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When a Bank Puts SMEs First

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Last week will go down as one of the most challenging weeks, if not the most challenging, Nigeria has faced in 2020. What started out weeks before as very well-organised peaceful protests by young Nigerians campaigning to #EndSARS, was supplanted by hoodlums engaging in wanton looting, arson and destruction of public and private properties across many states at an unprecedented scale. By the end of the week, many lives had been lost, many properties and businesses completely destroyed and Nigeria has been left reeling from a shock that dwarfs any the country felt even at the peak of the COVID-19 outbreak.

In keeping with the Nigerian spirit of being one’s brother’s keeper, equally unprecedented efforts by individuals, groups and corporate organisations to try to provide assistance for people and businesses affected by the crises of the past week, have followed. Individuals and groups have announced donations of cash and materials, set up helplines to offer psychological counselling and support, and started online crowd-funding efforts in support of victims. Among corporate organisations, we have seen banks take a leading role. Some banks, such as Access Bank and Stanbic IBTC, have announced funds or desks they have set up to receive requests from, and process assistance for, affected individuals and businesses. One of these banks’ efforts include pledged interest-free loans and grants that affected businesses and individuals can access.

Another bank has seen thousands of requests for assistance pour in through the online channel it set up for the purpose. The requests have flowed in, not only because of the victims’ desperation for help, but also because of the humane approach to banking that this institution adopts. Always putting the customer at the heart of its business, FirstBank has been showing empathy with all those who have experienced one loss or the other as a result of the crises. Since last week, the bank has been seeking every opportunity to identify with people who are currently grieving and hurting.

Although the largest and most prominent member of Nigeria’s leading financial powerhouse, the FBNHoldings Group that is a one-stop shop for financial services ranging from commercial and investment banking to financial advisory, insurance brokerage and pensions custodianship, FirstBank is neither immune nor removed from the challenges people face. It is a human institution with thousands of humans working as employees to provide bespoke banking products and services to millions of other humans whose pulse the bank feels through its employees. Being part of a group with expertise across the broad spectrum of financial services, makes FirstBank the banking partner with the broadest shoulders to assist SMEs buffeted by the wave of violence witnessed across the nation last week.

Given the interconnectivity between Nigeria and FirstBank’s history, it is no surprise that a tumultuous week in Nigeria is giving way to one with stories of hope and optimism by Nigerians badly affected by the crises of the past week, who are looking to FirstBank for assistance. These Nigerians have been encouraged by the strides FirstBank has made over the years in the SME space as the bank of first choice for small businesses. Built around seven strategic pillars – of connect to infrastructure, connect to talent, capacity building, policy and regulation, connect to resources, connect to market as well as connect to finance – considered essential for the sustainability and growth of SMEs and intended to promote a healthy business interaction and adaptability of the SMEs with their immediate environment, FirstBank’s involvement with SMEs, through SMEConnect (the bank’s branded bouquet of empowerment initiatives, products and services tailor-made for SMEs), has been one that has sought to facilitate their growth into future economic powerhouses playing ever-increasing roles in Nigeria’s economic development.

Since its maiden SME National Conference in 2014, FirstBank has annually engaged small businesses and SME owners in series of empowerment seminars and workshops designed to improve their business capacity. Only this year, FirstBank held its inaugural SME Business Clinic in Lagos, Port Harcourt and Abuja with many SMEs in attendance. The SME Business Clinic featured Abayomi Adewumi, CEO of the Global Leadership Institute and an industry expert and business growth consultant with vast experience working with SMEs. He engaged participants on the FirstBank SME diagnostic tool designed for SMEs to check the health of their business, better understand it and drive profitability.

In 2019, FirstBank organised a weeklong SME event which had owners of SMEs in different sectors mentored across multiple states in the country. It was the first of its kind in the industry. Organised in partnership with SME Traction, a leading business coaching platform, it was aimed at empowering SMEs to make informed choices about their businesses, thereby facilitating growth and bolstering their contribution to the development of the economy. At the event, FirstBank’s Deputy Managing Director, Gbenga Shobo, underlined the importance the bank attaches to SMEs. He said: “At FirstBank, we recognise the impact SMEs have in promoting growth of the economy and are excited at the opportunity to continue to enable them prosper by strategically contributing to the sustainability of their business. We remain the trusted financial partner of SMEs and reiterate our resolve to be known as the brand that enables their success; much the same way that we have for over 125 years enabled Nigerians and the economy at large.”

