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FirstBank: A Triumphant Return to the Nigerian Banking Frontline

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Adesola Adeduntan

The story of Corporate Nigeria in 2022, cannot be complete without a chapter on the incredible performance of First Bank of Nigeria Limited, which saw the hitherto encumbered bank now returning to the top of the ladder of the Nigerian banking industry, amid a harvest of international laurels, writes Festus Akanbi

By December this year, Nigerian quoted companies will begin to upload their full year 2022 results in compliance with the dictates of the principle of disclosures to regulators, investors and customers as enshrined in the act of Corporate Governance.

While the waiting game for the release of the more detailed full-year results continues, analysts said that bookmakers can only assess the current level of profitability, efficiency and recovery of these companies based on their half-year reports which began to hit the various media platforms from July this year.

For FirstBank, a subsidiary of the behemoth FBN Holdings Plc, the 2022 operation year has been characterised by a superlative performance which analysts believed signposts the confirmation of the bank’s return to the frontline of the Nigerian banking industry following its 2021 equally stellar performance.

From its half-year 2022 reports, which show a remarkable turnaround, and the ability of the management of the bank not only to resolve old corporate governance issues but to also return the bank to the path of profitability, it has been proven beyond any reasonable doubt that FirstBank has freed itself from old encumbrances and it is back to its old trajectory of breaking boundaries and being a pacesetter in the Nigerian banking industry.

For instance, analysts who believed that FirstBank’s current excellent performance is a reaffirmation of the new era of a return to greater and better times ahead are quick to point to the bank’s half-year 2022 results which proved the solidity of the financial institution and confirmed that it is back in form as a formidable industry leader.

Reinforcing Quantum Profitability Leap Agenda

For instance, in its half-year 2022 scorecard, FirstBank recorded a 22.6 per cent year-on-year growth in gross earnings to N338.5 billion while net interest income was up 49.3 per cent year-on-year to N152.9 billion respectively.”

The bank’s Managing Director/Chief Executive, Adesola Adeduntan who gave this figure disclosed that “Amidst a challenging operating and dynamic regulatory environment in the half year 2022, the commercial banking group remained focused on executing key initiatives to position the group for improved profitability in the full year 2022. Our half-year results further reinforced our drive towards our ‘Quantum Profitability Leap’ agenda.”

Adeduntan said, “On the back of the impressive growth recorded in our top line, our profit before tax recorded a strong growth of 40.0 per cent year on year to N60.0 billion, whilst profit after tax also grew by 42.3 per cent year on year to N53.3 billion as the bank continues to reap the dividends of the successful restructuring of our balance sheet and revamping of our risk management architecture.”

“We continue to record progress in driving down our non-performing loan ratio which now stands at 5.4 per cent at the end of H1 and we are on target to bring it within the regulatory limit of 5 percent by end of full-year 2022.”

Awards and Recognitions: FirstBank’s Leading the Pack

In terms of recognition, there is no doubt that the ongoing transformation in FirstBank is globally recognised when one considers the harvests of awards and recognitions that are already pouring in for the bank.

Analysts said the awards and recognitions, which include those from the Fitch Ratings and The Banker awards and Euromoney rankings are testimonials of FirstBank’s consistent performance.

Fitch Rerating

Analysts maintained that the current Fitch rerating of FirstBank aligns with ratings of other global agencies (such as S&P: B- with a stable outlook; Moodys: B2 with stable outlook) – a confirmation of what industry peers already acknowledge – back to leading the pack.

On September 16, 2022, Fitch Ratings announced the upgrade of FBN Holdings Plc’s (FBNH) and First Bank of Nigeria Ltd’s (FBN) Long-Term Issuer Default Ratings (IDRs) to ‘B’ from ‘B-‘, and according to the rating agency, the Outlooks are Stable. Fitch has also upgraded their Viability Ratings (VR) to ‘b’ from ‘b-‘.

It explained that the upgrade of the Long-Term IDRs follows that of the VRs, reflecting that corporate governance irregularities publicly raised by the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) in April 2021, including two longstanding related-party exposures, have largely been addressed and therefore risks to capitalisation have receded, helped by strong internal capital generation since the irregularities were raised.

