How would you describe the evolution of Access Bank and its establishment in Mozambique?
Access Bank is a 32-year-old bank. We started modestly in Nigeria, being mainly a corporate bank. In 2002, the bank's management decided to do a management buyout of Access Bank and transform it onto the path it is on today. First, the bank decided to fund itself and acquired Intercontinental Bank, the eighth-largest bank in the country at the time. Our story is mainly about organic growth plus mergers and acquisitions over the years. The latest one in January 2019 was with Diamond Bank, the biggest retail bank in the country at the time. That merger made Access Bank the biggest retail bank in terms of client numbers. We have around 36 million clients overall and 46 million accounts, mostly in Nigeria but also all across the other countries where we are present, namely Ghana, Sierra Leone, Rwanda, Congo, Zambia, and The Gambia. Two years ago, the bank decided to start on an expansion plan for two reasons. The first was to make us a more relevant bank in the countries where we were already present. The goal was to be in the top five biggest banks in those countries. The other aim was to enter new markets and expand our footprint in Africa, and the first new market we selected was Mozambique for two main reasons. One was to reinforce our presence in the Southern African Development Community (SADC). Second, our decision was because of Mozambique's growth potential due to its oil and gas projects. We applied for our license in Mozambique in 2018, and it was approved in October 2019. 2020 has been slightly difficult due to COVID-19, but we managed to open Access Bank in Mozambique in October 2020. At around the same time, Access Bank announced a potential merger with BancABC, and we are awaiting the Central Bank of Mozambique's approval for that. We saw this acquisition as a way to grow quickly and leverage on BancABC's existing clients. We have also opened in Kenya, we are opening in Cameroon and Ghana, and in October 2020 we acquired a bank in South Africa. We will open in Tanzania, Botswana, and Angola by YE2020-beginning of 2021. There are a few other countries being discussed, but we have a large expansion plan. The group saw an opportunity because the mature American and European banks are basically exiting the continent due to the crises in recent years, except for supporting some large operations here and there. Access Bank aims to be Africa's gateway to the world. With the reputation we have been building across Africa, our vision is to be the world's most respected African bank. We want to create a truly global African bank that can trade in all markets. This also means we must be present in the majority of countries in our market.
How has COVID-19 affected Access Bank opening its new operations in Mozambique, and how are you responding to this situation?
It changed our way of doing banking; in fact, it had the extremely positive impact of driving the maturity of our business in terms of digital advancement and innovation. Some companies that were forced to go digital now realize it can save them money while making them as effective—if not more—as before. The way we used to run our business—visiting clients, meeting for lunches, delivering cards by hand, and going to people's businesses to open accounts—have all changed. We experienced roughly six months of adapting, and both us and our clients understand the way we should work from now on to mitigate all our initial issues in terms of client service. This is a new way for businesses to realize their operations. We now know that we can operate with many of our staff at home, and we understand the value of the disaster recovery plans we drew up in the past but had never used. We have implemented all the necessary measures to work within the pandemic situation for as long as it lasts. Only around 30% of our staff are working in the office; the majority are working from home. They are rotating on a 15-day basis. The greatest challenge was interacting with clients within the limits of COVID-19. People are good at adapting, and within a short time frame we managed to adapt our business to do the same things as before, but in a different way.
What are your main goals for the year ahead and for 2021?
We are still running our soft launch phase in Mozambique. We have a few objectives for the last few months of 2020. One is to start Access Bank's expansion plan and build or refit six branches by YE2020. That will give us extra coverage in terms of our network, access to clients, and entry into other provinces. The second aim is our acquisition and further merger with BancABC, which we hope to have approved by YE2020. The third and perhaps most important aim is to start showing our clients what Access Bank can do. Banking relationships are like personal relationships; it is difficult to replace an existing relationship. To encourage clients to switch to us, they need to feel comfortable and understand what is there to gain by banking with Access Bank. We are discussing this with clients and explaining how we can make a difference to their businesses. Fortunately, we have a high level of acceptance in Mozambique in all segments. We are having positive discussions with clients, from corporates through to small companies. Our objective is to reach the end of 2020 with a relevant balance and a small net profit. We are not far away from achieving that target.