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In few years, Fidelity Bank will be at the top -Okonkwo

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From just a merchant bank with few branches, Fidelity Bank Plc has, over the years, maintained a steady growth, emerging the top tier 2 bank in Nigeria. In this interview with the lender’s CEO, Mr. Nnamdi Okonkwo, he speaks on the economy, the banking industry and the secret behind the stellar performance of the bank during its financial year ended December 31, 2017 at an interactive session with business editors in Lagos. Excerpts:

 

What is the bank’s roadmap for the next five years?

Let me give you some historical background. If you look at where Fidelity Bank was as at end of 2013 and where we are today, you would have noticed some marked improvements. The bank has had a stable leadership in our 30 years of operations. I am the third CEO of the bank.

The first CEO served for 15 years and the second was there for 10 years. Both of them laid solid foundations for the bank before I took on the mantle of leadership.

From day one, the watchword is to keep the bank safe and that was the same gospel that was transferred to me to ensure that the bank’s capital adequacy and liquidity are strong.

At some point, people thought Fidelity Bank was too conservative, but it was for good reason. It has enabled us to survive three or four cycles of crisis in the banking industry with us acquiring two banks in the process.

When I came on board, it was clear to me that we needed to be mindful of these and management also agreed to retain this posture when we had our retreat to strategies for the next growth phase.

We said to ourselves at the retreat that we want to be the clear leader among tier-two banks. So, we crafted the medium-term strategic initiatives built around balance sheet optimisation, cost reduction, and increased digitisation. We were sure that if we remained focused on the implementation of these initiatives, we would achieve success.

Four years down the line, we like the results we have achieved, even though we also realise that we are not yet where we intend to be ultimately. Specifically, in answer to your question, in the next five years we plan to break into the league of top five-six banks in the country.

This has implications for market share, number of customers, balance sheet size and all. We had a board retreat late last year to strategise and agree on the imperatives for achieving this goal and by God’s grace and the disciplined approach to the execution of the outlined initiatives, we will realise this goal.

Whilst I am not at liberty to completely divulge in details our plans for the next five years, let me speak to some of the quiet changes and internal realignments that we have made in preparation for the future.

Starting with governance, we ensured that as directors retired, both at the executive and non-executive board, we maintained quality by replacing them with equally very strong professionals from diverse backgrounds.

If you take a look at our board, you will see high profile representation by people who have been in regulatory roles, from our Chairman, Mr. Ebi, a former Deputy Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), to a former CEO of a multi-national corporation, former CEO of a bank, legal practitioners, former Chief Risk Officer of a bank, accountants and accomplished businessmen.

On the executive side, the professional background of our directors also speaks for themselves. We also started our mid-year audit last year. Nobody compelled us to do it. We are required to audit our account once every year, but we did it on our own because of our future aspiration. We decided to adopt international best practices.

 

Are you looking at organic growth, merger, capital raising or a combination of strategies?

We plan to grow organically, but that does not mean if we see a brownfield transaction, we will not do it. Getting to the top five-six league of bank is more important than just doing a combination today to become such, which means you did not get there by deliberate efforts.

But if we see an opportunity in the market that aligns with our goals, we will evaluate it but that’s not our primary plan. On capital raising, as a bank, we have a policy set out by the Board, which ensures that we remain above regulatory benchmarks.

 

We used to know Fidelity Bank as a bank that handles big transactions. Why have we not heard about such in recent times?

Apart from our reputation as SME-friendly bank, Fidelity has core competence in corporate banking; Fidelity is still financing the big corporates. On agriculture, we funded one of the biggest rice mills in Nigeria located in Kano, supported cocoa value chain in Ondo State, to name a few. We are also very active in food and beverage industries, construction,oil and gas, fast moving consumer goods (FMCGs), iron and steel, among others.

 

What will be key drivers of Nigerian banks going forward?

It will depend on strategic focus of each bank. At some point it was easy to make 20 per cent returns from treasury bills, we knew that was not sustainable, so expectedly, it has come down.

