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FirstBank: Empowering Staff; Driving Productivity against the Odds

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By Segun Adams

 As the coronavirus pandemic forces firms to downsize and cut their wage cost to cope with the adverse economic realities, First Bank of Nigeria Limited (FirstBank) is bucking the trend with a different approach that puts its staff first, writes Segun Adams. 

In a pandemic year where employees are agreeing to pay cuts to keep their jobs and businesses are either downsizing or simply liquidating, First Bank of Nigeria Limited is an outlier, taking an unusual approach to demonstrate how organisations can still ensure the best outcomes for both employer and employees.  

The first-tier lender last Friday promoted a crop of its staff across all levels in a rare show of corporate resilience in the banking industry and beyond, both locally and across the borders.

According to FirstBank, keeping staff motivated during these unprecedented times is not only crucial for the soul of businesses, but it also demonstrates corporate responsibility.

In the wake of the new coronavirus pandemic, there have been unprecedented layoffs across the world as companies went bust, unable to generate cash to sustain their operations.

The United States, the world’s biggest economy has recorded a historic rise in unemployment with over 45 million initial unemployment claims in the last three months.

In Britain, HSBC, a giant global bank, is reviving plans for a 35,000 job cut due to pre-existing problems thought to have been worsened by the pandemic. Big banks like Morgan Stanley, Deutsche Bank, Citigroup, Barclays, Société Générale among others have announced about layoffs exceeding 60,000 jobs.

In Nigeria, 38% of the workforce was jobless in April due to the virus and lockdowns, the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) estimates. In the MSMEs sector, 50,000 jobs were lost and 10,000 businesses have shut down according to Auwal Bununu Ibrahim, the National Vice President, North Central of the National Association of Small and Medium Enterprises, (NASME) and in the Aviation industry, some 24,000 jobs were lost as of April.

While banks in the country have been barred by the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) from laying off staff without regulatory approval, there is no obligation for banks to implement promotions or raise pay. In fact, most lenders have initiated pay cuts to cope with the excess capacity arising from skeletal operations and depressed levels of economic activities in the economy which is reeling from the coronavirus and lockdown shocks.

But against the odds, FirstBank promoted its staff and didn’t cut down salaries.

In a recent article, Forbes stated that the manner in which firms treat their employees during the ongoing health and economic crisis will not only be remembered for years to come but have a direct effect on their productivity going-forward.

“How businesses respond will have a lasting impact on employee behaviour including, engagement, productivity and loyalty,” the American business magazine noted.

Hertzberg’s Two-Factor Theory also known as dual-factor theory postulates that career progression is a motivating factor for employees to work harder.

As the coronavirus pandemic continues to take a toll on the mental health and focus of employees in the country, and across the world, due to uncertainty of job status, lower income and a disruption to their career development, FirstBank stands out as a safe and rewarding place to work.

The stability and confidence enjoyed by the bank’s staff are the vital environment human resources experts say is necessary for firms that will successfully navigate the tides of current realities.

In a recent BusinessDay Webinar, Nkemdilim Begho, CEO, Future Software Resources Limited advised that businesses can engage their team and see how they can help in creating new ideas and products that the company can deliver. The resultant effect will be greater efficiency of staff and innovation whereas, elsewhere organizations are bound to struggle with a demotivated workforce which could lead to inefficiencies and higher costs for the businesses with adverse implications for bottom-line.

To realise optimal human resources contributions, Begho acknowledged the need for firms to sustain team bond and ensure that morale of their staff is high.

Even before current events, FirstBank has always proven to be conscious of the impact a stimulating and rewarding environment can have on the overall employee performance and thus, provided value accretion to shareholders, customers and other stakeholders.

From its competitive remuneration across cadres including mid-level and senior-level employees to benefits that cover medical insurance and disability insurance, sick leave and vacation, and retirement options, FirstBank puts its workforce first ensuring that they are well motivated and equipped to deliver higher productivity.