Governance Issues Laid to Rest

Following its monitoring of the Bank’s corporate Banking endeavours within the last year, the rating agency gave FirstBank a clean bill of health saying the bank’s governance irregularities have been addressed and according to the management of the bank, “the two related-party exposures highlighted by the CBN, which included equity and credit exposures to two companies of whom FBNH’s previous chairman was also chairman, have largely been disposed of and repaid. Fitch understands from management that FBNH and FBN have not been subject to penalties about irregularities raised by the CBN in April 2021 and no further irregularities have been raised.”

It also attests to the solidity of the bank, affirming that FBN is the third-largest bank in Nigeria, representing 11% of domestic banking-system assets at the end of 2021.

Another reason for the high rating is the fact that the bank’s improved asset quality since FirstBank’s impaired loans (Stage 3 loans under IFRS 9) ratio has declined significantly.

FirstBank also boasts of a Stable Funding Profile. For instance, FBN’s customer deposit base (76% of total funding at end-1H22) comprises a high share of retail deposits (64% at end-2021) and current and savings accounts (81% at end-1H22), supporting funding stability and a low-cost of funding. Depositor concentration is fairly low. Liquidity coverage is comfortable in local and foreign currencies.

Bankers Magazine: FirstBank Best Performing in Nigeria

It is also not a coincidence that FirstBank was rated first among its peers in Nigeria by Bankers Magazine, a publication of the Financial Times.

The Top 100 African Bank Rankings 2022 recently released by The Banker shows FirstBank leading the Nigerian table in four areas, the highest achieved by any Nigerian bank; only FirstBank leads in four areas. The rankings, based on the end of year 31 December 2021 audited financials of all banks in the Top 100, reveal FirstBank’s ranking as number one in Nigeria in terms of Overall Performance, Profitability, Efficiency and Return on Risk.

The magazine, which explained that its Top 100 African Banks ranking for 2022 demonstrates a broad return to stability by African banks after a torrid year for the continent’s largest lenders placed FirstBank among other banks in Nigeria because it happened to be the only bank that led in four areas.

First Bank of Nigeria Limited leads its peers in fifth place overall, displacing Guaranty Trust Bank, now in seventh place. Access Bank ranks in the eighth position, with Zenith Bank in 10th place.

Euromoney Rankings: FirstBank, Market Leader

In addition, in 2022, Euromoney Market Leaders, an independent global assessment of the leading financial service providers conducted by Euromoney Institutional Investor Plc crowned FirstBank as a market leader. The bank was rated as a tier one bank in the areas of corporate and social responsibility (CSR).

Not only that, but FirstBank also emerged as a market leader among the tier-one banks in the area of Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG).

In the area of corporate banking and digital solution, FirstBank was highly regarded while it was crowned as a notable player in SME Banking for the period under review.

FirstBank was named “Best Bank Brand in Nigeria” for six years in a row – 2011 to 2016 – by The Banker magazine of the Financial Times Group; it was awarded “Most Innovative Bank in Africa” in the EMEA Finance African Banking Awards 2014; it has clinched the “Best Bank in Nigeria” award by Global Finance Magazine 15 times and the “Best Private Bank in Nigeria” by World Finance Magazine seven times. Some other recent awards received by the Bank are “Best Banking Brand Nigeria, 2019” by Global Brands Magazine; “Best Mobile Banking App – Nigeria, 2019” by Global Business Outlook and “Best Financial Inclusion Program – Nigeria, 2019 by International Investor.

In the words of FirstBank’s CEO, Dr Adesola Adeduntan, ‘what all these current ratings and recognitions demonstrate is that FirstBank is strongly back on course!  Knowing this is only the beginning of a new era of return to the trailblazing position and that better times lie ahead we encourage our customers and other stakeholders to keep believing and keep standing by us.’

Banking on Robust Customer Service Network

Through the last 128 years of its operations, FirstBank has played a leading role in utilising its robust customer service network and digital banking architecture to support its customers – cutting across diverse cultures, tribes and races beyond the shores of Nigeria – in meeting their individual and business needs.