Those who stay focused in their core business at a time like this will remain profitable. For instance, if you look at our income distribution in 2017, you will see that we made about 25 per cent of our revenue from non-interest income, which was as a result of investment in digital technology. We used digitization to drive a lot of non-funded income.

We also took advantage of our balance sheet optimization to increase yield in short-term instruments. We have also cautiously resumed extending credits to customers in the consumer/retail segments, following improvements in salary payments.

 

You are known to be strong in the SME sector that has not been de-risked in the Nigerian banking environment and coupled with the issue lenders are having with Non-Performing Loans (NPL), are you still going to be bold lending to them while driving your NPL down to five per cent?

The NPLs you see in the banking industry are not even predominantly from SMEs. Fidelity approaches SMEs from a different strategy completely. When we started supporting SMEs, we did not want to use risk asset penetration strategy.

Businesses fail either because owners borrow for the wrong reasons or they don’t know proper book keeping and there is nothing tying them together and preventing them from behaving otherwise.

When a significant percentage of businesses go bad, there will be a spike in bad loans. Because of this, about eight years ago, Fidelity set up a division to understand SMEs and train people in that area.

A General Manager headed the division. We divided SMEs into general SMES and managed SMEs. We use the cluster approach to manage people that have similar needs.

You can have 500 people who have similar needs and talk to them as an association. Those that do not have proper book keeping, you make it clear to them that we need to see your business through your record keeping and we train them to imbibe and inculcate these habits. Recently, our people spent two weeks in Aba, in the shoe and leather segment of the market.

Today we have a thriving branch there, with the Bank of Industry (BOI) approaching us for collaboration. What they want from us is to use our office to provide money to support people in that market because our model is working. Now if any member of the cluster defaults, the other members will come against him or her in mutually re-enforcing manner.

Our products are specifically designed and if everybody in a particular cluster is facing bad time, we will know, but in a situation where only one person is not repaying, we know that person is doing something wrong. So that’s the way we approach the cluster SMEs. For the stand alone SMEs, we have developed templates.

For instance, if we check transactions across industry over a period of time, we can tell what kind of SME a business is, using account statements. That way we can query inflows and outflows and ask questions where there are gaps – we ask why you are not selling or are you deliberately stocking up, where we see stocks growing are higher than demand. Yes we are that detailed. the awards we keep winning on SME banking is an outcome of a deliberate strategy.

-Culled from New Telegraph

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BUSINESS

​Keystone Bank: Emerging whiz-kid on the banking block

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By: Felix Onajite

Since the financial crisis that enveloped the global market a decade ago, the profitability and reputation of banks has been under tremendous pressure worldwide, Nigeria inclusive. Whilst the banking industry is now regaining its health, the entrant of fintechs and neo-banks in the industry is posing a new threat. This digital disruption is changing the traditional way through which customers obtain financial services, hence putting more pressure on banks’ profitability.

However, a bank in Nigeria, Keystone Bank Ltd, is challenging the status quo by making transformation and profitability appear like a mere walk over as revealed in its achievements within a short time span. From the perspective of the results on ground, it appears to be a great time for Keystone Bank. In just one year of AMCON’s divestment, the bank has changed its narrative from “one of those banks” to a financial institution to be reckoned with and as a result is experiencing an influx of business minded customers.

Keystone Bank’s ambitious and holistic transformations have taken industry watchers by surprise, and the industry itself by storm. Besides the revamping of its branches across the nation and bolstering its workforce, it has invested substantially in technology and developed fully integrated service models that enable its customers enjoy banking services through a wide range of channels.

The bank’s journey to reckoning had been long and winding, which necessitated a takeover by the Asset Management Company of Nigeria (AMCON) in 2011.

However, its acquisition by Sigma Golf – Riverbank consortium seemed to trigger a turnaround as it precipitated a change in the management team to the one that holds the magic wand for the positive outlook it has been experiencing to date

On taking over, the new management team led by its Group Managing Director/CEO Mr. Obeahon Ohiwerei drew up a holistic and integrated approach to business modernization which elevated the bank to deliver a superior customer-centric experience.  The impact of this change reflected positive results in its Q1 report card, which, from all indications, is a restoration of customers’ trust in its system.