FirstBank has featured on some of the best workplace rankings including A Great place to Work and Jobberman. Last year, the big bank ranked among the Jobberman 2019 best 100 companies to work for in Nigeria, a list that scrutinizes over 60,000 companies to pick the best 100 based on strict metrics. The bank has enjoyed positive reviews from credible job/career sites like Indeed where it banks a 4.1/5 positive rating.

A former employee of the bank Aderemi Adebiyi commended the institution for its keen interest in the welfare and career progression of its employees. “I worked in the Bank for 15 years and do not regret it. It’s fast-paced, performance-driven with varied streams of career development,” Aderemi said. “The company also offers paid trainings.”

FirstBank’s talent management strategy is aimed at supporting employee engagement, employee motivation and increased productivity, and leadership development across all levels of employees within the organization, according to its website. As a tenet of career development, FirstBank has devoted itself to creating a culture of continuous learning tailored to the needs and aspirations of the employees and the business itself.  

The bank’s FirstAcademy and learning centres strategically located around the country allows for e-learning, mobile learning, physical classrooms and virtual libraries to allow all employees the opportunity to equip themselves for future roles that benefit both them and the organization. This means pandemic or not, learning is continuous and uninterrupted.

FirstBank also prides itself as an equal opportunity employer so that qualified persons irrespective of gender, culture, age, nationality, sexual orientation, disability or social background can participate in its business.

At the same time, FirstBank remains a performance-driven organization and merit-based, allowing individual talents to be rewarded for their hard work and contribution to overall organisational goals.

With people as one of the bank’s greatest assets, it strives to maintain a pool of multi-skilled and well-rounded employees relying on initiatives like Job Shadowing, Coaching, Counselling, Mentoring, Succession Planning and Career Maps to develop and retain talents at all levels of the organisation’s operations.

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BUSINESS

FIRSTBANK DEEPENS FINANCIAL INCLUSION WITH LARGEST AGENT BANKING NETWORK, EMPOWERS SMES

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At present, there are over 86,000 banking agents across 772 out of the 774 local government areas in Nigeria, a demonstration of FirstBank’s commitment to deepening financial inclusion and ensuring the unbanked are adequately catered for. In an interview with BusinessDay, Adesola Adeduntan, FirstBank’s CEO, noted that over N9.6 trillion had been processed through the bank’s agent network.

As he explained, FirstMonie agents have supported several government and NGOs’ cash transfers to the poorest of the poor in the rural areas. Additionally, selected FirstMonie agents in the rural communities are equipped with BVN enrolment devices; as such they are able to enrol and open accounts for rural dwellers that hitherto may not have had the opportunity to be included in the formal financial services system.

The bank’s commitment to providing access to finance for Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs) was also highlighted by the CEO, who hinged this on “their potential to impact the economy”.

He discussed the bank’s value adding solutions that have created a functional ecosystem for SMEs to thrive. The ecosystem includes propositions such as connection of the SMEs to talents and resources/cutting edge tools, access to business finance and market, capacity building opportunities and policy advocacy.

These are all aggregated on its SMEConnect platform as value adding products and services for easy access and at rates (prices) that are competitive and mostly discounted. The SMEConnect is a digital platform that allows the SMEs connect to FirstBank’s offerings from the comfort of their locations anywhere in the world.

This, according to Adeduntan, has been well received by the SME community as we engage across the country.

Culled from BusinessDay

 

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BUSINESS

UBA’s LEO: Celebrating three Years of Revolutionised Banking Services

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Technology has been a veritable gift to mankind, and over the years, it has been responsible for creating amazingly useful resources which put all the information individuals need at their fingertips. The development of technology has also led to so many mind-blowing discoveries, better facilities, and better luxuries, which has in-turn helped to improve lifestyle and standard of living.

For instance, through relevant technological development, the average individual has been empowered to shop online and carry out seamless transaction any time of the day or night from the comfort of his own home or business place.

To this end, forward thinking companies and financial institutions with eyes in the future who have been conversant with the new trend in customer behaviour, have painstakingly designed new products and services tailor-made to meet the growing needs of customers anytime anywhere.

