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Digital Banking Vital to Financial Inclusion in Nigeria—Segun Agbaje

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Digital Banking Vital to Financial Inclusion in Nigeria—Segun Agbaje

Digital Banking Vital to Financial Inclusion in Nigeria—Segun Agbaje

By Dipo Olowookere

Managing Director of Guaranty Trust Bank (GTBank), Mr Segun Agbaje, has emphasised the importance of digital banking in the growth of financial inclusion in Nigeria.

Mr Agbaje, speaking to World Finance, lamented that “there are so many people in Africa who are outside the banking system.”

He submitted that “for you to be part of organised society, financial inclusion is a must.”

GTBank, one of the continent’s leading financial institutions, is a big player in the mobile banking world, which is why it boasts of several customers.

The growth of financial institution is very slow in Africa, but it is predicted to rise.

“It’s not as superfast as we would like it to be, but there are marked improvements, and this is steadily increasing”, said Mr Agbaje, pointing out that, “Just 10 years ago, data on financial inclusion was hard to come by. Now we know just how much better we must do in order to expand access to financial services.”

But the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) has predicted that by 2020, the number of adult Nigerians with access to payment services will increase to around 70 percent.

Access to savings, credit, insurance and pensions is also growing rapidly.

“Encouraging as these projections are, we know that there’s a lot more to be done. This is why, at GTBank, we are keen to leverage digital technology to expand the reach of our products and services. Mobile has become very, very big and we have begun to see people doing a lot using their mobile phones.”

Mr Agbaje points to the example of Kenya’s M-Pesa, a mobile-based money transfer and finance platform that is now used by more than two thirds of the country’s adult population. The mobile app serves as a channel for approximately 25 percent of Kenya’s GNP. “When I look at our mobile technology compared to a lot of developed economies, I think we’re a lot further ahead. You know, I actually think that the African banking sector is very much ahead in terms of mobile banking. And I think African banks are probably embracing disruptive technologies a lot quicker, because we don’t have as many legacies.”

Making banking more mobile

This readiness to embrace new technologies has helped a large proportion of the African population skip whole stages of traditional digital development altogether. Indeed, for many, a smartphone is their first computer. Agbaje said: “From experience, we know that the major reasons for financial exclusion include the lack of physical access to financial institutions, inadequate understanding of financial institutions and their products, general distrust in the system, and the affordability of products as a result of minimum opening balance requirements.”

Despite these hurdles, technology is helping forward-thinking institutions tackle such challenges head on, prompting financial inclusion to leap forward on the African continent.

Mr Agbaje explained that, “The world is changing around us and the future of banking is digital. To protect our traditional business and maintain our social relevance, we are incorporating another model, which involves mobile phones, use of data, partnerships and collaborations. Simply put, we are creating a platform to support our traditional business model by leveraging digital solutions.”

GTBank’s Bank 737 provides banking services to millions of Nigerian mobile phone owners, and does not require internet access to perform basic banking services. Anyone with a phone registered in Nigeria can open an account, transfer money, buy airtime or check their balance by dialling *737#. The convenience of Bank 737 lies in the fact that all of its services can be accessed through a customer’s mobile phone, at the dial of *737#. And because stable internet access is still not ubiquitous in Africa, Bank 737, being USSD-powered, side steps the need for an internet connection.

“Through this service, which makes banking simpler, cheaper and faster, we continue to pull into the banking stream many of those who have long been excluded from the country’s financial framework,” said Mr Agbaje. “Since its introduction, we have recorded an uptake of over three million customers and over N1 trillion [$3.1 billion] in transactions via the platform.

The reception of Bank 737 has been phenomenal, with it gaining recognition as Product of the Year in Africa from The Asian Banker and Best Digital Bank in Africa from Euromoney. The bank was also the recipient of six awards at the 2017 Electronic Payment Incentive Scheme Awards, which was organised by the Central Bank of Nigeria in conjunction with the Nigeria Interbank Settlement System to recognise financial institutions, merchants and other stakeholders at the forefront of driving electronic payments in Nigeria.”

Digitally minded

“Core to our digital strategy is both our understanding that the future of banking is digital, and our determination to lead that future”, Mr Agbaje said. “We know, because digital technologies have dissolved the boundaries between industry sectors, that our competition is no longer just banks. It now includes fintechs, telcos and tech companies that can provide speed and flexibility to customers as we can. This creates tough challenges for the banking sector, but it also creates ample opportunities to extend our footprint.”

A readiness to embrace new technologies has helped large portions of the African population skip whole stages of traditional digital development altogether

For example, the bank’s SME MarketHub is an e-commerce platform that allows business owners to create online stores.