The bank for the half-year ended June 30th, 2018 recorded a profit before tax of N5.83bn, compared to a loss of N6.78bn over the same period in 2017. Deposit grew by 51%, from N206bn to N312bn between June 2017 and June 2018

From evolving technologies to changing customer expectations to new regulatory demands – it has never been more important for banks to come up with the right strategies for digital transformation and innovation; the Ohiwerei team nonetheless made this a reality at Keystone Bank. This entailed initiating partnership processes with foremost technology-enabled concerns to drive its digital revolution.

Its partnership with CeLD Innovations Limited to launch a ground-breaking loyalty reward initiative which involves the gifting of ‘CashToken’, is one of such moves. This innovative gift commodity, Cash Token, which was formally launched in Lagos on Thursday April 19, 2018 at a conference tagged “500 Top CEOs Conference – Unleashing – The Age of Hyper Consumer Centricity, is an electronic reward and celebratory gift commodity which costs only N30.

The initiative, according to CeLD, creates a chance for every customer in Nigeria to win life-changing cash rewards every Friday night on the National CashToken draws which is monitored by Alexander Forbes and audited by Deloitte. This initiative is designed to optimize customer loyalty investment for business, celebratory gift value optimization and public emotional equity for government.

The bank has also launched its revamped mobile banking application upgraded with new and exciting user-friendly features for a more convenient banking experience. Customers can now enjoy many benefits & access self-service options, such as, easy account opening, convenient self- booking and liquidation of fixed deposits, an expanded list of bill-payment options and easy activation of standing instructions & recurrent future payments.

Other notable features of the mobile App are, a “Switch Card ON/OFF option” which allows users to disable their cards temporarily if missing & re-enable at the click of a button, the “Hide Balance Feature” safeguards against third-party viewing and the “Meet Your Relationship Manager Option” allows users to call or email their account officers right within the app.

In addition, the Bank was the first in the sector to introduce the Chat-bot feature called OXYGEN which enables banking on Telegram and Facebook. It guides users through a whole range of desired transactions step-by-step.

Another first from the Bank is the Zero Data Banking feature that enable customers transact on their phones without data. Keystone Bank has remained the only Bank with this feature on its Banking App.

And for the first time in its operations, Keystone Bank also introduced a new SMART number for customer support, this eliminates the need for customers to remember multiple numbers while removing the uncertainty as to which of the lines are actively engaged.

These and many other moves leveraging technology and building a culture of innovation is fast repositioning the bank as a new whiz kid on the banking block, which, according to its group managing director, Mr. Obeahon Ohiwerei is a proof of the hard work and resilience of the board, management and staff of the bank.

Today, Keystone Bank’s branches are fast becoming a hub for transactional activities witnessing a huge footfall of customers trooping in to carry out transactions, open bank accounts and experience the innovative trends that the bank has introduced to its business. This overall experience has also been boosted by the enhancement of staff morale which inherently drives the commitment to serve their customers better.

From the look of unfolding events at Keystone Bank, it’s clear to see that, it’s just a matter of time before the bank starts operating in the first tier again.

– Felix Onajite, a financial analyst writes from Lagos, Nigeria.

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Forex: CBN boosts wholesale market, others with fresh $210m

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The Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) has sustained its intervention in the inter-bank foreign exchange market by injecting yet another sum of $210,000,000 into various sums of the market on Tuesday, August 14, 2018.

At Tuesday’s trading, the Bank offered the sum of $100,000,000 as wholesale interventions and allocated the sum of $55,000,000 each for Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs) forex window and the invisibles sector, for customers requiring forex for Business/Personal Travel Allowances, tuition and medical fees, among others.

Confirming the figures in Abuja, the Acting Director, Corporate Communications at the CBN, Mr. Isaac Okorafor, said the Bank was pleased at the performance of the naira, noting that the currency had continued to enjoy stability against the dollar and other major currencies of the world in recent times.