This same point was elaborated at another FirstBank SME event, “Food Souk”, convened in 2019 in partnership with Eventful Limited, an events management firm, where the bank restated its commitment to the Federal Government’s diversification drive, promising to continue to support the agricultural value chain from production to consumption to create opportunities for SMEs in the food sector so they could in turn create job opportunities. The bank also extended its hand of partnership to all small businesses involved in organising different trade fairs and exhibitions. A food vendor at the event, Ms Ijeoma Ebeneme, the Chief Executive Officer, JEM N Iris, commended FirstBank for putting the event together. Ebeneme said she was at the food fair to make profit, meet new clients as well as create the needed publicity for her brand. It is for people like Ebeneme that FirstBank maintains an SME website (https://smeconnect.firstbanknigeria.com) with rich resources to help SMEs build capacity and improve how they run their business. On the website is a blog featuring business articles and tips, SME business toolkit, SME products, Microsoft 365 Business Basic and a whole lot more.

In support of owners of SMEs operating in the education sector, FirstBank, in partnership with the Lagos State Employment Trust Fund (LSETF), set up a matching fund scheme of 5 billion LSETF-FirstEdu Loan. Officially launched in September by Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu of Lagos State and Dr Adesola Adeduntan, Managing Director/CEO of FirstBank, the scheme aims to cushion the impact of Covid-19 pandemic on low-cost private schools by ensuring lending at an attractive interest rate. Speaking at the launch, Dr Adeduntan said: “At FirstBank we recognise the indelible role played by the education sector in the growth of any economy and this underscores our partnership with Lagos State Government for continuous development of the education services in Lagos State and the nation as a whole. The commitment by the Lagos State Government – including this partnership – to enable schools is quite commendable as this will mitigate the challenges caused by the lockdown on the education sector following the COVID-19 pandemic.”

It is for efforts like all those highlighted above and many more that the 2019 edition of KPMG’s Annual Banking Industry customer Satisfaction Survey named FirstBank as the biggest mover in the SME space. The 2014 edition of the Survey had named the bank as the most popular bank among MSMEs for both deposit transactions and credit/loan facilities with 26 per cent of the SMEs surveyed identifying the bank as one where they had an ongoing loan facility or had obtained one in the recent past. It is also for the same reason that the unfortunate events of the last week have reignited the bond between Nigerians and FirstBank, a partner that they can bank on in times of need. The bank’s track record leaves no one in any doubt of its unwavering commitment to continue to weather all storms with Nigeria and Nigerian SMEs with whom it shares a common destiny.

Culled from BusinessDay

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‘Unity Bank Continues to Operate on Improved Key Performance Indicator’

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Unity Bank Plc has debunked the rumours making the rounds about the action of the bank on its performance.

In a statement, the bank made clarifications as follows:

Our attention has been drawn to some online reports on purported action of the board of Unity Bank on the performance of the Bank.

The Bank has a cohesive board that is working harmoniously with the Executive Management team led by Mrs. Tomi Somefun (MD/CEO) to drive the growth of the Bank.

The management of the Bank, with the support of its Board has made inroads into key sectors of the economy through initiatives and programmes that have improved the fortunes of the Bank over that past five years.

Notable amongst these are sale of the Bank’s legacy non- performing legacy loans, the relocation of its corporate head office to Lagos (the commercial hub of Nigeria), deliberate focus on digital, retail and commercial business as well as supporting the growth of the real sector of the economy through its participation in the Central Bank Nigeria (CBN) intervention funds to promote agri-business in Nigeria.

It is worthy of note that through the CBN’s Anchor Borrowers’ Programme (APB), the Bank has enrolled over one million farmers over the last three years which has boosted the production of critical food items in Nigeria (Rice, Maize, Cotton and Wheat) as well as creating of various value-chain opportunities and employment within the Agric Sector.

The Bank’s gross earnings for the 9 months ended September 2020 grew by 8 per cent to 33.906 billion from N31.256 billion in the same period in 2019.

The lender’s Profit Before Tax (PBT) for the 9 months grew by 6 per cent to N1.710 billion from N1.611 billion in 2019, while Profit After Tax, PAT equally grew by 6 per cent to N1.573 billion compared to the N1.482 billion recorded in the same period in 2019. Profit After Tax for the period stood at N543.135 million, an equally 6 per cent increase from the N514.631 billion recorded in Q3, 2019.

A further review of the result showed that the Bank recorded an impressive 44 per cent rise in total assets to N420.870 billion for the 9- month period ended September 2020, from N293.052 billion in the corresponding period of 2019.

The lender also substantially grew deposits to N332.362 billion from N257.691 billion for the same period in 2019 – a 29 per cent increase showing improved customers confidence in the Bank.

The Bank in its statement issued through Nigeria Stock Exchange (NSE) on Friday, April 09, 2021 submitted its 2021 audited report to the CBN and currently awaiting final approval by the regulators.

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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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