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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

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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