Mr Agbaje told World Finance: “Our strategy is to take advantage of the new opportunities born from the digital revolution by moving beyond our traditional role as enablers of financial transactions and providers of financial products, to playing a deeper role in the digital and commercial lives of our customers. In pursuit of this strategy we have created our own in-house fintech division, while also actively seeking partnerships and collaborations with other fintechs.

“Our immediate focus is three-pronged; to digitalise our key processes, build a robust data-gathering infrastructure, and create a well-designed, segmented and integrated customer experience, rather than a one-size-fits-all distribution. In the long run, our goal is to build a digital bank that consistently delivers faster, cheaper and better solutions for the constantly evolving needs of our customers.”

The lack of digital and electrical infrastructure, as well as lower levels of wealth than those found in more developed markets, means that there are some barriers to the full adoption of digital banking that are particular to Africa. “Another obvious challenge is the little focus given to innovation in the banking industry.

African banks, like most banks across the world, tend to innovate in bite sizes, and generally around products, rather than service delivery. It was almost as though banks believed that ownership of the customer was their right, as long as they had the branch network to support customer footfall. Now, facing the real threat of losing relevance, banks are waking up to this need to innovate – not just out of dire necessity, but as a strategic objective.”

Mr Agbaje also pointed out that, while GTBank has made significant gains in getting customers to accept digital banking as a viable alternative to traditional forms, there is still more to be done. That said, he is hopeful that the Central Bank of Nigeria’s ‘Cash-less Nigeria’ policy, which discourages the use of cash, will drive greater migration to e-banking platforms.

“We are also tackling the innovation challenge. We now operate an open innovation policy, through which we invest significantly in building our in-house digital capabilities. At the same time, we are seeking effective partnerships and alliances to drive operational efficiency and boost our competitive advantage.

“We want to become a fully digital bank that offers everyday banking services outside of traditional bank walls, but more than that, we want to create digital touch points that ensure we are constantly interacting and playing a deep role in the lives our customers. This of course requires a sustained commitment, and we have repositioned our business structures in such a way that makes us very confident in our continued leadership of Africa’s digital frontier.”

Gaining interest

Despite the difficult business environment in 2016, GTBank enjoyed “a fairly decent year”, according to Mr Agbaje. The bank overcame these challenges by growing its retail business and leveraging technology to deliver superior payment solutions to make banking simpler, faster and better. Gross earnings for the period grew by 37 percent to NGN 414.62bn ($1.3bn), from NGN 301.85bn ($959m) in December 2015.

This was driven primarily by growth in interest income, as well as foreign exchange income. Profit before tax stood at NGN 165.14bn ($524.7m), representing a growth of 37 percent since December 2015. The bank’s loan book also grew 16 percent, from the NGN 1.37trn ($4.4bn) recorded in December 2015 to NGN 1.59trn ($5.1bn) in December 2016, with corresponding growth in total deposits increasing 29 percent, to NGN 2.11trn ($6.7bn).

Likewise, the bank’s balance sheet remained strong with a 19.7 percent growth in total assets and contingents, reaching NGN 3.70trn ($11.8bn) at the end of December 2016, while shareholders’ funds reached NGN 504.9bn ($1.6bn). The bank’s non-performing loans remained low at 3.29 percent – below the regulatory threshold of 3.66 percent, with adequate coverage of 131.79 percent. Against the backdrop of this result, return on equity (ROE) and return on assets closed at 35.96 percent and 5.85 percent respectively.

According to Mr Agbaje, “The vision of the bank is to build an oasis in a country that was not necessarily known for doing things properly, so we focused on ethics and integrity. And once you build anything on that type of foundation – because even though things change, values never change – and bring in very young people who imbibe this culture along with a healthy attitude towards work, you have a workforce that’s very young and dynamic, possessing all the right values to enable you to build a successful organisation.”

Pan-African

GTBank is building on its successes both at home and abroad through its ‘Pan-African’ growth strategy. Apart from its home market in Nigeria, the bank enjoys a presence in three countries in east Africa (Kenya, Rwanda and Uganda), five in the west (Ivory Coast, Gambia, Ghana, Liberia and Sierra Leone) and has plans to have another in Tanzania by the end of the year. “Our strategy has always been to go into a country and take the high end of the middle market, and then as we grow, enter into the corporate markets.

“We are building a high-end type retail business because the middle class is emerging in most countries in Africa, and where you have an emerging middle class, you have a lot of banking opportunities. So far, we have been fairly successful, delivering an ROE after tax of over 25 percent.”

