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Access Bank Denies Closing Over 300 Branches, Sacking Staff

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By Modupe Gbadeyanka

Tier-one lender, Access Bank Plc, has said reports making the rounds that it has closed over 300 branches across the country as untrue.

In a statement signed by the Company Secretary, Mr Sunday Ekwochi, the bank also said media reports that it was downsizing its workforce by 75 percent are totally false.

The financial institution said the closure of a bank branch in the country requires the approval of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), stressing that it has not approached the CBN for such.

“The bank has not applied for nor obtained the approval of the Central Bank of Nigeria for the closure of any of its branches as widely speculated. The bank has only suspended operations in some branches following the directive by the CBN,” the statement explained.

Explaining further, Access Bank said at the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic lockdown, it suspended in-branch operations at different locations as directed by the CBN and in line with business continuity plans at vulnerable spots, it provided financial services through its alternative digital platforms.

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“Beyond complying with the regulatory directive, this action was taken to ensure the health and safety of our customers and employees,” it said.

It further stated that, “In line with the phased re-opening of the economy effective May 4, 2020, following the presidential directive, we will be resuming in-branch services in some of our affected branches in a programmed manner to ensure the health and safety of our employees and customers. This is also necessary to provide relevant contingency should there be any incident arising from the pandemic.”

“We recognise that the threat of the COVID-19 pandemic is still out there and whilst we will do all that is required to ensure the safety of all our branches in line with the protocol advised by the health authorities, we urge our customers to leverage more of our digital channels for their transactions. We have made significant investment to ensure their availability throughout this period and beyond,” the statement said.

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While commenting on the rumoured downsizing of its workforce, Access Bank stressed that, “We deny in its entirety the baseless and twisted speculation that the bank is sacking 75 percent of its workforce.

“This is malicious and a distraction from a genuine and compassionate plan to protect our staff and help keep jobs in the unfolding macroeconomic environment.”

“We state that based on the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, we do not expect that all our branches will be fully opened for in-branch services until later in the year. This has made it impossible for many of our outsourced workers to perform their duties as usual,” it added.

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Access Bank stated that, “Based on the above-mentioned circumstances, we have commenced engagement with various stakeholders with a view to ensuring that they provide the relevant services and optimum manpower as may be required by the Bank on an on-going basis.”

“As we navigate the new normal occasioned by the COVID-19 pandemic, we wish to assure all our esteemed stakeholders that in our traditional manner the Bank will continue to ensure that its actions and decisions are guided by fairness, justice, equity and good conscience,” the statement concluded.

Modupe Gbadeyanka is a fast-rising journalist with Business Post Nigeria. Her passion for journalism is amazing. She is willing to learn more with a view to becoming one of the best pen-pushers in Nigeria. Her role models are the duo of CNN's Richard Quest and Christiane Amanpour.

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Banking

Unity Bank Launches Anti-fraud USSD Code for Customers

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Unity Bank UnityCares

By Ashemiriogwa Emmanuel

Unity Bank Plc has unveiled a new code on its USSD platform to help customers stem the risk of fraud in electronic banking.

The new anti-fraud USSD code, which is *7799*9*Phone Number#, will completely put customers in control of their bank accounts against any e-banking fraud, as it can be dialled to successfully block and protect an account from a third-party mobile device if fraud is suspected.

During the unveiling of the new USSD dial, the Directorate Head, E-Business, Retail & SME Banking, Mr Funwa Akinmade, said executing measures to safeguard its e-banking platforms with enhanced safety and security features was a top priority amidst the rising rate of cyber-crime victimization.

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He said: “With fraud concerns on major payment channels across Nigeria, every player in the financial services industry in Nigeria must think of a way to stay ahead of its game.”

“With the added USSD feature that allows customers to block their accounts using *7799*9*Phone Number# code, even from a third party device, we have given greater empowerment to customers to transact freely on our USSD platform.

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“With the USSD feature, being available to both smartphone and feature phone users, it means even the least digital-savvy customers of Unity Bank can effectively use the new anti-fraud code.”

He also revealed that since the code has been made available in Hausa, Igbo, and Yoruba languages, it will cover the majority of customers across the country who are looking for safe banking.

