosystem, hinted that FirstBank’s involvement in the FinTech revolution is the fastest in the industry, and is mostly run by a sizable number of entrepreneurs. He mentioned that FirstBank has been positioned as the Fintech partner of choice, having established relationships with notable companies such as PiggyVest, Terragon, VoguePay and PatStack.

“FirstBank has become the foremost financial inclusion solutions provider with over 9 million USSD users, processing over 200 million transactions to date. Also, with more than 60,000 Firstmonie Agent Banking locations we have to date processed over 320 million customer transactions worth over NGN6 Trillion on the FirstMonie Agent Network as at July 2020, further cementing our leadership in the Agency Banking space,” Adeduntan said.

He noted that the bank’s rating has soared with its digital payment channels, and has remained in the forefront of providing financial inclusion solutions across board and round the clock with it’s FirstMobile app, USSD (*894#) and FirstMonie, as well as the popular Firstmonie Agent Banking Network.

It is not therefore, out of place to say that the Bank has led other banks in the field of FinTech, having supported Nigerians to meet their needs through these innovative digital platforms. Not only that, families and companies have paid bills through this channel, individuals and corporate bodies have purchased airtime to keep in touch with families, loved ones and staff just as procurement of data to surf the net and stay current with recent trends across the globe have been made absolutely easy through the FirstBank innovative FinTech channels.

While most establishments mourn the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, FirstBank leveraged on the scourge to become innovative in providing services for the benefit of its customers who found a costless outlet to fulfill all their financial inclusion needs. The era in question provided ready canvas for stretching and exploits, and the over 9 million USSD users are the happier for it. This is a bank that processes 90 customer initiated transactions per second on its digital channels, and has not stopped to assiduously re-architect its systems towards innovating newer FinTech channels for its teeming customers for a stress-free banking activity.

With over 9.5 million customers using the FirstBanks Unstructured Supplementary Service Data within a period of five years, the Bank has clearly demonstrated that it is the leader in electronic banking. The USSD banking services it provides have been proved to be easy to use, convenient, fast, user friendly, and as such several and various banking activities have been carried out therein across the four major GSM network operators in Nigeria through mobile phone, and surprisingly, without the use of internet. It therefore means that FirstBank’s (*894#) services can be obtained irrespective of the type of phone a customer uses. Among services available through this channel are data and airtime top-up for self and third party, quick balance enquiry, fund transfers, BVN enquiry and linkage, mini statement, account number enquiry, opening account, merchant and first advance loan service – this a service that enables salary earners take a loan of up 50% of their monthly salary. That is the power of *894#.

Ezirim sums up this leadership roles as follows:

“At FirstBank, we are excited about the impact our innovative solutions are making in the Nigerian payment landscape. Our *894# USSD banking has been a viable platform through which we take our banking services to the doorstep of our customers, right on the palm of their hands, without the limitation of an internet connection. We remain committed to creating various avenues to enable Nigerians carry out various financial activities conveniently, safely and securely anytime, anywhere in Nigeria.”

In addition, and following through the standard of excellence, FirstBank has also upgraded its mobile banking application, FirstMobile, with new and improved features to promote safe and convenient mobile banking experience for customers.

The award winning application, which has been termed dynamic, has been redesigned with improved security and self-service features to ease the navigation capability and proficiency of customers. In addition to the improvement of the services, which offers unified and streamlined banking experience, the aesthetics are not left out as it comes with a unique cool blue coloured appealing background.

Among features that speak of the uniqueness of FirstMobile app are card protection service for customers to enable and disable cards on channels, account switch off as well as second-factor authentication and device registration. Customers can remotely initiate the request for a new debit card as well as the replacement of a lost or damaged one, whilst managing activities on their card and account, thus balance enquiry and statement, amongst others.

Again, the app is embedded with biometrics, which allow customers to use their fingerprints to consummate all transactions. This is strictly to validate transactions. There are others such as frequent transaction, which enables users to access their frequently completed transactions like airtime, transfers and bill payments; dashboard flexibility and personalisation, smoother transaction experience and improved beneficiary management.

The FirstBank accessibility galore has also improved airtime top-up and data purchase as customers are able to select phone numbers directly from their phone contacts.

In addition, with a smoother experience on funds transfer, bill payments and airtime transactions, customers can add and delete beneficiaries without having to repeatedly enter the recipients’ details over and over again. Users can also take a photo or select from the Avatar (available icons) to personalize their dashboard and beneficiaries for Transfers, Bills Payment & Airtime Transactions by uploading a picture to associate with their beneficiary, especially the more frequent ones.

