What strategies underpinned your 17% YoY increase in profits?
It all boils down to innovation. At Zenith, we try to look at how to do things better, and differently. The bottom-line is, how do we connect with our customers and add value to their business? We have seen that, over time, once a customer believes that there is value derived from your business they will come to you. Our improvements in profitability QoQ between the previous and the current year boil down to what we have been able to do with our customers. Besides this, we have also gained market share because of the quality of our service.
Zenith opened a branch in Dubai and hopes to consolidate its place in international markets. How do these actions complement each other?
In West African countries and in the UK, we have done extremely well. We wanted to be very compact, because at the end of the day you need to have checks to ensure that service is up to speed and that there is uniformity in delivery. Our branch in Dubai is intended to serve the growing market in Asian countries, and Dubai is in a strategic location. We can serve most of our customers in Asia from there.
How do you plan to balance your branch growth with the soft growth of payments and IT-driven tools?
From day one, we have embraced the most modern IT infrastructure, and we will continue to do that. However, it is important that payment systems, electronic banking, and online banking, should not replace branches at multiple locations, but instead complement them. Nigeria is still highly under-banked, and electronic payments will encourage a lot of the un-banked to bank. We are going to ensure that we use mobile payment channels to compliment our branch outlet. These payment systems are not a mutually exclusive strategy. They have helped in terms of our client base, which has grown and customer confidence has been greatly enhanced.
How have the pressure on the currency and the Forex restrictions affected your business?
The challenge that we face is not the fault of any specific actor. Commodities like petrol and crude oil are not completely different from other commodities, such cocoa, cotton, and rubber. The prices naturally fluctuate and at some point they will peak, and naturally fall. The way that markets react is what really matters. Naturally, it is bound to affect us, and the price of crude oil has dropped from over $100 per barrel, to on average $55, a decline of about 50%. However, the way we have reacted as a country has been quite positive. We have taken some proactive steps and the economy is undergoing the necessary transition. The government and the Central Bank are encouraging the economic players here to look inwards and see how we can either apply import substitution, or expand their base and develop the local industry. I am not opposed to the Forex restrictions. We have over 10 rice mills in the country today, and some of these millers say that they were given incentives to set them up. The CBN has taken a step in the right direction, and they have the backing of the entire banking industry. If we look inwards, we can actually conserve a lot of foreign exchange, and we can employ more people who are going to go back into agriculture. We cannot continue to import endlessly. It is really important to make the distinction. We are challenged for now as an economy, but the way we are responding is quite positive and over time expect to see positive growth.
Zenith is often considered Nigeria's international bank. How did you achieve that?
Our success is largely a product of our client-base. We have the largest number of multinationals as customers, and that is a major endorsement for the brand and for the bank. If most of the multinationals, across all sectors, chose Zenith Bank over international banks here, it sends a strong message. Apart from the US, we have covered almost all the key financial markets of the world.
What are your expectations for the year ahead?
Growth will definitely be subdued because of the challenges in the economy, but in the long term the potential is massive and will present investment opportunities. From a banking perspective, we mirror the economy. When the economy is under pressure, it resonates in the financial system. We are committed to looking at innovative ways to even gain more market share.