Okorafor reassured the public that the Bank would continue to intervene in the interbank foreign exchange market in line with its resolve to ensure liquidity in the forex market and maintain stability. He reiterated that the steps taken by the CBN in forex management had resulted in further reduction in the country’s import bills and accretion to its foreign reserves.

It will be recalled that the CBN last Friday, August 10, 2018, intervened in the Retail Secondary Market Intervention Sales (SMIS) to the tune of $327 million in the agricultural and raw materials and CNY 69 million in the spot and short-tenored forwards.

The naira continued to maintain its strong stand against major currencies around the globe, exchanging for N360/$1 in the BDC segment of the market on Tuesday, August 14, 2018.

Meanwhile, the CBN will on Wednesday, August 15, 2018, sensitize stakeholders in Abuja and the adjoining States on the Bilateral Currency Swap Agreement between the CBN and the People’s Bank of China (PBoC) signed on April 27, 2018.

 

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Over 5000 entrepreneurs for 4th Tony Elumelu Foundation entrepreneurship forum in Lagos

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Africa’s leading entrepreneurship-focused philanthropic organisation, the Tony Elumelu Foundation (TEF), has announced October 25, 2018, as the date for its 4thannual TEF Entrepreneurship Forum.

The largest gathering of African entrepreneurs and the broader entrepreneurship ecosystem will unite over 5,000 entrepreneurs, global investors, leaders from the African public and private sectors and developmental organisations at the Federal Palace Hotel, Lagos.  The event is a unique opportunity to generate ideas, forge networks and bring policymakers and the private sector together, in a spirit of robust debate and interaction. The 2018 cohort from the Tony Elumelu Entrepreneurship Programme, as well as mentors and partners, will be present, as the culmination of their intensive twelve-week induction.

In keeping with the Foundation’s track record―most recently with President Macron of France―of bringing politicians face to face with the new generation of young business women and men shaping Africa, the Forum will include an interactive session with President Uhuru Kenyatta of Kenya and President Nana Akufo-Addo of Ghana, moderated by TEF Founder, Tony O. Elumelu.

The Forum will also feature the launch of the TEFConnect, the world’s largest digital platform for African entrepreneurs, dedicated to connecting African entrepreneurs and the entrepreneurship ecosystem.

Founder, Tony O. Elumelu, CON, stated: “In just four years, we have directly impacted 4,460 entrepreneurs, and we are beginning to see the results – job creation, ripple effects, but most importantly a recognition that Africa’s economic well-being is driven by entrepreneurs: female and male, large and small – they are the engine of our continent’s transformation. We will be championing and celebrating them. This year, we are truly achieving scale and impact; we received over 150,000 applications in 2017 alone, up from 20,000 applications in 2015. We are now calling on the current generation of African success stories and others to partner with us to see how we can all further create impact, genuinely transform millions of lives and increase the number of inspiring stories we will be hearing in Lagos”.

TEF CEO, Parminder Vir OBE stated: “The TEF Entrepreneurship Forum is the only event across the continent that brings together the complete African entrepreneurship ecosystem, demonstrating our commitment to capturing the whole continuum – from the entrepreneurs themselves, governments who must provide enabling environments, to capital, advice and perhaps most importantly access and network”.

Inspired by Tony Elumelu’s economic philosophy of Africapitalism and his vision to institutionalise luck and democratise opportunity for a new generation of African entrepreneurs, the Tony Elumelu Foundation has implemented one of the most ambitious entrepreneurship programmes globally.

The Programme is a 10-year, $100 million commitment to identify, train, mentor, and fund 10,000 entrepreneurs. Its goal is to invest in businesses that will generate at least 1,000,000 new jobs and contribute at least $10 billion in new annual revenues across Africa. In its 4th year, TEF Entrepreneurship Programme has empowered 4,460 entrepreneurs with a total investment of USD20million; 4,000 funded directly by the Foundation and 460 have been funded by partners.

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