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Banking Sector

How Customers’ Increased Trust in FirstBank’s *894# USSD Banking Can Boost The Financial Inclusion Drive

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Dr. Adesola Adeduntan - FirstBank CEO - Investors King

The path to financial inclusion holds different marketplace barriers and opportunities in different countries, but the push continues because of proof that an increase in economic activities among the financially vulnerable can reawaken a comatose economy. For Nigeria, the last three years have seen significant growth of the financial inclusion rate from 56.8% in 2016 to 63.2% in 2018. FirstBank’s *894# USSD banking service is playing a key role in it. 

FirstBank’s *894# USSD banking initiative is already averaging about 99 million transactions monthly, with a naira worth of (N’m) 370,543 on these transactions. This figure includes the undergraduate doing a mobile airtime recharge; the trader receiving a mobile payment from a customer; the IT person hurriedly buying a data bundle to keep business afloat; the anxious father paying his daughter’s hospital bills for treatment to commence, and the busy worker in Lagos transferring money to his parents in the village since he cannot get to a banking hall.

This is just a rough sampling of the financial transactions that amounted to over N3.6 trillion in transaction value on the *894# USSD banking service in 2020. There is practically no financial emergency that the USSD service does not come in.

The problems that the *894# USSD service from First Bank of Nigeria Limited is solving is the only justification for the rapid traction it has gained since it was introduced in 2015. It is easy to see Nigerians trust and confidence in the USSD system, with the Bank rapidly growing from 9.5 million customers on the USSD feature to 12.26 million customers within the last year. Over 1.02 million of the figure, are customers who registered in the first 6 months of 2021.

The first and perhaps the most attractive feature of USSD banking has got to be that it can be done from any kind of phone and without any form of internet connectivity. Although smartphones are getting more common, there is still a high poverty rate and many financially vulnerable people who cannot access internet banking. The internet penetration in Nigeria is still below the ideal, so users have to deal with poor internet connections in some areas.

That is why this kind of banking service that can be accessed without internet connectivity is ideal for the financial inclusion drive. The *894# USSD feature can be used across the four major GSM network operators in the country, meaning there is no added demand on the users.

Getting started on the service is as easy as dialling *894*0#, and creating a pin. With that done, you can do airtime and data purchase for yourself and other parties, transfer funds to other accounts, make a BVN enquiry, check your account balance and get a mini statement.

For non-customers, this feature allows you to open a bank account in a couple of minutes without having to visit the banking hall. You can open a bank account, receive your account number immediately and start transactions on it right away. The claims of “instant banking, anytime, anywhere” can’t get more real than this.

There is even an added security step, requesting a second-factor authentication (2FA) for transfers above N20,000 as a way to secure customers from being ripped off their funds. There is a cumulative maximum daily transfer limit of N100,000 to both FirstBank and other banks accounts.

How does FirstBank USSD improve the lives of Nigerians?

For one, the data being generated through this service is sufficient to help the bank understand its current and prospective customers and develop products that suit them.

Traders and small businesses can also get a Merchant ID which customers can use to make payments for products and services. This of course is better than having to send one’s account details to countless customers, even without knowing whether or not they are ready to make their purchase.

To ensure customers can meet emergency needs before month-end, the Bank’s FirstAdvance service is at their fingertips. FirstAdvance is a digital lending solution designed to offer convenient and easy access to cash for payroll customers awaiting payment of their salaries.

Offered through the Bank’s USSD Banking service and leading banking app product, FirstMobile, customers are exposed to a range of loan offerings which put them at an edge in meeting immediate financial needs. To initiate the service through the USSD banking service, the customer is to dial – USSD CODE-*894*11# or *894#. The service is open to customers with a salary account domiciled with the Bank and have received salaries for the last 6 months at the least.

There are much more about FirstBank’s *894# USSD banking that puts customers at a distinct advantage in carrying out their daily personal, financial and business activities; meeting unforeseen emergencies, and carrying out a wide range of transactions – with so much fun and convenience – irrespective of where they are in the country.

CEO/Founder Investors King Ltd, a foreign exchange research analyst, contributing author on New York-based Talk Markets and Investing.com, with over a decade experience in the global financial markets.

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Banking Sector

Vietnamese Prime Minister Moves on CBDC Amid Questions on Regional Nature of e-Yuan

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Vietnamese Prime Minister Pham Minh Chinh

This month, it was reported that Vietnamese Prime Minister Pham Minh Chinh asked, in Prime Minister’s Decision No 942/QD-TTg, the State Bank of Vietnam to study and execute a pilot implementation of a central bank digital currency before the end of 2023. Currently, cryptocurrencies are not legally recognized as an asset in the country, nor do any crypto exchanges hold licenses from the central bank. Last year, the country set up a group to study digital assets, with a purview that extended to potentially proposing regulatory mechanisms.

