Senator Iyiola Omisore, a former deputy governor in Osun State is the candidate of the Social Democratic Party (SDP) in the September 22 governorship election in Osun State. In this interview with select journalists, he speaks on why he wants to succeed Ogbeni Rauf Aregbesola and his Restoration Agenda for the state. TEMIDAYO AKINSUYI brings the excerpts:
Your party, the Social Democratic Party (SDP) earlier before now, released your manifestos called the ‘SDP Agenda for Restoration in Osun State,’ with a focus on five thematic pillars, first of which is economic management and accountability. What do you think is wrong with Osun State’s economy?
Osun State’s economy is, no doubt, the worst in this country, as declared and agreed to by everybody and I believe that transparency, accountability and people-oriented policies will drive safely the economy to yield results. At present, there are lots of wastages, a lot of leakages, a lot of money has been wasted through consultancies, a lot of high and inflated contracts, a lot of undone jobs already paid for. These are enough areas I’m going to block. I will block all leakages and ensure that the money in Osun is spent for Osun people. The idea is to further establish linkages with national processes in a way to achieve the global Sustainable Development Goals. Then, for the implementation of our programmes, we are going to maximally harness the Osun State’s human and capital resources to lay a solid foundation for an enduring turn-around of the state as an economically prosperous, socially harmonious and a model in democratic governance in Nigeria. Our goal is to ensure that everyone everywhere has access to inputs to thrive, and assets to protect human dignity.
You talked about the issue of inflated contracts, meaning that money had been taken out unjustifiably. Do you have any plan to retrieve the money back, or would there be any form of probe into government activities?
Well, contract jobs have been done, but there are a lot of avenues for wastes which we need to block. The leakages are there already, but its blockade will be done carefully so as not to slow down the government, and talking of probe, that is not an issue. We are going to look at all these positions professionally without minding whose ox is gored, and without being biased or without any sentiment, fear or favour. We will review all activities critically and ensure things are done correctly.
You also highlighted the issue of professionalism and performance, and if we look at the civil service generally already heavily criticised for slowing down the processes of governance, but with a peculiarity to Osun now and the issue of salary payment, are these also bothering you?
To whom much is given, much is expected, and to whom less is given, less is expected. You can’t expect optimal performance, and what we call optimisation and deliverables from workers who are not paid for over 36 months or are paid half salaries. So, basically, their morale will be low; their drive to work will be low; efficiency will be low, there is no doubt about that. So, you don’t expect much from them. This is why I think the driving force for any economy, any business, any office and any development is human capital development. Hence, we are going to reinforce human capital development to ensure that we increase performance and ensure we drive them and encourage them, motivate them, professionalise them and train them, so that they can deliver our goods, our manifestos and visions.
As you said, workers are being owed for 36 months, one of the reasons being Osun government saying there was no sufficient funds to run the state; how are you going to resolve this to ensure salaries and pensions are paid?
As rightly said, I quote “Osun government says there is no money.” They are trying to let the public know there is no money. Whereas they just collected about N17 billion Paris Club funds, and the wage bill is about N2 billion per month, and they said they are paying half salary, which means that over N16 billion can pay for 16 months. But, there is no courage; there is no will. There is no sincerity to defray the costs, rather, the government prefers to use it for bogus contracts, bogus expenses and mainly for election campaigns. Now, it is evident to everyone in the state that Osun is comatose, and it is not in doubt that its current APC leadership has admitted its inability to cope, which is why the second term of Governor Rauf Aregbesola is being completed with a serious increase in hunger and poverty among people in the state and the private sector is nearing collapse, likewise the citizens are collapsing. Similarly, the confidence and motivation in the public sector is eroded and now at its all-time lowest since Osun State was founded. Everyone is frustrated and the increasingly restive people of Osun State, including the aged, pensioners and our youths are calling for urgent action. Surely, the September 22 election has provided a democratic opportunity for action, an opportunity for people to vote Omisore of the SDP as the new governor of Osun State.
There is the O’YES cadets, said to be earning N10,000 per month, which at a time you spoke against. What will be the lot of these people under your administration?
The O’YES people recruited from Osun and who are Osun indigenes will be given gainful and pensionable jobs. We are not going to sack anybody, but we are going to make employment across board. Teachers will be recruited, likewise other categories of staff. There are so many vacancies but the government is not interested in empowering the people Employing our youths and getting them engaged is a major one for us.
The concern of your party is also in the area of equity in access to services, such as education, health, gender equity, agriculture and others, in what form will this take?
