BANKING BEYOND BORDERS

Nigeria 2018 | FINANCE | B2B

Getting the fundamentals of banking is about more than meeting shareholders' needs for Nigeria's top banks; it is about meeting consumers' needs as well.

Herbert Wigwe
HERBERT WIGWE
CEO
Access Bank
Charles Kie
CHARLES KIE
Managing Director
Ecobank Nigeria Limited

What factors lie behind your company's achievements?

HERBERT WIGWE We have been able to strike a strong balance between maintaining profit and doing things that are sustainable. We exist to make economic returns for our shareholders; however, there are other things that are important to us, namely issues around people, the planet, and more. If there is anything that has enabled us to win significant accolades, it is the team I work with and what it has achieved as far as those elements are concerned. The important thing is to have a well-rounded value system. We started our journey on sustainability-related issues around five or six years ago. Some people pay it lip service, but it is important if a company wants to grow sustainably to have a better place to do business, make sure that the communities it operates in will benefit, and make our country a better place. The whole idea for me and my colleagues is to pursue sustainable banking practices. My advice is simply this: do the right thing. It is the right way to do business.

CHARLES KIE Digitalization is our main focus today, and we have made that clear. It is not just about digitizing our customers; it is also about digitizing ourselves. It is important that the way we interact with our customers and optimize our businesses internally are linked and communication between external and internal parties is flawless. We are not only looking at our own internal processes in order to automate and digitize as much as we can, but we are also making sure that our customers, for whom we want to ensure access to the digital services we are providing, also use all our digital channels—mobile, internet banking, QR code payments, and POS. All of this is now made available to facilitate communication with our customers. The fact of the matter is, given the recession the country has gone through, as well as the issues around the situation of the country in 2016 and part of 2017, the portfolios of banks in general have been impacted. NPLs have increased since 2015. That obviously requires attention. The second point is, because of the various rates we see in the market, it is important that some level of convergence takes place at some point between the unofficial and the official markets. When that happens for the banks, some steep adjustments will be required. This is something that we, as an industry, have to be mindful of and prepare for.

What strategies are you adopting to become one of Africa's most respected banks?

HW From the beginning, we assembled a strong team and drove a culture of excellence. This ensured complete harmony in terms of the value system of the institution—something we desired from the start. A company also needs a solid financial background to be the world's most respected African bank. It must have strong numbers, a global outlook, and a strong presence on the continent. All of these have been achieved, and our various subsidiaries are doing well. However, the second part—which is just as important—has to do with the softer issues around sustainability. This revolves around what we do with respect to the three elements of people, the planet, and profit, and what we are doing with respect to the communities where we do business. This not only involves Nigeria but all the markets in which we are active. These are the things that ensure that a company will earn respect internationally, and today we are close to that objective.

CK When an economy is in recession, it is important that all stakeholders play the right role in terms of supporting those who create wealth, produce, and make goods available to the population. We now need to ask ourselves how to achieve this. It has to be a concerted effort from policymakers, companies, banks, and the Central Bank as well. We all have to come together. If any stakeholder does not have the right approach or solution, it distorts the market and causes asymmetry. Where there is asymmetry, there is always arbitrage opportunity. Ecobank, is doing a great deal in terms of financial inclusion, which is the first step. Inflation is about the cost of living. Anything that can reduce that cost is an important element to consider. When we make access to financial services easier for the largest amount of the population at the lowest cost possible, it is a major contribution. Our role is to ensure that the price points of the services that we provide to our customers are as low as possible. This is where technology and digitization come into play.