“Vietnam is a country that has had its eye on blockchain, even though they haven’t made many steps towards mainstreaming cryptocurrencies. It is a country that is interested in technology and riding a potential economic wave brought upon by new innovation, from blockchain to AI and VR. But, what’s notable here is that this decision was pushed forward very near the time that many pundits began to ask whether the Chinese e-Yuan would become a digital currency which transcended China and became something of a regional powerhouse as an asset,” said Richard Gardner, CEO of Modulus, a US-based developer of ultra-high-performance trading and surveillance technology that powers global equities, derivatives, and digital asset exchanges.

“I think that’s important. Many countries are looking at what’s happening in China, then taking a look at their own place in the CBDC rat race, and they’re making decisions, I think, which moves up their timetable. This isn’t an innovation where you want to be last to the party. Doing so, in fact, could have ripple effects across a country’s monetary policy,” noted Gardner.

“Digital money is an inevitable trend,” said Huynh Phuoc Nghia, Deputy Director of the Institute of Innovation under the University of Economics Ho Chi Minh City. Some believe that moving quickly to develop a CBDC could give countries like Vietnam greater influence in the global financial system.

“I think it’s too soon to say what kind of ripple effects this development will have. It’s worth noting that Vietnam is in the very early stages. This isn’t a case where they’re ready to begin a pilot test in the short-term. Vietnam isn’t Ghana. But, forging ahead now can only be a positive. It’s better to move forward than continue to wait. Those countries that continue to take a wait-and-see approach are going to find themselves in last place. This is a race you don’t want to finish last. It very well could be the 21st century equivalent to the Race to Space,” opined Gardner.

Modulus is known throughout the financial technology segment as a leader in the development of ultra-high frequency trading systems and blockchain technologies. Over the past twenty years, the company has built technology for the world’s most notable exchanges, with a client list which includes NASA, NASDAQ, Goldman Sachs, Merrill Lynch, JP Morgan Chase, Bank of America, Barclays, Siemens, Shell, Yahoo!, Microsoft, Cornell University, and the University of Chicago.

“Vietnam is so close in proximity to China, and China is so far ahead in the development of their own CBDC, it was likely the push that they needed to move on this. Earlier this year, some pundits wondered if the e-Yuan would replace the dollar. That’s a premature discussion to have. But, if successfully rolled out, could it have a real regional impact? Absolutely,” Gardner offered.

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Banking Sector

Fidelity Bank Promotes 745 Staff Members

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Nneka Onyeali Ikpe, Fidelity Bank CEO - Investors King

Seeking to increase staff morale while empowering them to work more efficiently, Fidelity Bank has announced the promotion of 745 employees following the performance review of two financial years – 2019 and 2020.

A total of 461 staff members benefited from the FY 2019 promotion exercise, while 284 staff members benefited from the FY 2020 exercise. The beneficiaries cut across the senior, middle, and junior management cadre of the bank, and the promotion was based on merit, using a transparent and robust performance management system in line with global best practices.

Speaking about this, Nneka Onyeali-Ikpe, MD/CEO, Fidelity Bank Plc said “I am very delighted to announce the promotions for 2019 and 2020 financial years. Releasing the list for 2 financial years’ promotion at the same time is something we are very proud of. We strongly believe that the continuous growth of our bank over the years has been largely attributed to the commendable efforts and unrelenting sacrifices of our employees. Promotion is one of the many ways we express our gratitude. We are thankful to be home to many amazing talents that continue to drive our value and most importantly, serve our stakeholders to the highest standards.”

Speaking further, she said. “Since I was appointed the MD/CEO of our great bank in January 2021, I have been committed to a 7-point agenda to move our bank further, out of which workforce transformation is a key category. Staff performance and reward are critical to us, and as an organisation, we will continue to make available adequate resources to deepen the skills and entrench a culture of high performance amongst employees. I wish to appreciate all members of the Fidelity Bank family for their commitment and drive and unrelenting sacrifices towards delivering our objectives. As we move forward in our quest to becoming a leading tier-one bank, I encourage all elevated staff to see their promotion as a call to rededicate themselves to excellence.”

Fidelity Bank has continued to empower its employees with invaluable resources capable of putting them at the forefront of innovative transformation. In March 2021, the bank announced two capacity-building projects – One Culture Project and Project Alpha – that were targeted at transforming the workplace for its staff. In particular, Project Alpha was created to help Fidelity Bank develop a robust and holistic learning and development framework for all staff while One Culture Project was formed to reinforce the behaviour and value systems that will help the bank, as well as staff, achieve set goals.

