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FirstBank Celebrates 2021 Corporate Responsibility and Sustainability Week, Calls for All to  Adopt Kindness as a Way of Life

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Dr. Adesola Adeduntan - FirstBank CEO - Investors King

The best definition of kindness is not one provided by any of the world’s best dictionaries but one demonstrated by how we treat others on a daily basis. Kindness is a universal language that does not require any special knowledge, exposure, skills, training or background to understand and appreciate it as a beneficiary or observer of a kind act. Neither is any special knowledge or training required to show and extend it to others. Just as anyone and everyone can be shown acts of kindness, all persons without exception can and ought to show and extend acts of kindness to others. Kindness flows from deep within us, from the better angels of our nature. Hence, the common idiom “the milk of human kindness”.

This is probably the backdrop to the theme “Kindness…a Way of Life”, which FirstBank has chosen for commemoration of its 2021 Corporate Responsibility and Sustainability Week (CR&S Week). This year’s CR&S Week, scheduled to hold from 26th – 30th July 2021, will feature Kind Comments Days, visits to orphanages/less privilege homes, webinars focused on the kindness theme, SPARK school engagement among other activities – lined up for each of the days. The yearly CR&S Week is a dedicated week designed to offer FirstBank staff, customers and the public opportunities to demonstrate the milk of human kindness that flows in them and give their time and resources to defined causes. It seeks to amplify FirstBank’s innate culture of giving and volunteering as embodied in its Employee Giving and Volunteering programme.

The Corporate Responsibility and Sustainability Week was introduced in 2017 as part of the bank’s longstanding Employee Giving and Volunteering programme created to enable and encourage staff to give back to society through donations and volunteering. Specially designed to reignite acts of random kindness in the society with events that are tailored to reorient people towards the right values, it provides a veritable platform for encouraging the citizenry to intentionally create positive impact in their immediate environment. One of the main highlights of the first CR&S Week was the SPARK Initiative. S.P.A.R.K stands for Start Performing Acts of Random Kindness. But originally the “S” stood for “Staff”. It was changed to “Start” to broaden the initiative beyond just staff and encourage everyone else to be part of the kindness brigade. Also, “P” originally stood for “Promoting” but was changed to “Performing” to convey the sense that participants are equally involved in actually doing kind acts and not only promoting kindness.

Held between 25 – 29 September 2017 with “Promoting Kindness: Putting You First” as theme, the maiden CR&S Week was the first of its kind in Nigeria’s financial services industry. It highlighted the role FirstBank’s corporate citizenship interventions was playing in driving positive impact across various communities – all within one compact week. It was aimed at encouraging people everywhere to step out of their comfort zones, shift attention from themselves and their personal needs to others in society who have not been as fortunate as they have and perform a random act of kindness towards them.

The first edition of the CR&S Week provided opportunity for FirstBank staff to give their time and resources to promote acts of random kindness within their communities and contribute to the welfare and well-being of others through giving and visits to orphanages/homes of the less fortunate and internally displaced people (IDPs). Within the same Week the bank held career counselling sessions with secondary school students across the six geo-political regions in Nigeria with FirstBank staff coordinating the impactful sessions that inculcated the values of financial literacy and inclusion in young students. Also, staff had the opportunity to nominate beneficiaries they believe are deserving of random of acts of kindness. Through this activity, Baby Ijeoma was nominated as one of the beneficiary that received corrective heart surgery in India which was in partnership with Vama Wave Foundation. The impact of the first edition went beyond Nigeria as FirstBank’s subsidiaries in sub-Saharan Africa and the UK also participated, benefitting people and at least 22 charities in six countries.