First Bank of Nigeria Limited operates as a parent company, with the subsidiaries FBNBank in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Ghana, The Gambia, Guinea, Sierra Leone and Senegal; FBN Bank UK Limited in the United Kingdom with a branch in Paris; First Bank Representative Office in Beijing to capture trade-related business between geographies. FirstBank also operates First Pension Custodian Nigeria Limited, Nigeria’s foremost pension custodian. The teeming customers of the First Bank Group are serviced from a network of over 700 business locations across Africa.

Is the CEO/Founder of Investors King Limited. A proven foreign exchange research analyst and a published author on Yahoo Finance, Nasdaq, Entrepreneur.com, Investorplace, and many more. He has over two decades of experience in global financial markets.

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Banking Sector

The Memory of Prof. Ibidapo-Obe Comes Alive as Zenith Bank Names Iconic Unilag Alumni Building in His Honour

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The memory of Professor Oyewusi Ibidapo-Obe, a former Vice Chancellor of the University of Lagos, came alive as Zenith Bank Plc named the iconic building housing its Unilag Branch and the University of Lagos (Unilag) Alumni in his honour on Friday, November 25, 2022.

In his opening remarks at the commissioning ceremony, the Group Managing Director/CEO of Zenith Bank Plc and Chairman of the Body of Banks’ CEOs in Nigeria, Mr Ebenezer Onyeagwu, lauded the Founder and Chairman of the bank, Jim Ovia, CFR, for being physically present at the commissioning of the building to honour the memory of his late friend, Prof. Oyewusi Ibidapo-Obe, who served on the board of Zenith Bank as a Non-Executive Director, and for his passion for youth education and digital learning.

He noted the remarkable and continued commitment of Jim Ovia, CFR, to education and youth development in Nigeria, especially through the setting up of James Hope College, a co-educational institution which offers a combination of British and Nigerian curricula, and the James Hope University, which is billed to commence academic activities next year. He also extolled his philanthropy through the setting up of the Jim Ovia Foundation and Mankind United in Total Support for Education Initiative, which has awarded scholarships and produced over 1500 graduates from among indigent people who would not have had the benefit of having a university education.

Onyeagwu also recalled how the bank’s partnership with the University of Lagos began in 2001 with the donation of the first ICT centre, when the Founder and Chairman was the Group Managing Director/ CEO of the bank. According to him, “Today, Zenith Bank has built not less than 15 ICT centres in various tertiary institutions and cities all over the country. And I just want to say that no single institution or individual has been able to accomplish what we have done in that respect. And this is a demonstration of the passion our Founder and Chairman has, not just for education, but also for digital learning and computer literacy. This is in addition to several other support to the university, including the institution of Academic Excellence Awards in 2001, where the best graduating students from selected departments – Banking & Finance, Business Administration, Economics and Accounting, receive awards with financial rewards (currently NGN500,000) and employment opportunity, and the donation of 3,500 tablets to enable indigent students of the university to learn online effectively in 2020 during the Covid-19 pandemic”. Onyeagwu noted that the building is a strong statement of Zenith Bank’s sustainability initiatives as a signatory to several global sustainability frameworks including the United Nations Principles for Responsible Banking, as it incorporates many of the elements that make a facility environmentally friendly and sustainable.

Speaking at the commissioning of the iconic building, His Excellency, the Executive Governor of Akwa Ibom State, Udom Emmanuel noted the huge contributions of Zenith Bank and, in particular, Jim Ovia, CFR, a man he described as a father, to the development of Nigeria. In his words,” when you see things being done consistently in the right way, there is always a man pointing in that direction. A lot of people ask me how come you are doing so much in public service; I say I come from a background where my mentor told me that you don’t report efforts, you don’t give excuses, but you report results. So no matter the situation, even in the midst of an economic recession, in the midst of Covid, you should not stop development and performance. As far as you are from the Zenith family, you are expected to have that creativity and ideas that can make you produce results. In Zenith, we say only the paranoid survive. So I really want to appreciate what I am seeing here today”. Whilst thanking the alumni association and the school authority for their collaborative efforts towards achieving capacity development, which he described as the bane of Nigerian society, he expressed his delight and honour to commission a building named after the revered Late Prof. Oyewusi Ibidapo-Obe, who touched and impacted so many people while he was alive.