This is in the area of distribution of wealth across board. The distribution of infrastructure will be across board, health will be across board and on the overall, it will ginger equality. There is no single clinic in Osun State that has drugs, but we are going to ensure that our hospitals are reawakened and well stocked. Our schools are brutalised and teachers are being thrown out of schools. This will be corrected; we are going to distribute the amenities across board. There is no water in Osun State. These are issues we want to address, because the public infrastructure has collapsed. Presently, there are challenges already identified which are long standing obstacle to economic growth and investment in the state, especially in agricultural area, a very critical sector which engages more than 75 per cent of the population of the state, and its neglect is impacting negatively on the economic yield of major cash crops and produce. But we will engage in partnership drive implementation to build sustainable investment linkages with the private sector and strengthen the engagement of other providers, including the civil society and community based organisations, because, at present, Osun State is under an intensive care unit (ICU). But given my courage, my experience and my pedigree, by God’s grace, we will ensure we bring back sanity to Osun State.
You have also raised concerns on the issue of security, in what form will this take?
Security may not necessarily be physical, but the physical security is good. However, we also have job security, food security, health security, and so on. But, it is security in all paraphernalia we are talking about. In this regard, we are also focusing on neighbourhood to neighbourhood watch. We have people with goodwill with us, but a good government also should focus on security, and with this, there won’t be hunger. There won’t be greed; there won’t be lack. People will be happy, and the people are safe generally. So, security is very important; it is a matter of concept and things of the mind. A good government will create rooms for innovations aiding success and sustainability. This is a very important area, since the encouragement of local content earlier mentioned is fuelled by innovations in specific areas, which will in turn make an impact on every other pillar of the agenda for restoration. Basically, our challenges in Osun State require quick thinking and innovations in implementation, which has already been taken care of in our robust manifestos.
The outgoing government has put some policies in place which have been criticised, for instance, the merging of schools and same uniform fo r all schools in Osun State. What are you going to do about this?
The issue of uniforms is not too good because it is unprofessional. The school ethics start from uniform, and I believe every pupil has a pride, so as to know how to behave. When you give everybody the same uniform, you allow for hooliganism, ‘commonerlism’. It encourages lack of belonging, which can also lead to lack of knowledge. If different uniforms are given to schools, they will have their own pride; they will check whoever is misbehaving among the students and this will give us a better society.
But the incumbent APC government is clamouring for continuity, because it said its enormous ongoing projects already started in the state must continue; if you assume power, what will you do about these said projects?
All projects in Osun State in eight years are still in progress. There is no single project that has been completed in the eight years of APC government. Look at the Gbonganjunction; look at the Ring Road, still under construction. Their campaign for continuity is to cover their fraud and ensure they perpetuate themselves in government. There is nothing continuous in this thing and it is nothing more than a cover-up. They have auctioned the state and they have milked it dry. That is why they are desperate. So, as earlier said, all projects will be reviewed on merit. I won’t stop any project, but we will continue with all projects under good terms and conditions which will not negatively affect the people of Osun State.
You contested in 2014 but did not win, though you said you were rigged out. And now, you are contesting again; those things that you said robbed you of victory, have you perfected them in a way that will give you victory this time round?
The most important thing is the issue of rigging of votes. But with vigilance, which I think will go a long way for us now; we are going to be victorious. We won in 2014; we were in the tribunal, but things were manipulated, and better still, we are going to be more vigilant now
Some people are still linking you with the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) which you have left, with an insinuation that you may still go back to the party. How will you address this?
The issue is it is the PDP that is telling lies. I am not in PDP. I am in SDP, and on their part, that is a sign of failure. When you see the opposition using your name to campaign, that means you are popular and they want to use your name to win election. So, if they want to come and join us, they are welcome. We left the PDP with 70 per cent of its structure, and today, SDP is the largest party in Osun State. PDP is fragmented; APC is fragmented, and SDP is the only party that stands firm. So, we are in SDP and for real.
Earlier before now, you expressed concerns over the insincerity of INEC to conduct a free and fair election in the state, yet, you are taking part in the election. How will you marry the two together?
“We are going to watch and I’ve told the international community to watch out for INEC too. We have told the people to be the watchful, [and be] on the lookout. Even, their plan to rig the election is all over the place, but we will insist that it doesn’t work out that way. Our people will be more vigilant and they have been told to remain resolute to protect their votes. Nothing will happen contrary to our victory. We are sure to win, and we will only ensure that we remain more vigilant and ensure INEC does the right thing.
Are you also satisfied with the level of security put in place for the election?