The second edition of the CR&S Week held from 19 – 23 June 2018. Themed “Touching Lives: You First”, the 2018 Week was intended to demonstrate FirstBank brand promise to always put stakeholders first. It focused mainly on five key initiatives/activities. First was the launch of a partnership with VisionSpring to advance social impact by providing vision screening and affordable eyeglasses for 10,000 low-income earners. This aligned with the bank’s financial inclusion and financial literacy approach of promoting accessible and affordable financial products and services to disadvantaged groups with the goal of bringing these marginalised populations into the mainstream economy, improving their chances for resilient livelihoods and financial stability. Second were giving and visits to orphanages/less privilege homes. This was the biggest platform for employee engagement during the week. It followed a needs assessment of the orphanages to be visited to enable employees donate appropriate items, and employees responded generously, donating at a scale that had never been done before.  In all, eight countries witnessed this initiative while more than 26 charities participated.

Celebration of the UN International Widows’ Day on 23rd June 2018, which coincided with the last day of the CR&S Week, was the third activity. Driven by the International Women’s Society (IWS) in Lagos with whom the bank partnered to organise an empowerment outreach for 500 widows in Lagos, it provided start-up capital and capacity building required to successfully run start-ups and small businesses, to the widows. Fourth was a Career Counselling Day for over 10,000 senior secondary school students, as part of the broader FutureFirst programme of the bank aimed at ensuring the youth are empowered to be financially independent through fulfilling careers and the right financial knowledge.

Fifth and final was the SPARK (Start Performing Acts of Random Kindness) initiative, which included a SPARK Day set aside in the bank for people to act within their individual spheres of influence to promote kindness. The initiative also saw the bank receiving about 200 internal and external nominations of people deserving of kindness, out of which 24 beneficiaries were to emerge. The 2018 Week was marked across Nigeria’s six geopolitical zones with two states from each zone, totalling 12 states in all. It was also commemorated in the six countries/markets outside Nigeria where FirstBank already had subsidiaries – UK, Ghana, Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Guinea, Sierra Leone and Senegal.

In 2019, the CR&S Week held from 1 – 6 July 2019 with the theme “Ripples of Kindness: Putting You First”. The theme was informed by the bank’s belief that every act of kindness (regardless of how little or in whatever form) ignites a ripple effect that goes on without end. The year’s CR&S Week focused mainly on the SPARK initiative, which had gained so much traction since its humble beginnings in 2017. A Kindness Manifesto for both internal stakeholders and external stakeholders was introduced. There were other new activities or initiatives. A Nice Comments Day was introduced for the first time and scheduled to hold on the first day of the CR&S Week. The basis for it, according to the bank’s committee that oversaw the planning and implementation of the 2019 CRS Week, is the important place of words in the “kindness ecosystem”. The committee underlined this point when it noted as follows: “One of the truest reflections of how kind we are is our choice of words. That’s why we have created Nice Comments Day to help build a kinder world [through kind words].”

Another new initiative introduced in 2019 was the SPARK School Engagement, which involved launching the SPARK initiative in schools to promote the 3Cs projected as the pillars of kindness – Compassion, Civility and Charity. The schools – secondary schools across Nigeria – were to be visited to educate students on acts of kindness, encouraging them to make kindness a lifestyle. A crowd-funding initiative was also added in 2019 to enable both employees and external stakeholders donate to defined humanitarian causes, such as supporting widows, sending children (from indigent homes) to school and providing health care for the physically challenged and the old. As at August 2019, nearly N7 million had been raised through the crowd-funding initiative.

The regular initiatives/activities were also retained in 2019. There were visits to orphanages/less privilege homes. Widows’ empowerment was organised in collaboration with International Women’s Society (IWS), Nigeria to empower a select number of widows across Nigeria. The implementation in Nigeria covered the six geopolitical zones with activities held in four states per zone, amounting to 24 states in all. Six subsidiaries of FirstBank also implemented the programme in their markets/countries – UK, Ghana, DRC, Guinea, Sierra Leone and Senegal. In all, 25 schools benefitted with 6,000 students participating in terms of the School Engagement; 50 charities and NGOs, including Leap Africa and IWS, were partnered. Over 20,000 orphans/less privilege people including widows were reached and impacted.

