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Fintech Focuses More on Payments, Not Wealth Creation—Ecobank

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Patrick Akinwuntan Ecobank Nigeria

By Adedapo Adesanya

The Managing Director of Ecobank Nigeria Limited, Mr Patrick Akinwuntan, has challenged financial technology companies in the country to endeavour to create wealth for their customers.

The banker, while at the Fintech in Nigeria: State of Play, pointed out that the fintech industry was currently more active in payments than in wealth creation, which he said is the ultimate goal for financial inclusion.

He, therefore, called for greater collaboration among banks, telecommunication companies, fintech companies and respective regulators to stimulate the Nigerian economy and enhance savings and lending in the financial landscape.

According to Mr Akinwuntan, these will help to generate activities in the economy and expand wealth creation, stating that the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) has been proactive in providing a regulatory environment for the collaboration of players with an emphasis on customer protection which has improved customers’ trust in using digital channels.

Mr Akinwuntan who commended the role fintechs play in facilitating payment, said “there is need to deepen their presence in lending and savings. This is why I maintained that collaboration between Fintech and banks is valuable.

“We are not at the stage of competition yet; we are at a situation where although we have our profitability interests, we will actually gain much more by collaborating”.

He added that “in the area of savings and lending, be it to the agriculture sector, the creative sector or the young graduates setting out to be entrepreneurs directly, the ability to save even in little bits creates a profile that would be able to attract lending that you can translate into economic value.”

Specifically, the Ecobank Managing Director stated that the Fintech industry rose to the situation especially in the payment space and increase in lending and savings during the COVID-19 pandemic lockdown in the country.

He noted that “between March and April, the number of transactions in the payment space for Fintech grew in multiples of close to 800 per cent. We saw significant participation of the Fintech industry in actually reaching more of the underserved in the market by reducing the cost of access and making these services available all the time either by using traditional banks or in collaboration with government agencies.”

Further, Mr Akinwuntan explained that Ecobank had uninterrupted banking services for its customers through its digital platforms and agency banking during the lockdown.

“We had invested significantly in our digital platforms; given the nature of Ecobank as a pan African institution, the only way we could reach every household was to leverage the digital platform.

“We saw a marked growth in the number of digital-based transactions as our customers continued in their way of life depending on these platforms. And most importantly is the use of our social media to drive advocacy with the stay safe campaign where we educated the masses on safety guidelines. We were ready for the situation giving the nature of our franchise. And with our agency banking push, people do not need to go beyond their neighbourhood to do a transaction.”

Also speaking, Director, Payment System Management, CBN, Mr Musa Jimoh, said the apex bank’s regulation is driven by innovation.

“We have come up with regulations that will enable all the participants to behave symbiotically. Our payment system directive will be driven by innovation in the banks. We don’t know what will happen in the future in terms of technological development, therefore we follow innovations and prepare a ground for all the participants to work symbiotically. A new innovation is studied before we provide the needed intervention in terms of policy derivative that will help everybody to participate”.

He observed that the coronavirus pandemic-induced lockdown provided an opportunity for banks to sell digital products, test their back up and business continuity processes and explore the technological services available and push for their financial services, noting that CBN is backing up these areas with relevant regulations to ensure all the participants with the payment and financial service space can actually conduct their service responsibly.

On priorities in the regulatory space especially those championing Fintech, Mr Jimoh said the apex bank currently operates both sandbox and the open bank regulation.

“The sandbox provides a regulated environment for startups who don’t have the financial strength to take authorization from CBN to go through the entire process of licensing to test their innovation.

“We are working hard to showcase an environment where startups can come to the regulatory sandbox to test their innovation and services without having the license yet,” he added.

He said further that “open banking regulation is a principle that will allow third-party to leverage on the existing bank accounts with the banks to get information and provide services. More like democratizing financial services where a person chooses the service provider that will provide services and the kind of services provided. As a Fintech, you will be able to connect to banks to provide value-added services.”

Fintech in Nigeria: State of Play is an Economist Intelligence Unit Research which examines key trends in the fintech sector in Nigeria and assesses both industry drivers and impediments to further growth.

Adedapo Adesanya is a journalist, polymath, and connoisseur of everything art. When he is not writing, he has his nose buried in one of the many books or articles he has bookmarked or simply listening to good music with a bottle of beer or wine. He supports the greatest club in the world, Manchester United F.C.

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Banking

First Bank Reacts to Rumoured ‘Acquisition’ by Otedola

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First Bank Otedola

By Dipo Olowookere

One of the news items that has dominated the business space in the past few days is the rumoured takeover of FBN Holdings Plc, the parent company of First Bank of Nigeria (FBN) Limited, by Mr Femi Otedola, a businessman in the country.

It was reported that he has ‘acquired’ the lender by pumping about N30 billion into the shares of the company at the stock market, making him the single largest shareholder.