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Banking Sector

GCR Affirms Coronation Merchant Bank Limited’s National Scale Long and Short-term Issuer Ratings of A-(NG)/A2(NG); Outlook Stable

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coronation merchant app

GCR Ratings (“GCR”) has affirmed Coronation Merchant Bank Limited’s national scale long-term and short-term ratings of A-(NG) and A2(NG) respectively, with a Stable Outlook.

Rated Entity Rating class Rating scale Rating Outlook
Coronation Merchant Bank Limited Long Term issuer National A-(NG) Stable
Short Term issuer National A2(NG)

Rating rationale

The ratings of Coronation Merchant Bank Limited (“Coronation MB” or “the bank”) reflect its adequate funding and liquidity position, and sound asset quality metrics, as evidenced by the nil non-performing loans (“NPL”) since inception to date. However, these strengths are partly offset by the bank’s modest competitive position, significant loan book concentration and heavy reliance on wholesale funding from financial institutions.

Coronation MB is a strong player within the Nigerian merchant banking subsector based on its product/service delivery, loan portfolio and deposit mobilisation capacity relative to peers. Leveraging its long track record (having previously operated as a discount house for over two decades) and partnerships, the bank ensures consistent enhancement of its operational scale, particularly within the trade finance space. Reflective of its relatively small customer base and the trends across the merchant banking subsector, elevated concentration risk is perceived, with the twenty largest obligors and depositors constituting 85.0% and 75.4% of gross loans and customer deposits respectively at FY20. Also, the bank evidenced moderate market share within the Nigerian banking industry in terms of total assets, customer deposits, and loan portfolio, which are estimated at 0.8%, 0.7% and 0.7% respectively at FY20. Management & Governance is a neutral ratings factor.

Capitalisation is assessed at an intermediate level. The GCR computed capital ratio registered at 17.6% at FY20 (FY19: 19.8%) and expected to moderate to 16%-17% range over the next 12-18 month in view of the outpacing growth in risk weighted assets vis-à-vis internal capital generation. Earnings quality is considered ratings negative, reflected by revenue stability risk characterised by high source concentration and a material exposure to market sensitive income, which constituted a sizeable 42.5% of total operating revenue in FY20 (FY19: 41.3%).

Risk position is sound and a key ratings strength, underpinned by the bank’s nil NPL since inception to date and moderate credit losses of 0.2% at FY20, which broadly compared favourably with the industry average of about 3%. Initial assessments of the potential impact of the COVID-19 pandemic indicated that the bank will not be immune to the sector-wide challenges, which include asset quality concerns and slower loan repayments. However, this impact has thus far remained minimal, with the bank making no recourse to regulatory forbearance during the period. That said, we expect NPL and credit losses to remain at similar strong range over the rating horizon on the back of sustenance of stringent underwriting criteria and the macroeconomic environment recoveries. Conversely, the loan book is considered highly concentrated, with the top twenty obligors accounting for 85% of the loan book at FY20. While this is a rating constraining factor and typical of merchant banks in Nigeria, management expects this concentration to moderate somewhat over the short to medium term on account of the recent sectoral coverage expansion. GCR is also cognisant of the bank’s significant exposures to market risk considering the substantial market sensitive income realised in FY20.

Coronation MB’s funding base is considered adequate, predominantly bolstered by the debut N25bn subordinated unsecured bonds issued during 2020, as well as its improved deposit mobilisation capacity. As a result, the GCR long term funding ratio and stable funding ratio was robust at 80.8% and 73.1% respectively at FY20. While cognisance is taken of the sizeable (41.3%) growth in customer deposits in FY20, concentration risk is evident, with the top twenty depositors accounting for 75.4% of the deposit book, the bulk of which were from financial institutions. Positively, liquidity position is solid, with the GCR liquid asset covering wholesale funding and customer deposits by 3.9x and 53.1% respectively at FY20.

Outlook statement

The stable outlook reflects GCR’s expectation that Coronation MB’s asset quality metrics would remain sound despite the strains in the operating environment, albeit with the loan portfolio concentration by obligor remaining high. GCR calculated capital ratio is anticipated to moderate to 16-17% range over the next 12-18 month given our expectation that the outpacing growth in risk weighted assets vis-à-vis internal capital generation will continue to weigh down capitalisation metrics. However, GCR will positively consider a material improvement in core earnings over the rating horizon. While we anticipate liquidity to remain sound, diversification of the deposit book with a better mix of non-financial institution clients would be positively considered.

Rating triggers

The ratings could be upgraded if Coronation MB materially improves its core earnings and achieves a core capital ratio above 20% on a sustainable basis, while also maintaining sound asset quality metrics. In addition, GCR would positively consider a well-diversified loan portfolio and funding base. Conversely, a downward rating movement could be triggered by a material deterioration in GCR computed capital ratio to below 15% range, asset quality pressures and increase reliance on wholesale funding from financial institutions.

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