No CR&S Week could take place in 2020 because of the COVID-19 pandemic and its associated restrictions on public gatherings and visits. But FirstBank did not just fold its hand and sit idly. The bank did something absolutely amazing, demonstrating uncommon solidarity with a vulnerable segment of society – children. Realising that the harsh effects of the COVID-19 crisis were borne disproportionally by children, whose education and thus future were being endangered due to the lockdown and prolonged closure of schools, FirstBank embarked on a mission to do something about it. Working with partners, such as IBM, UNESCO, Robert & John, Curious Learning and the Lagos State Government, it launched the bold and ambitious e-Learning Initiative designed to move one million children onto safe online learning platform. The Initiative was to minimise the disruption to children’s education, ensuring that they remained fully engaged during the difficult period and are not left behind by their peers across the (developed) world. There are already over 150,000 students benefitting from the e-Learning initiative in the height of the COVID-19 crises. In addition, the Bank deployed communication material to create more awareness of the SPARK Initiative and to sensitize staff, customers and the public during the unprecedented times.

What greater demonstration of kindness could there have been in 2020 given the circumstances the whole world found itself, especially vulnerable children? So there may not have been a CR&S Week in 2020 but the same kindness narrative that has characterised all activities of the various CR&S Week since 2017 clearly shone through FirstBank’s COVID-19 response, especially its e-Learning Initiative. In future, people would probably easily be forgiven if they assumed the e-Learning Initiative represented FirstBank’s CR&S Week in 2020. FirstBank has demonstrated uncommon consistency over the years to its Corporate Responsibility and Sustainability Week and the ideals it seeks to project through the platform. This has earned the bank the right to make the bold call that is the theme of this year’s CR&S Week.

The question is whether we will heed the clarion call to adopt kindness as a way of life. Will we go out there and extend kindness to others in ways that will make them realise that kindness is not just a word taken from the dictionary but an act that should always be expressed to others? Will we embrace kindness as our new way of life? Will we commit to making our everyday a Kind Comments Day, thus giving others permission and the strength to do the same? Will we Start Performing Acts of Random Kindness towards all and make them feel obligated to start acting kindly towards other people as their new lifestyle?

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

African Development Bank Group President Akinwumi Adesina Assures Nigeria of Bank’s Strong Support to Achieve Food Security

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The President of the African Development Bank Group, Dr. Akinwumi Adesina, received a high-level Nigerian delegation led by the country’s Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development, Dr. Mohammad Mahmood Abubakar on Monday.

The meeting follows on the heels of an address by Dr. Adesina last week at a mid-term ministerial retreat presided over by President Muhammadu Buhari.

Dr. Adesina and the Nigerian minister discussed means of tackling growing concerns about the country’s food security.

Adesina said the Bank’s strategic support for Nigeria’s food production would be hinged on five factors: support, scale, systemic, speed, and sustainability.

He added, “I want to assure President Buhari that the African Development Bank will provide his government with very strong support to tackle the country’s food security challenges.”

“Inflation in Nigeria is high, at 16% or more. Of course, the biggest share of the consumer price index is the price of food, at almost 65%. So, if we can drive down the price of food, of course, we can drive down inflation.“

Adesina urged the Nigerian minister to concentrate on building the correct team and tactics to optimize the country’s farming seasons. He said that dramatically increased food output will result in lower food prices, which will in turn lower inflation rates.

Abubakar said his consultative mission to Abidjan was at the instruction of President Buhari.

“Our mission is to examine ways Nigeria could enhance food production, lower food prices, and create wealth,” the minister said.

Abubakar welcomed the Bank’s proposed strategy and described it as a landmark one that would spur Nigeria’s food supply production. “It will reverse the ugly trend of a sharp increase in prices of food in the country. I am pleased with the Bank’s strategy to facilitate the production of 9 million metric tons of food in Nigeria and to support us in raising self-sufficiency. The Bank’s Special Agro-Processing Zones initiative is a laudable one and Nigeria is grateful.”

