What are your core business and activities in Nigeria?
Akin Dawodu Citi has been in Nigeria for over three decades. We have a segmented focus. When Citi entered the country, we introduced a number of new things, such as online real-time banking, foreign exchange, and secondary markets for financial instruments. We helped set up many of the market structures seen today. Over time, however, Citi's role as an enabler of Nigerian firms growing beyond the country has grown as well. More recently, many local companies have been trying to access foreign capital in order to grow, and we have been the facilitators of this growth. Many of the local banks, corporate entities, and government entities that issue eurobonds have gone through Citi. A significant portion of investment flows currently entering Nigeria came after the reforms in the debt markets in 2005. Once the government was able to issue its first eurobond, banks were able to follow suit, and corporations entered the market not long after.
Michael Larbie RMB as a member of the FirstRand Group has been a significant and discerning financier in the Nigerian market for over 15 years; therefore, we are familiar with the market. We had a set strategy to find clients that contribute significantly to the economy and had the wherewithal and a plan to withstand different market cycles. In executing this strategy, we work with manufacturing companies, financial services, oil and gas, real estate, and services companies, among others. Our goal is to partner with our clients to enable them to drive sustainable shareholder value. As a result, we carefully select clients who embrace our approach and ethos, and together embrace transaction structures and leverage levels that do not unnecessarily burden them during cycles. We also leverage global best practices and financial resources from our parent company, FirstRand Group, the largest financial services group by market capitalization on the continent, with a USD110-billion balance sheet we can draw on. We have facilitated a fair bit of FDI into the country by helping clients find the right assets. As a market participant, it was important that we were able to convince investors of the different risk management solutions available to hedge their exchange rate downside when investing.
What is your outlook for 2019?
AD Our confidence in Nigeria remains intact. We see Nigeria as a potential powerhouse in global terms. Citi will continue to utilize its resources, including its global network, to work for Nigeria. In terms of connectivity, access to capital markets, and partnership development, we will continue to support Nigeria in every possible way. Citi has already affected several billion dollars in trade and investment in the country. We continue to support local firms and entities, and we are dedicated to facilitating real and lasting change in the country. Citi has a long history of training and developing some of the most high-level talent in the market and will continue to develop human resources at a high level. We remain focused on capacity building that aids growth. Citi sees itself as vital investors in Nigeria's growth and development, and we strive to improve ourselves and the market.
ML Despite potential political standoffs, there will be policy continuity. In our view, there has always been policy continuity in Nigeria because the things we require are basic needs such as excellent basic infrastructure, improved service delivery, better education, healthcare, transportation, and power. The issue is always one of prioritization and efficient execution. From a business standpoint, 2019 is likely to be a truncated year with real activity picking up once the election is over and clarity emerges on policy outlook. We see a bright outlook for merchant banking in Nigeria with a few new entrants to the market over time. Merchant banks have an opportunity to work together to better define our role in the Nigerian banking sector. RMBN will continue to use its merchant banking license to develop new platforms from which it will grow its business in the future. We plan to introduce a wider range of products to suit all our clients' needs, and hopefully through that we can capture their interest and become a go-to partner for advice, structured financing, lending, and trade solutions.