In his address, the National President of Unilag Alumni Association, Dr. John Momoh, thanked the Founder and Chairman of Zenith Bank as well as the management of the bank for the magnificent building and Mrs. Sola Ibidapo-Obe for accepting the association’s request to name the building after her husband as a lasting legacy in his honour. He encouraged everyone to take good care of and maintain the building to serve the university community for years to come.

In her remarks, the Vice Chancellor of the University of Lagos, Prof. Folasade Ogunsola, acknowledged the invaluable contributions of Zenith Bank to the development of the school, promising to work with the Alumni association to ensure that the facility serves not only the Alumni but also the entire students populace. She thanked the Founder and Chairman of Zenith Bank, Jim Ovia, CFR, for donating 3,500 tablets to the university, which ensured that students who could not afford laptops for e-learning during the covid-19 pandemic were not left behind.

In her remarks, the wife of the Late Prof. Oyewusi Ibidapo-Obe, Mrs. Sola Ibidapo-Obe, thanked the Founder and Chairman of Zenith Bank, Jim Ovia, CFR, for immortalising her late husband with such a great edifice named after him. Recalling how close he was to her late husband, Mrs Ibidapo-Obe said: “You are my husband’s friend. Dr. Jim Ovia has demonstrated the love that does not die in his friendship with my beloved husband. When he fell ill, Dr. Jim Ovia was there from day one till the last moment. I could feel the way he felt. From then, I knew that he was a genuine friend. He tried his best to ensure my husband survived, but he did not”.

The iconic building, which sits on a total site area of 950m2, was constructed by a team of world-class builders who had the mandate of delivering the best quality possible. The iconic structure is a smart building that incorporates many of the elements that make a facility environmentally friendly and sustainable, including a grid-tie solar system that sustains power load on solar and not on a generator or national grid, an inverter-driven VRF air conditioning system and motion sensor lighting to enhance energy efficiency, perforated aluminium composite panels for natural lighting and ventilation, free Wi-Fi system to provide internet access for students, fire management systems, including fire hydrant, smoke detector, and fire alarm system, and a LED screen installed on the building for the dissemination of information. The iconic building will house the Unilag Branch of Zenith Bank Plc and the operations of Unilag Alumni. Of the total 1,665m2 of floor area designated for office use in the four-storey building, 585m2 will be used by Unilag Alumni.

 

 

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Banking Sector

Access Closa Agents: Access Bank Gifts Solar-Powered Kiosks to Agents

Access bank gives its “closa agents” solar-powered fiber kiosks to enhance operations

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Access bank

One of the leading Nigerian banks, Access bank has empowered its “closa agents” with solar-powered fiber kiosks to enhance service delivery and deepen financial inclusion.

The solar-powered kiosks will give closa agents more visibility, the leading financial institution claimed. 

Access closa agents are authorised agents who perform banking transactions on behalf of Access bank. Access bank has more than 160,000 closa agents across the country, Investors King learnt.

The bank noted that its closa agent service is one of its plans to reach the unbanked and the under-banked millions of Nigerians in communities and cities

Access bank Senior Retail Advisory, Rob Giles noted that instead of walking long distances in search of a branch, Access bank customers can locate a closa agent near them by simply searching for ‘Access Closa Agent’ on Google Maps on their phone.

While speaking on the development, Access Bank Group Head of Agency Banking and Financial Inclusion Chizoba Iheme, disclosed that the bank’s closa agent network is one of the largest in the country and provides an easier and safer way to access financial services in Nigeria.

Chizoba added that customers can conveniently use any access closa Agent near them to pay bills and send money to loved ones. 

He added that Access closa agents can also be used to deposit existing naira notes ahead of the deadline set by the central bank for the currency redesign. 

It could be recalled that the Central Bank of Nigeria has set January 31, 2023, as the deadline for the old naira notes of N100, N200, N500 and N1000 to be withdrawn from circulation. 

Requirements needed to register as a Closa Agent include a visible business location, a minimum working capital of N50,000, a utility bill, and any valid means of identification issued by the government. 