It is bearing this in mind that Pan-African financial Institution, United Bank for Africa (UBA) Plc, changed the face of e-banking in the African continent for the first time with the introduction of Leo – UBA’s Chat Banker. The idea of Leo, which was birthed in 2018, was to enable customers make use of their social media accounts to carry out key banking transactions with ease.

This is the first time ever that a financial institution in Africa evolved a one-stop solution to simplify the way customers transact, a key essential in today’s fast-paced world with demands for quick-time transactions and response.

With Leo’s help, customers have been able to open new accounts with ease, receive instant transaction notifications, check their balances on the go, transfer funds and airtime top up. Cheque confirmation, bill payments, loan application, account freezing, request for mini statements, flight bookings, airtime and data purchases, are some other services that the chat banking BOT has been helping customers to carry out since 2018.

And Leo, the Artificial Intelligent Bot which carries out seamless conversations with his customers – who he calls his friends by the way- has achieved this and more in its three-year existence; allowing users to carry out quick, fast and recurring transaction with ease from their popular social media accounts such as Facebook and Whatsapp.

No wonder the bank has earned a lot of laurels and accolades in the last three years confirming Leo’s global acceptance and recognitions, as pointed out by UBA’s Group Manging Director, Mr. Kennedy Uzoka, some of which are:

‘Africa’s Best Digital Bank of the year’ by Euromoney; The Most; Innovative Bank of the year’ by International Finance; ‘Best Customer Engagement Tool’ by Africa Fintech; Pulse magazine rated Leo on WhatsApp as ‘The best WhatsApp Banking App’; ‘The Best Social Banking platform’ in Uganda; ‘Excellence in Automated Chatbot Initiative’ by Finnovex Awards; ‘Next Generation Class of 2019’ by CIBN; ‘Best Automated Chatbot Initiative, Application or Programme’ by The Asian Banker. The list is endless.

“The formulation of this product, is consistent with UBA’s Customer 1st philosophy, where we have been doing things not the way we like, but focusing on what the customers want, where they want it, and in the exact platform they want it; Uzoka explained. “At UBA, we have been continuously working with technology giants that have the global capacity to ensure not only seamless but also effortless banking for the millions of our customers across Africa; as all the bank’s subsidiaries in Africa have activated Leo to perform financial services for customers.

Continuing, he said, “Since 2018, Leo has been helping with most transactions and to deliver any form of banking services. And this has been highlighted more especially during the lockdown occasioned by the COvid-19 virus, as Leo assisted all its users on all major social media platforms to carry out all their banking activities without having to physically visit a branch. This, to us, remains an admirable feat because with Leo, the banking needs of our customers have become easy and simple – as simple as chatting”; Uzoka pointed out.

Within three years of operations, UBA’s Leo has recorded a number of milestones including opened a total of 390,756 accounts; achieving 2,169,384 subscribers; conducting a total of 9,605,703 transaction count worth a value of N81,530,918,868. Leo which has over 2.1m unique users has also generated over 20 million conversations and over 85 million engagements; with such impressive feedback and usage and remains the only AI BoT showcased at the F8 in Mark’s Zuckerberg’s opening remarks.

UBA’s Group Head, Digital Banking, Sampson Aneke, reiterated that Leo is not just a chat machine, but an artificial intelligence personality meant to address any type of banking concerns raised by customers.

“Leo has been operating a secure lifestyle banking platform on Facebook messenger, WhatsApp and IOS and Andriod to assist customers with their transactions while chatting with your friends and business partners. The security with this platform has been that for every transaction, a One Time Password (OTP) is generated to the phone number that is registered on your account,” he explained, and added that the bank is working tirelessly to improve LEO’s services to the customers in the coming weeks.

United Bank for Africa Plc is a leading Pan-African financial institution, offering banking services to more than twenty-one million customers, across over 1,000 business offices and customer touch points, in 20 African countries. With presence in the United States of America, the United Kingdom and France, UBA is connecting people and businesses across Africa through retail; commercial and corporate banking; innovative cross-border payments and remittances; trade finance and ancillary banking services.