The bank’s expansion strategy has enjoyed remarkable success, with businesses outside Nigeria now accounting for 15 percent of total deposits, 11 percent of its loans and around 8.2 percent of its profit. Over the next three years, Mr Agbaje expects subsidiary contribution to grow further, to approximately 20 percent.

He told World Finance: “I’m pretty excited about the fact that the profit of the bank has grown by over 300 percent in the last five years. Our customer base has grown from around two million to over 10 million, and we have built a very strong e-business as well.

“We are driven by a vision to create a great African institution; an institution that can compete anywhere in the world in terms of good corporate governance culture and performance. We are driven by the desire to be, in terms of best practices, as good as any institution in the world. As a bank, we always want to do better than 25 percent ROE, and if we have the corporate governance that you’d find anywhere else in the world, then we’ll always be an attractive destination for discerning international investors.”

World Finance

Dipo Olowookere is a journalist based in Nigeria that has passion for reporting business news stories. At his leisure time, he watches football and supports 3SC of Ibadan. Mr Olowookere can be reached via dipo.olowookere@businesspost.ng

Banking

N5.5bn Debt: Ecobank Floors Honeywell At Supreme Court

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Honeywell Ecobank suit

Ecobank scored a major victory at the Supreme Court on Friday as it won in a N5.5 billion debt dispute against Honeywell and its sister firms, Anchorage Leisures Ltd and Siloam Global Ltd.

The Supreme Court dismissed an appeal by Honeywell Flour Mills Limited challenging the judgement of the Court of Appeal in the debt dispute with Ecobank Nigeria Limited.

The five-member panel of the Supreme Court, led by Justice Tijjani Abubakar, delivered the judgement that Honeywell, Anchorage, and Siloam were indeed indebted to Ecobank.

In the lead judgement delivered by Justice Emmanuel Agim, the Supreme Court declared the verdict of the Court of Appeal, which said Honeywell and its sister companies are still indebted to Ecobank.

“I affirm the judgment of the Court of Appeal, setting aside the decision of the Federal High Court, granting the reliefs claimed for by the appellants (Honeywell).

“I hold that the appellants’ claim at the trial court fails, and it is hereby dismissed. “The appellants shall pay the cost of N1 million to the respondent (Ecobank),” Justice Agim said.

By the instant judgment of the apex court confirming the indebtedness of the named customers to the bank, the lender can now proceed to recover from the debtor customers the total outstanding debt of N5.5 billion, including all the accrued interest from 2015.

In the wake of the legal tussle, Mr Oba Otudeko, Honeywell Group chairman, had told a Court of Appeal that the sum was owed by individual companies. These companies include Anchorage Leisures Limited, Siloam Limited, and Honeywell Flour Mills Plc.

Mr Otudeko maintained that his companies had paid N3.5 billion as of December 12, 2013, as the full and final payment for the N5.5 billion debt as agreed by the parties at a July 22, 2013, meeting. With the latest Supreme Court judgement, the companies remain indebted to the bank.

Background

On August 6, 2015, Honeywell and its sister firms, Anchorage Leisures Ltd and Siloam Global Ltd, sued Ecobank before the Federal High Court in Lagos over repayments of a N5.5 billion debt.

In the suit, the companies urged the Federal High Court in Lagos to declare that “having paid the sum of N3.5 billion in cumulative settlement of their total outstanding indebtedness” (of N5.5 billion) to Ecobank, “they owned no further debt obligation” to Ecobank “arising from their banker-customer relationships.”

As a result, they also asked the court to hold that Ecobank “was obligated to issue letters of discharge, release collaterals by which the prior indebtedness was secured.” In addition, Honeywell and its sister companies begged the court to compel Ecobank to “update” their status on the “Credit Risk Management System Portal of the Central Bank of Nigeria.”

But in its defence, Ecobank argued that an agreement was reached between it, Honeywell, Anchorage and Siloam on July 22, 2013, “for a definite settlement of N3.5 billion to be paid in terms of N500 million immediately and the balance of N3 billion before the exit of the CBN examiners from” Ecobank’s offices. Ecobank had contended that the repayment agreement period was for six months as it rejected Honeywell and its sister companies’ request to “pay the balance over a one-and-half-year period in three equal half-yearly instalments.”

The bank informed the court that the debt repayment agreement “lapsed in August 2013.” But in its judgement, the judge, Ayokunle Faji of the Federal High Court, upheld the arguments of the Honeywell Group and granted their prayers.