This was linked to the recent rise in the trading volume and value of FBN Holdings equities at the Nigerian Exchange (NGX) Limited, which has spurred questions from various quarters.

But in a statement issued on Friday, the management of FBNH said it was not aware of the businessman emerging as its new shareholder, though it pointed out this could have happened as its shares are always available for purchase at the market by anybody.

In the notice signed by the company secretary, Seye Kosoko, the bank said once it receives notification from Mr Otedola, it will promptly inform the regulators about it as required.

“The attention of FBN Holdings has been drawn to media reports today, October 2021, purporting that a certain individual has acquired a significant shareholding interest in FBN Holdings, therefore making him the majority shareholder of the company.

“As a listed company, shares of FBN Holdings are publicly traded and sale and acquisition of shares are expected in the normal course of business. We operate in a regulated environment, which requires notification of significant shareholding by shareholders to the company, where shares are held in different vehicles, further to which the company will notify the regulators and the public as appropriate.

“The company is yet to receive any notification from the individual mentioned in the media report of such acquisition. FBN Holdings will always notify the appropriate agencies and authorities whenever it receives any notice of significant shareholdings by the shareholders and the company’s registrars,” the disclosure read.

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Banking

Femi Otedola Quietly Takes Over First Bank

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Femi Otedola First Bank FBN Holdings

By Aduragbemi Omiyale

There are reports that a billionaire businessman, Mr Femi Otedola, is coming back into the capital market on a big scale a few years after he offloaded his stake in Forte Oil, 75 per cent, which later became Ardova Plc under its new owners.

It is believed that business mogul has pounced on the crisis at FBN Holdings Plc, the parent company of First Bank of Nigeria Limited, which also recently had a board crisis, to take over the company.

According to reports, which is yet to be independently verified by Business Post, Mr Otedola, son of a late Governor of Lagos State, Sir Michael Otedola, is now the single majority shareholder of the first generation lender in Nigeria.

He is said to have acquired N30 billion worth of the company’s equities at the Nigerian Exchange (NGX) Limited, where the firm is listed.

In recent times, there has been an upward movement in the share price of FBN Holdings at the stock market and this has raised many eyebrows as some investors were asking what was driving the hike.

Mr Otedola is not new to the boardroom and it is believed that his entry into the banking space would cause a disruption and make him rub shoulders with renowned bankers like Mr Jim Ovia of Zenith Bank Plc, Tony Elumelu of United Bank for Africa (UBA), amongst others.

Some months ago, many observers were shocked when the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) sacked the boards of FBN Holdings and First Bank of Nigeria Limited and it was learnt that the financial institution has been on the life-support of the regulator.

The FBN Holdings board led by businessman, Mr Oba Otudeko was asked to leave and the CBN further ordered the bank to ensure that the debts owed by the directors, including Mr Otudeko, who sits on the board of Honeywell Flour Mills Plc, should be recovered.

A few months after this directive, shares of FBN Holdings and Honeywell have enjoyed a significant rise in value, causing people to ask questions.

If the latest information is correct, it would mean that Mr Otedola was likely the reason for the uptick witnessed in First Bank stocks at the exchange lately.

It means he will have a good representation on the board of the lender and turn its fortunes around.

First Bank is yet to officially inform the investing public about this development.

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Banking

Heritage Bank in Debt Crisis, Reps May Order CBN Takeover

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Heritage Bank CEO Ifie Sekibo

By Aduragbemi Omiyale

The banking industry in Nigeria may be plunged into another crisis if urgent steps are not quickly taken to address the issue so as to douse the looming tension.

Business Post reports that a few years ago, precisely in 2018, depositors and shareholders of Skye Bank were in a panic mood after the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) nationalised the lender to Polaris Bank Limited because of debts and the House of Representatives on Thursday raised an alarm that another financial institution, Heritage Bank, is allegedly swimming in huge debts.

The lower chamber of the National Assembly had invited the bank and its Managing Director, Mr Ifie Sekibo, to explain why the amount the company owes the federal government is more than its share capital, but he has failed to honour the request.

This action has infuriated the parliament, which has threatened to direct the CBN to take over the ownership of Heritage Bank if Mr Sekibo and the bank ignore their latest invite next Wednesday.

Mr Adejoro Adeogun, Chairman of the Adhoc Committee on Assessment and Status of All Recovered Loots, Moveable and immovable Assets from 2002 to 2020 by agencies of the federal government for Effective and Efficient Management and Utilisation, issued this threat at the resumed hearing of the committee yesterday.

“I need to send this message to Heritage Bank that we are not comedians here and we are not joking here. If Heritage Bank owes Nigeria more than its share capital, we will not hesitate to ask the National Assembly to write to CBN to take over Heritage Bank.

“They cannot be owing more than their share capital and feel too big to respond to invitations from the National Assembly. Clerk, you have to write them, give them till Wednesday next week. That is the last time we are going to give them,” an angry Mr Adeogun barked.

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