Additionally, intending applicants can register as an individual or corporate body with evidence of registration. 

While the process takes only a few days, intending applicants can walk into any branch of the access bank and fill out an application form with any of the aforementioned documents.

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Spectacle as Zenith Bank Lights Up Ajose Adeogun Street for the Yuletide Season

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Zenith Bank Light-Up 2

It was a great spectacle to behold as the Christmas and Yuletide season came to life at the 2022 Zenith Bank Christmas Light-Up Ceremony, which was held at the Ajose Adeogun Street Roundabout, Victoria Island, Lagos, on Saturday, November 19, 2022.

The official lighting ceremony, which was performed by the Group Managing Director/CEO of Zenith Bank Plc, Mr. Ebenezer Onyeagwu, supported by Executive Management, was witnessed by many of the bank’s staff and customers, with others joining virtually.

With the theme “Let There Be Light”, this year marks the 16th edition of the Light-up Ceremony at the Ajose Adeogun Roundabout. The Light-Up event is an annual Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) initiative by the bank to herald the yuletide season through the beautification of Ajose Adeogun Street – home to Zenith Bank’s Corporate Headquarters – which has come to be recognised as an iconic place, attracting people from all walks of life who visit with their families and friends to take pictures and make videos of the wonderful spectacle, especially at night and enjoy the ambience of the street and season.

Speaking during the ceremony, Onyeagwu expressed his delight in heralding the yuletide season of 2022 through the iconic Ajose Adeogun Street lighting up. In his words, “today is a unique day. It is unique in the sense that we are going to turn on the Christmas light and activate the spirit of Christmas, which we usually have annually. It is also unique in the sense that we are honoured and delighted to have in our midst the wife of our Founder and Chairman, Mrs. Kay Ovia”.

He praised Quantum Markets, the company responsible for the annual decorations, for the outstanding, very creative and extremely beautiful work that they have done. According to him, “when you look at the Christmas set-up we have every year, it looks completely different, and there is no repetition of themes. And when we think we have seen it all, by the time a new one comes, it is something completely different and massively so. The one for this year, as I entered here, I was wondering if this is a theme park”.

Whilst urging everyone to imbibe the message and spirit of Christmas, which is about peace, love, forgiveness and above all, respect for humanity, Onyeagwu prayed for peace in every home, business and in the country and that this year’s celebration would be like no other that we have seen.

Zenith Bank has clearly distinguished itself in the Nigerian financial services industry as an institution committed to building a more sustainable and inclusive economy and promoting responsible business practices in Nigeria through integrating sustainability principles in its business operations.

The bank’s sustainability and CSR initiatives are hinged on the belief that today’s business performance is not all about the financial numbers – the bank believes that an institution’s social investments, contributions to inclusive economic growth and development as well as improvements in the condition of the physical environment, all constitute a balanced scorecard.

Through its CSR initiatives, Zenith Bank has embodied the overarching objective of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), which provide a framework for addressing the major challenges confronting society. Its social investments are targeted at health, education, women and youth empowerment, sports development and public infrastructure enhancement. Overall, Zenith Bank’s total CSR investment in 2021 was NGN4.37 billion, representing 1.79% of its Profit After Tax (PAT) and 33.1% increase from 2020.

The bank remains committed to furthering the economic, cultural and social development of host communities, particularly through community-based initiatives and philanthropy. As a good corporate citizen, it continues to deliver projects that have long-term social and economic benefits for the communities because it believes that its business is only as strong as the communities in which it operates.

To demonstrate its commitment to creating and expanding opportunities, the bank regularly makes donations towards setting up ultramodern ICT centres in several educational institutions and cities across the country. It also supports various developmental projects, and healthcare delivery causes in Nigeria and contributes to the development of sports in Nigeria through its sponsorship of the Zenith Women Basketball League and the Zenith Bank Delta State Principal’s and Headmaster’s Football Competitions, amongst others.

In recognition of its contributions and social investments to its host communities and the society at large, the bank was recognised at the Sustainability, Enterprise, and Responsibility (SERAS) Awards 2021 as the “Most Responsible Organisation in Africa”.

 

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