Furthermore, the dashboard has been designed to reflect the lifestyle and social pattern of the user as it can be customized by adding any profile picture of choice. The dashboard also enables users to monitor their spending patterns over a period. It shows the inflow and outflow of funds on their account.

There are endless possibilities with FirstMobile. It covers and puts the customer at an advantage with the FirstAdvance and Nano Loan features. So accessing loans is quicker than the touch of a button. Not only that, FirstMobile also guarantees access to movie ticket(s) ahead of time and flights at the earliest convenience.

Hear Chuma Ezirim again:

“The upgraded FirstMobile is built to reflect FirstBank’s resolve at reinforcing the digitisation of our payment systems, whilst putting our customers at an edge to conveniently meet their everyday needs at any time, irrespective of where they are. Indeed, this upgrade makes the application new, as it is designed to suit the social pattern and lifestyle of our customers.

“With over 3.7million active users on FirstMobile across android and ios devices, we remain steadfast at regularly reinventing our services on the App with dynamic and innovative capabilities to resonate our focus to deliver state of the art digital solutions to all our customers at all times, irrespective of where they are.”

It would be recalled that halfway into the COVID-19 pandemic lockdown, Nigerians with FirstBank cards used them 105 million times to make payments or withdrawals worth about N1.18 Trillion as they relied on the Bank to settle their banking needs.

In addition, the Bank’s CEO noted that approximately 12.6 million withdrawals to the tune of N156 billion were carried out across FirstBank’s ATMs nationwide. That explains the height of faith customers have in FirstBank.

“Our customers made transfers over 106 million times with a total value of about N8.18 Trillion across our digital channels. We have also recorded over 275,000 new sign-ups to alternative channels covering our Firstmobile, USSD and First-Online platforms,” Adeduntan informed.

From every indication, FirstBank has, and will continue to embrace emerging FinTech opportunity for the sole benefit of its numerous customers. To this end, it has held four editions of FinTech Summit. It is therefore, necessary that as many that are yet to get on board do so now for a hitch-free banking services from anywhere in the country.

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Again, FG Extends Deadline for NIN-SIM Card Linkage

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The Federal Government has announced the extension of the deadline for Nigerians to link their National Identification Numbers (NINs) to their Subscriber Identity Module (SIM) by one month.

The deadline extension follows a request presented to President Muhammadu Buhari to that effect and his subsequent endorsement.

This disclosure is contained in a press statement issued on Friday, April 2, 2021. It was jointly signed by the Director of Public Affairs of the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC), Dr Ikechukwu Adinde and the Head of Corporate Communications at the National Identity Management Commission (NIMC), Mr Kayode Adegoke.

The approval to extend the period of the NIN-SIM linkage to May 6 was given at the meeting of the Ministerial Task Force on NIN-SIM data linkage and key stakeholders held on Thursday in Abuja.

The statement noted that over 51 million people now have their NINs with a significant increase in the monthly enrolments.

The statement partly reads, “Based on the updates of the NIN-registration process, over 51 million people have been assigned NINs. There are many people who have enrolled and are in the process of being assigned NINs. With each individual having an average of three to four SIMs, the total number of SIMs tied to NINs would be close to the total number of registered SIMs in the country.

The current number of monthly enrollments has increased significantly to about 2.6 million registrations. There has also been a remarkable increase in the number of enrolment centres across the country with about 3,800 centres available for enrollments. There are also many more new centres in the pipeline,”the statement said.

The meeting chaired by the Minister of Communications and Digital Economy, Dr Isa Pantami, was attended by various key stakeholders, including the chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), Abdulrasheed Bawa.

The EFCC boss, while addressing the meeting said that the NIN-SIM card linkage would support the Federal Government’s effort in checkmating the activities of fraudsters and cybercriminals.

Pantami, thanked Nigerians for their patience and compliance with the Federal Government’s directive on the NIN-SIM registration exercise and reiterated the government’s commitment to continue taking decisions aimed at easing the pains of the citizens with regard to issues related to NIN and SIM registration.

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Access Bank Acquires GroBank of South Africa for $60m

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Access Bank Plc has acquired Grobank of South Africa, shelling out a whopping $60million in the transaction.