Dissatisfied with the verdict, Ecobank in 2015 approached the Court of Appeal. In its decision, the appellate court overturned the judgement of the Federal High Court, setting the stage for the Supreme Court’s appeal, which was resolved in favour of the bank.

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Banking

Customers Frustrated as Banks Stop Dispensing Old Naira Notes

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stop dispensing old Naira notes

By Dipo Olowookere

Some customers were left frustrated as a few of the commercial banks visited by Business Post on Monday morning to monitor the extension of the currency swap announced by the Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), Mr Godwin Emefiele, on Sunday, were unable to pay those who came for cash withdrawals.

Yesterday, after a visit to President Muhammadu Buhari in his hometown of Daura, Katsina State, Mr Emefiele said the deadline for the exchange of the old Naira notes for the new ones has been pushed forward from January 31 to February 10, 2023.

He explained that it was to allow Nigerians more time to swap their old currency notes of N200, N500, and N1,000 for the newly redesigned denominations.

The extension followed calls by several persons as they complained of scarcity of the new Naira notes, as banks were still dispensing the old notes even a few days before the deadline.

This morning, this reporter visited a few financial institutions in Lagos to monitor the situation, and it was observed that some customers could not withdraw cash from the banks.

At the banking hall of one of the tier-one lenders in the Akowonjo area of Lagos State, the cashiers were not paying customers who came to take their funds.

“I could not get cash from the bank because I was informed that there were no new notes to pay me with, as the central bank has directed them not to pay customers with the old notes,” one of the customers, who identified himself as Mr Idowu Sodunke, said.

At a branch of another bank on Idimu Road, Lagos, a customer, who identified herself as Mrs Bose Kalejaiye, said, “The bank could not pay me my money. They claimed they were short of the new Naira notes. When I told them to pay me in lower denominations, they also could not pay me. We are in a deep mess in this country.”

In the Ikotun area of Lagos State, the banks in the vicinity were crowded as customers, especially POS operators, rushed to withdraw their funds for business after the extension.

They had earlier deposited the cash ahead of the deadline during the weekend, but when they approached the banks to withdraw their money, the banks could not honour their requests, leaving some of them frustrated.

“I don’t have funds to do my business today. I was here yesterday (Sunday) to deposit some cash. It was after I deposited the money that I heard of the extension. I quickly came here this morning to take my money back, but I was told there was no cash to pay me.

“I think the issue is that the banks have stopped paying people with the old notes. I don’t know what to do now,” a POS operator, who identified herself as Rukayat Salami, told Business Post.

An employee of a commercial bank, who begged not to be named, hinted that the CBN directed banks tp stop dispensing old Naira notes to customers because of a directive of the CBN.

This newspaper observed that within the premises of some of the commercial banks visited today, some POS operators, like Ms Salami, resorted to collecting cash from depositors and transferring the money into their accounts so as to have enough cash to do business with at their terminals.

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Banking

CBN Orders Banks to Operate Saturday, Sunday to Mop Up Old Naira Notes

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Nigerian Banks

By Aduragbemi Omiyale

As the deadline for the stoppage in the use of old N200, N500, and N1,000 banknotes as legal tender in the country draws closer, the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) has directed banks to open their doors on Saturday, January 29 and Sunday, January 29, 2023, to customers for cash deposits.

The CBN maintained that it would not shift the deadline for the deposit of old Naira notes from Tuesday, January 31, 2023, despite calls from different quarters, including from the National Assembly, the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) and others.

According to the CBN governor, Mr Godwin Emefiele, 100 days is enough for Nigerians to take their old notes to banks for the newly redesigned denominations.

There had been reports that the new notes were very scarce and that banks were still dispensing the old notes, leaving many customers confused.

On Friday, many commercial banks sent messages to their customers, informing them they could bring their old notes this Saturday and Sunday.

One of the lenders, UBA, in its message said, “This weekend, all our branches will be open for cash deposits only.

“Opening times [are] Saturday from 9:00 am to 3:00 pm, and Sunday from 10:00 am to 2.00 pm.

“Please note that all old naira notes, 200, 500, and 1000, cease to be in use from January 31, 2023.

“You can continue to bank seamlessly on all our digital channels, including Leo, UBA Mobile App, internet banking and *919#.”

Another bank, Fidelity Bank, said, “To help you meet January 31, 2023, deadline for depositing your old Naira notes, our branches will open as detailed below.

“Saturday, January 28, 2023, from 9 am to 4 pm and Sunday, January 29, 2023, from 11 am to 3 pm.

“Please note that only cash deposit transactions would be entertained on these days.”

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