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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

Access Bank grows Q3 earnings to N375bn

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Access Bank Plc has announced top line earnings of ₦375.2 billion for the nine months ended 30 September 2018, up 3% from N365.1 billion recorded during the corresponding period in 2017.

The Bank’s Profit after Tax (PAT) increased 12% to ₦62.9 billion from ₦56.4 billion of which subsidiary contribution increased to 32%, from 15% from the corresponding period.

The asset base of the Bank remained strong and robust with growth of 11% Year to Date (YTD) in total assets to ₦4.55 trillion in September 2018 from ₦4.10 trillion in December 2017. Loans and Advances totaled ₦2.08 trillion as at September 2018 (December 2017: ₦2.06 trillion). Customer deposits increased by 10% to ₦2.48 trillion in September 2018, from ₦2.25 trillion in December 2017. Capital Adequacy of 20.3% and liquidity ratios of 44.2%, remained consistently above the regulatory minimum requirement.

Commenting on the result, Group Managing Director/CEO, Herbert Wigwe said, “Our capital and liquidity position remained adequately above regulatory levels, as we continued to implement a disciplined capital plan, ensuring sufficient levels of profit retention to support our growth. We remain committed to our cost containment plan, as we strive to balance operational efficiency with earnings growth in a constrained environment.”

Further analysis of the results showed Non-performing loans stood at 4.7% as at September 2018 compared to 4.8% in December 2017. Cost of risk decreased to 0.5% in 9 months to September 2018 from 0.9% in 2017 on the back of prudent risk management practices during the period.

“The Bank will remain resilient in the achievement of its strategic imperatives; maximizing our strong market position and solid capital base, while leveraging digital innovation to improve service touch points as we sharpen our retail play with emphasis on cheaper funding sources,” Wigwe said.

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First Bank reiterates commitment to leverage Fintech

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Nigeria’s leading Tier 1 lender, First Bank of Nigeria Limited, has reiterated its commitment to leveraging Financial Technology (Fintech) to deliver innovative services.

The Managing Director/Chief Executive Officer, First Bank of Nigeria Limited, Dr. Adesola Adeduntan, stated this in his address to the Fintech summit hosted by the lender in Lagos yesterday.

The event tagged, “FirstBank Fintech Summit 2.0,” was the second edition of the summit which the bank commenced two years ago.

Dr Adeduntan, who was represented at the event by the Deputy Managing Director of the bank, Mr. Gbenga Shobo, stated that the summit was conceived to enable financial sector players provide financial products and services with greater speed, accountability and efficiency.

He stated that the event commenced last week with a two-day hackathon on Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Big data at the FirstBank Digital Lab with the aim of finding new ways to apply artificial intelligence to banking operations and practices.

According to him, “to remain competitive, banks must make the most of this disruptive change. At the moment, some actors are using this new technology so enthusiastically that it’s hard to keep up whilst others are still channeling too much investment in old systems.

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Lagos set to host second Nigeria Beer Festival

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From Left to Right: Mr. Dele Balogun, Executive Secretary, Lagos State Film and Video Censors Board ;Mr. FolaAdeyemi, Permanent Secretary in the State Ministry of Tourism, Arts and Culture and Mr. Akinola Oluwaleimu, Chief Co-ordinator, Nigeria Beer Festival Group at the media interactive session on the festival in Lagos on Wednesday

After a successful and large participation of people at the first edition of the Nigeria Beer Festival which debuted last year in Lagos, the organiser the event has announced that Lagos will be hosting the second edition again.

The week-long event will hold on Thursday October 25th to Wednesday October 31st at the Eko Atlantic City, Bar Beach Water front Ahmadu Bello Way, Victoria Island, Lagos to give it a carnival-like atmosphere .

Speaking at a press conference to announce the event in Lagos on Wednesday, Mr. Fola Adeyemi, the Permanent Secretary in the State Ministry of Tourism, Arts and Culture explained that the festival is in line with government’s agenda to grow the tourism and economy of the state.

He stated that Lagos state is collaborating with beer brewers in the country and their counterparts across the globe to stimulate the economic and tourism potentials in the State.

He enjoined Lagosians to come out in their large numbers to enjoy the ambience of the festival, assuring that the city is safe for fun lovers because of the various infrastructure development by the state such as Light-up Lagos among others.

“Lagos is a city state and in league with great cities all over the world. We are actually moving the state to a 24 hour economy and this festival will be part of the beneficiaries. Lagos is safe for fun and business. We are joining the global tourism world to create impact on the economy of Lagos and Nigeria.” he said.

Also speaking at the event, Akinola Oluwaleimu, General Manager of On and One Events Limited, the organisers of the festival informed that the festival is to promote culture, tourism, friendship and for beer brands to connect with their consumers.

He added that the festival, will promote responsible drinking among drinking-age (18 +) consumers at all its touch points.

According to him, the event, since it debuted last year, has seen Nigeria enrolled into the league of Beer Festivals around the world, and boost the country’s tourism opportunities.

“It will be a gathering of the largest community of beer consumers from across the country and beyond.This year’s edition will be bigger, better and “beertiful”, he said.

He revealed that the 2017 edition attracted over ten thousand beer enthusiasts and consequently the Festival has proven to become a major international tourist event in Nigeria with a potential to compete with other international beer festivals around the world.

“Nigeria Beer Festival will be a carnival week of entertainment, sales and marketing and a gathering of the largest community of beer consumers from across the country to bond and ‘beer’,” Oluwaleimu assured.

He added that the Nigeria Beer Festival will provide a fitting ambience to showcase culture and lifestyle in a carnival atmosphere with various beer brands and other alcoholic drinks in Nigeria connecting with their existing and potential consumers.

Oluwaleimu maintained that the festival, which will commence 4 p.m daily is a big opportunity for major breweries to exhibit and deliver various offerings of beer brands to the teeming consumers to strengthen brand relationship with them. “The timing promises an after work relaxation environment to bond with friends and associates, he said”

He also acknowledged the support of the Lagos State government through His Excellency, Governor Akinwunmi Ambode who found the private driven initiative worthy enough of its endorsement and providing necessary logistics support in security, health, safety and publicity to ensure a hitch free event.

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