The South African acquisition is its third in eight months, having taken over Kenya’s Transnational Bank in July and Zambia-based Cavmont Bank in January.
Access Bank paid about $60 million to purchase a controlling interest in South Africa’s 74-year-old Grobank, its CEO said on Tuesday, signaling the culmination of the tier 1 lender’s aspiration to foray into Africa’s most industrialised nation and tap its market.

The move makes it Nigeria’s first bank to do so, with Access Bank ploughing in both equity and debt in Grobank as part of the grand plan to explore trade banking deals on its way to becoming “Africa’s Gateway to the World,” Managing Director Herbert Wigwe told CNBC Africa.

It will open up the means to widen trade finance capacity in Grobank, which is presently increasing its attention on the country’s agriculture industry.

No mention was made of the precise stake size but the lender said in a note in September “the first is an initial cash consideration for a 49 per cent shareholding, increasing to a majority stake in the second tranche”.

Banks in Nigeria are stepping up efforts to create new ways of bolstering earnings beyond its shores as a buffer to an economic downturn that has triggered a fall in government bond yields and accelerated the incidence of restructured loan, helped by the pandemic.

“We have a full retail banking licence in South Africa. We will pursue a wholesale banking franchise. We will pursue trade finance,” Wigwe said.

The South African acquisition is its third in eight months, having taken over Kenya’s Transnational Bank in July and Zambia-based Cavmont Bank in January.

It hopes to leverage the African Continental Free Trade Area agreement to enter Morocco, Algeria, Egypt, Ivory Coast, Senegal, Angola, Namibia and Ethiopia.

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Ecobank Wins Starsight Sustainability Award 2020

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Leading West African Commercial and industrial solar power and cooling provider, Starsight says Ecobank is well placed to be the market leader in the establishment of “Green Branches’ across the country.

According to Starsight, it has so far delivered more than 100 branch facilities with its market leading renewable energy solutions, reducing Ecobank Carbon footprint and making Ecobank one of the market leaders in the implementation of renewables in the Nigerian Banking sector.  It went further to state that Ecobank is well placed to be the market leader in “Green Branches’ with an addition 50 Branches scheduled to go live in Q1 2021.

Presenting the Starsight Renewable Energy Sustainability Award for 2020 to Ecobank in Lagos, Teme Jack, Head Sales, SMEs, Starsight Energy, lauded the commitment of Ecobank towards application of renewable solutions thereby reducing carbon footprints, stressing that the award was well deserving. She was optimistic that Starsight partnership with Ecobank would further go a long way to environmental sustainability.

“Our partnership with Ecobank has delivered an outstanding result in a short window time and we look at forward to expanding our partnership in Nigeria and other geographical regions of operations”

Receiving the award, Kola Adeleke, Ecobank Nigeria Executive Director, Corporate Bank said “sustainability remains an essential part of Ecobank’s mission and vision of building a world-class Pan-African bank. Our long-term success is intertwined with the sustainable actions that supports the development of Nigeria and Africa as a continent. Ecobank is focused on mainstreaming environmental and social best practices in its operations and has adopted various Environmental and Social Governance (ESG) frameworks including the Nigerian Sustainable Banking Principles (NSBP) as benchmarks for measuring its environmental stewardship. We have been in partnership with Starsight Energy to deliver a market-leading renewable energy solution across our branches in Nigeria, they have delivered over 100 branches facilities with renewable energy solution, thereby reducing our carbon footprint and making Ecobank one of the market leaders in the implementation of Principle 2 of Nigeria Sustainable Banking initiative”. He stated.

Further, Mr Adeleke reiterated that “Ecobank Group Sustainability framework is focused on four thematic areas which includes: Economic Transformation, Environmental Sustainability, Socially Responsible Financing and Human Capital Development. These focus areas are aligned with the tenets of the Nigerian Sustainable Banking Principles (NSBP).

“Besides, Ecobank is a signatory member of a number of Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) framework including the Equator Principles and the United Nations Global Compact. We have set a target of achieving the goals as regard SDG/Climate change and society’s wellbeing. For instance, the Bank is committed to taking bold steps to reducing our carbon footprint, demonstrated in carbon emission from our business operations, travels, paper use and office waste disposal. We further commit to invest in energy efficiency by incorporating the use of renewable energy products and practices, design architecture for energy efficient building in new branch expansions, including retrofitting programmes; as well as mainstreaming sustainable practices in third party contractor’s agreement for supply and procurement activities.”

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