Citing successes in Sudan, Adesina explained how the African Development Bank had supported the country with 65,000 metric tonnes of heat-tolerant wheat varieties, cultivated on 317,000 hectares.

“It took two seasons to do this,” he said. “Change will not happen in years. You will see changes in seasons. Sudan now produces 1.1 million metric tons of wheat. The same thing happened in Ethiopia in just two seasons with the production of 184, 000 hectares of wheat,“ he added.

In response to Bank successes in Sudan and Ethiopia, Abubakar said: “This gives me an additional measure of confidence. If you can do it in Sudan, you can equally do it in Nigeria. Not just in wheat, but also rice, maize, and soybeans.”

The African Development Bank will provide Nigeria with support through input delivery, including highly improved seeds and fertilizers to farmers, and an integrated input delivery platform.

Extensively discussed at the meeting was the Bank’s Special Agro-Industrial Processing Zone initiative as an effective medium-term plan for revolutionizing Nigeria’s agriculture value chain.

Adesina said: “The task, responsibility, and challenge of feeding Nigeria rests on your shoulders. You will receive maximum support from me, and the African Development Bank for the responsibility that President Buhari has given you. You will not be alone.”

He added: “The Bank stands ready to fully support and help Nigeria in the next farming seasons. So, we must make sure things turn around. The president must succeed, and Nigeria must succeed. Agriculture must succeed.”

Abubakar thanked the African Development Bank for its support and said the meeting gave him reassurances of what Nigeria can achieve with the Bank’s support in the farming seasons ahead.

The minister also called for the Bank’s support to recapitalize the country’s Bank of Agriculture. Both parties set up a task force team to develop a plan for accelerated implementation within the next 60 days.

Also at the meeting were a member of Nigeria’s National Assembly, Hon. Munir Baba Dan Agundi, Chair of the House Committee on Agricultural Colleges and Institutions;  the African Development Bank’s executive director for Nigeria,  Sao Tome and Principe, Dr. Oyebode Oyetunde; Vice President of Agriculture, Human and Social Development, Beth Dunford; Senior Special Advisor to the President of the Bank on Industrialization, Professor Oyebanji Oyelaran; Director General of the Bank’s Nigeria Country Office in Abuja, Lamin Barrow; the Bank’s Director of Agriculture and Agro-Industries, Martin Fregene; the Director for Agricultural Finance and Rural Development, Atsuko Toda; and senior officials from Nigeria’s Federal Ministry of Agriculture.

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Banking Sector

Fidelity Bank Empowers Entrepreneurs to Play Big In The Non-Oil Export Market

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For developing countries such as Nigeria to accelerate economic growth, there needs to be greater private sector participation in their export sectors. This was made known by Isaiah Ndukwe, Divisional Head, Export and Agriculture, Fidelity Bank PLC, at the just concluded 11th edition of the Fidelity Bank Export Management Programme (EMP 11).

Held at the Lagos Business School, from the 4th to 8th of October 2021, the programme, covered a wide range of topics including export documentation and application of export development processes and was facilitated by leading faculty from Lagos Business School, staff of the Nigerian Export Promotion Council (NEPC) and experts in financial management and exports.

“Year-in, year-out, Fidelity Bank has demonstrated its resolve to help diversify the Nigerian economy and increase export earnings. One of the ways we are doing this is through the Export Management Programme which provides participants with the knowledge needed to navigate both the international non-oil export market and the larger export market,” explained Mrs. Nneka Onyeali-Ikpe, Managing Director, Fidelity Bank PLC when tasked on the rationale behind the programme.