 

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BUSINESS

Heirs Holdings Acquires 45% of OML 17 from Shell, Total and ENI

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Heirs Holdings (“HH”), the leading African strategic investor, in partnership with affiliated company Transnational Corporation of Nigeria Plc (“Transcorp”), Nigeria’s largest publicly listed conglomerate, announced today the unconditional acquisition of a 45% participating interest in Nigerian oil licence OML 17 and related assets, through TNOG Oil and Gas Limited (a related company of Heirs Holdings and Transcorp), from the Shell Petroleum Development Company of Nigeria Limited, Total E&P Nigeria Limited and ENI. In addition, TNOG Oil and Gas Limited will have sole operatorship of the asset.

 

The transaction is one of the largest oil and gas financings in Africa in more than a decade, with a financing component of US$1.1 billion, provided by a consortium of global and regional banks and investors. OML 17 has a current production capacity of 27,000 barrels of oil equivalent per day and, according to our estimates, 2P reserves of 1.2 billion barrels of oil equivalent, with an additional 1 billion barrels of oil equivalent resources of further exploration potential.

 

The investment demonstrates a further important advance in the execution of Heirs Holdings’ integrated energy strategy and the Group’s commitment to Africa’s development, through long term investments that create economic prosperity and social wealth. Heirs Holdings’ heritage and approach to business fundamentally underscores its commitment to inclusive development and shared prosperity with its host communities. Heirs Holdings is fully invested in the development of the Niger Delta region.

 

Heirs Holdings’ strategy of creating the leading integrated energy business in Africa is executed through a series of strategic portfolio holdings. Transcorp is one of the largest power producers in Nigeria, with 2,000 MW of installed capacity, through ownership of Transcorp Power Plant and the recent acquisition of Afam Power Plc and Afam Three Fast Power Limited. Transcorp closed the US$300 million Afam acquisitions in November 2020.  Transcorp supplies electricity to the Republic of Benin, as part of an emphasis on promoting regional integration and delivering robust power supply to catalyse development in Africa. Transcorp also operates OPL281, under a production sharing contract with the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (“NNPC”). Similarly, Heirs Holdings’ subsidiary, Tenoil is the operator of OPL 2008, under a production sharing contract with NNPC. Tenoil also owns the Ata Marginal Field, which will commence production in Q2, 2021, with 3,500 barrels of oil per day.

 

Chairman of Heirs Holdings, Tony Elumelu stated: “We have a very clear vision: creating Africa’s first integrated energy multinational, a global quality business, uniquely focused on Africa and Africa’s energy needs. The acquisition of such a high-quality asset, with significant potential for further growth, is a strong statement of our confidence in Nigeria, the Nigerian oil and gas sector and a tribute to the extremely high-quality management team that we have assembled. As a Nigerian, and more particularly an indigene of the Niger Delta region, I understand well our responsibilities that come with stewardship of the asset, our engagement with communities and the strategic importance of the oil and gas sector in Nigeria.  We see significant benefits from integrating our production, with our ability to power Nigeria, through Transcorp, and deliver value across the energy value chain.”

 

Speaking further, he said “I would like to thank Shell, Total and ENI, for the professionalism of the process, the Federal Government of Nigeria, the Ministry of Petroleum Resources, and the NNPC for the confidence they have placed in us.”

 

Speaking on the investment, the President/GCEO of Transcorp, Owen Omogiafo, said “This deal further demonstrates Transcorp’s integrated energy strategy and our determination to power Africa.”

 

Heirs Holdings was advised by Standard Chartered Plc, as Global Coordinator, and United Capital Plc, with a syndicate of lending institutions including Afreximbank, ABSA, Africa Finance Corporation, Union Bank of Nigeria, Hybrid Capital, and global asset management firm Amundi. The deal also involves Schlumberger as a technical partner, as well as the trading arm of Shell as an offtaker.

 

Heirs Holdings has created one of Africa’s largest, indigenous owned, oil and gas businesses, headquartered in Lagos, Nigeria and led by a board and management team with significant regional and global experience in production, exploration, and value creation in the resources sector. The HH Group is committed to the highest standards of safety, health, and community relations, together with best practice in governance and accountability.

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