In view of the latest banking industry fraud report by Nigeria Inter-Bank Settlement System (NIBSS) which showed a 534 per cent increase in cyber fraud rate, and a total of N3.5 billion loss in the previous year, the lender said the new USSD dial was a strategic move to facilitate seamless and secure banking transaction within its e-banking channels.

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Customers can now block and protect access to their bank accounts in the case that fraud is suspected, then they can walk into any branch of Unity Bank to request reactivation.

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Banking

CBN Tracks Forex Sales at Commercial Banks

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forex nigeria

By Ashemiriogwa Emmanuel

The Central bank of Nigeria (CBN) is already tracking how commercial banks in the country are complying with the sale of foreign exchange to their customers.

Recall that last Tuesday, the CBN Governor, Mr Godwin Emefiele, announced that the apex bank will no longer sell FX to Bureaux De Change (BDC) operators and will also halt the issuance of licenses to them.

He disclosed this after the two-day Monetary Policy Committee (MPC) meeting held in Abuja, maintaining that the BDCs had become a useful channel for illicit forex flows, especially at the unregulated segment of the FX market.

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In his words, “We are concerned that BDCs have allowed themselves to be used for graft.”

He said instead, the CBN will now begin to sell FX to commercial banks, which are required to set up teller points specifically for customers with genuine forex requests.

But several analysts expressed pessimism over the ability of deposit money banks (DMBs) to be faithful with the sale of FX to retail users.

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They claimed banks have already been involved in roundtripping, which the central bank accused the BDCs of doing.

However, to avoid this, the apex bank said it has put in place a monitoring mechanism that tracks forex sales at commercial banks, assuring the general public of seamless sale of the foreign currencies.

The CBN acting director in charge of the Corporate Communications Department, Mr Osita Nwanisobi, while briefing newsmen in Abuja, said commercial banks will always respond to the legitimate forex demands of customers.

He explained that lenders have demonstrated their commitment through their chief executive officers not to turn back on customers with legitimate forex requests.

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In effect, a circulated notice tracked by this newspaper showed that various commercial banks have swung into action and have set up dedicated teller points across their branches nationwide, encouraging customers who want to buy Personal Travel Allowance (PTA), Business Travel Allowance (BTA), and make every other qualifying FX transaction, to approach their branches nationwide to get them.

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Banking

Nigerian Lending Start-Up PayHippo Gets $125k Seed Fund

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Payhippo

By Ashemiriogwa Emmanuel

A Nigerian lending and business financing platform, Payhippo, has been accepted into Y Combinator’s Summer 2021 cohort, gaining access to a $125,000 seed fund and other networking and mentorship opportunities.

The one-year-old Small and Medium Enterprise (SME) co-founded by Mr Zach Bijesse (Cheif executive officer – CEO), Ms Chioma Okotcha (Cheif Operating Officer – COO), and Mr Uche Nnadi (Cheif Technology Officer – CTO) will be joining 167 startups across the globe to participate at the Y Combinator’s Summer 2021 batch.

The American seed funding accelerator, Y Combinator, offers seed funding for startups twice every year (winter and summer batch) and hosted their demo recently where they will invest $125,000 in selected startups, in exchange for 7 per cent equity.

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Speaking on the development, Payhippo’s COO, Ms Okotcha disclosed that when the news of their acceptance into the outfit came in, the startup felt a little sceptical about the precondition that the accelerator gets a 7 per cent stake in startups they invest in.

In her words, “We had mixed feelings at first because 7 per cent of your company is a lot to give up. We called up a few YC alumni from our market and got their input.”

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She, however, expressed optimism, revealing that joining the YC cohort will reinforce the startup’s credibility in the public eye and boost future collaboration.

“Ultimately, we went with Y Combinator because we saw how much we could learn from the YC partners and the overall network.

“We believe it’s already paying dividends both for operations as the brand name and global recognition of Y Combinator has brought interest from lending capital partners.

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“The YC brand name signals to the job market that working at Payhippo means people can contribute and do meaningful work.,” Ms Okotcha further said.

Payhippo is a lending and business financing platform with a drive to serve 40 million small and medium-sized business that are unable to gain access to the funds necessary to grow their business, by leveraging on automated underwriting and credit assessment tools to create more financially equities across Africa.

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