The importance of exports has continually been emphasized by various bodies as it provides a means of increasing the markets for producers and especially in Nigeria’s case, an opportunity to attract much-needed foreign exchange earnings. In fact, Akinwunmi Adesina, President of the African Development Bank (AfDB), speaking recently at the Mid-term Ministerial Performance Review Meeting on the topic: ‘Nigeria’s Economic Resurgence: The African Experience’ expressed worry over disincentives to non-oil exports in the Nigerian economy. He, therefore, urged Nigerian fiscal authorities to remove bottlenecks in non-oil exports in order to promote economic resurgence.

One of the participants of the EMP 11, Mr. Kelechi Chukwukezirim, Chief Executive Officer of Dot Global Resources Nigeria Ltd said, “I am thankful to Fidelity Bank and Lagos Business School for this insightful and highly educative program. I came here with just an awareness of export management. However, my experience in the past five days has taken me from point zero to over 40% of quality knowledge on export management. I have enthused at the network and platform this program created that I could leverage going forward. I am excited at what the future holds in this regard”.

According to Mrs. Onyeali-Ikpe, “Previous editions of the EMP have recorded outstanding successes and made marked impacts in the lives and businesses of the participants. We are proud to say that the just-concluded eleventh edition is no exception. The feedback we have gotten from facilitators and participants alike has been nothing short of encouraging. The turnout was tremendous and we are certain that we will witness astonishing results as the participants put what they learned into practice.”

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Banking Sector

Combined Market Cap of Largest US Banks Jumped to Nearly $1.4T, an 80% Increase YoY

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The largest banks in the United States reported blockbuster second-quarter results after the pandemic loan losses didn’t happen and the US economy began roaring back to life. Moreover, the banks’ stock also significantly recovered since the beginning of the year, rising high above the pre-pandemic levels.

According to data presented by BuyShares, the combined market cap of JP Morgan Chase, Bank of America, Wells Fargo, Morgan Stanley, and Citigroup, as the five largest banks in the United States, jumped to nearly $1.4trn last week, showing a massive 80% increase year-over-year.

Double-Digit Growth After Hard 2020

There are several reasons why the US banks have outperformed the analysts’ estimates and turned 2021 into a year of significant recovery. First, consumer spending in the country has climbed significantly, in some sectors even beyond pre-COVID-19 levels. Second, credit quality has also improved while savings and investments have risen. Moreover, a national vaccination roll-out has allowed Americans to get back to work and start spending again.

These circumstances had a major influence on banks’ profitability driving their stock price to new all-time highs. For example, according to YCharts data, the market cap of JP Morgan Chase, as the largest bank in the United States and globally, jumped by $205bn in the last year.

In September 2020, the combined value of shares of the US megabank stood at $293.5bn. Over the next six months, this figure jumped to $465bn and continued rising. Statistics show that JP Morgan Chase’s market cap hit nearly $500bn last week, a massive 70% increase compared to January figures.

Bank of America, as the second-largest bank by market cap, witnessed even bigger growth. Over the last twelve months, the combined value of shares of the US multinational investment bank surged by $153.8bn or 73%, reaching $362.5bn last week.

Still, that was nothing compared to the stock price growth of Wells Fargo, which market cap almost doubled in this period. In September 2020, the combined value of shares of the third-largest US bank stood at $97.2bn. Statistics show this figure surged by 98% since then and hit $193bn last week.

Morgan Stanley’s Market Cap Soared by 153% YoY, the Biggest Increase Among the Top Five Banks

Although far behind the top three US banks in terms of market cap, Morgan Stanley witnessed the biggest stock price growth last year. In September 2020, the combined value of shares of the New York-based financial services corporation stood at $74.5bn. By the end of the year, this figure jumped by 55% to $115.7bn.

However, 2021 witnessed even more impressive growth. Statistics show that over the last ten months, the market cap of the fourth-largest bank in the United States surged by another $73bn and hit over $188bn last week, revealing an impressive 153% increase year-over-year.

The YCharts data revealed that Citigroup witnessed a 54% market cap growth in this period, the smallest among the top five US banks. Between January and October, the combined value of shares of the US bank jumped by $51bn or 54%, reaching $144.3bn last week.

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