There is nothing in place yet; it is still a proposal, but let’s wait to see how it is done, believing that if they can man all the polling booths by the security personnel as they have promised to do, there won’t be any problem.
Then the issue of vote-buying as was the case in Ekiti State, what are you doing about this?
Vote buying is an electoral offence, and INEC and the security people have been mandated to arrest anybody found with money on them, and I’ve told my agents too to resist anybody found with money on them and throw them out of the polling units. The resolve of Osun people is to have Omisore as their governor and just in a few days’ time their dream will be fulfilled. The people must be resolute and be resilient, tolerant, enduring, focused, vigilant and ensure that the election of Saturday, September 22, is well protected, and ensure their votes are well protected and secured They should monitor proceedings at the polling booths across to state and ensure that SDP candidate, Omisore, is declared as the governor of Osun State.
The summary of your campaign if critically looked at is your message of restoration of Osun State and giving of freedom to the people, how did you arrive at this?
“The people already know that the government has put them in bondage. The colonial masters, Aregbesola, at the helm of affairs in the state have put the people in bondage. Just recently, Bola Ahmed Tinubu was here and he started harassing them, abusing them, and he insulted them. So, they are in bondage, and basically, what they need is freedom. The economy has collapsed; workers are not paid their salaries, same for pensioners. There are no jobs; there is nothing in the state. Markets are not selling; everything is in total collapse. Osun State is in ICU. So, we are going to restore Osun State back to its glory and the people on the streets are already aware of that and we are all working towards this.
“Consequently, you are requested to monitor the subject and report to the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) through the provided contact details if sighted,” the Customs wrote in a letter dated September 14.
President Buhari Needs Four More Years to Finish his Task….Garba
#FirstBankIssaVybe is a case study for any brand – Folake Ani-Mumuney
In ecember 2018, FirstBank promoted a social media campaign tagged #FirstBankIssaVybe, #DecemberIssaVybe. It involved massive ticket giveaways to premium events in Lagos including the FirstBank sponsored Burna Live. Over 500 mostly VIP tickets, which cost from N15,000 to N50,000 – were given away and money raised for Down Syndrome when tickets to Burna Boy’s concert were slashed to N125.
The Group Head, Marketing and Corporate Communications of FirstBank, Folake Ani-Mumuney explains why #FirstBankIssaVybe was a success and what other brands can learn from it.
What is the concept behind #FirstBankIssaVybe and #DecemberIssaVybe?
#FirstBankIssaVybe was a variety performance for us. FirstBank, which has always been your partner in enabling your dreams, takes not just your financial well-being into consideration but your entire well-being by enabling opportunities for families to come together to celebrate. We supported concerts, plays, fashion, food etc. In all of those different expressions, we were making sure we supported our heritage, the value systems we believe in and created opportunities for families to bond across generations. The carefully curated experiences spoke to our ethos, what we believe in and what Nigerians would appreciate. We were not just concentrated like some other brands on specific areas, or just one name; we were true enablers across the raft, and offered variety
Why sponsor events in arts and entertainment?
We are making sure we look at so-called alternative jobs. That’s what the First and Arts platform does, beyond being the repository of our values and heritage which we mustn’t lose. We are creating jobs through entertainment and contributing to the GDP of Nigeria. In the last statistics which I think was in 2017, the creative industries contributed a good 2% to the GDP. They can contribute a lot more. We must diversify the economy and this is one of the reasons we enabled the arts and entertainment.
Why just concerts in Lagos and not nationwide?
With our partners, #DecemberIssaVybe, we were trying to curate across the country as a whole. In previous years we were fortunate enough to identify one or two events we knew were going to take place in other cities. Waka the Musical in 2017, I believe, was taken to Abuja but in 2018, Queen Moremi the Musical which was from the same production company was not. If it were, we definitely would have supported it. We were not as fortunate (as in previous years) in identifying partners who understood what we were trying to do. I think, increasingly, we would like to see a situation where, across the country we see as much (events) as we see happening in Lagos. A good 80% of the events during this past Christmas were Lagos-centric.
How do you make it up to your customers and followers in other parts of Nigeria?
On events outside Lagos, in the past we have sponsored the Igue Festival in Edo State, and for a number of years, we were headline sponsors of the Calabar Carnival in Cross River State. We still make sure our branch within that region actively participates in the carnival even though we are no longer headline sponsors. Some of these events may be powered by branches in those regions and not spearheaded from the centre but we do make sure everybody feels us
What was your criteria for brands (eg: Burna Boy) and events you chose to partner with?
We have demonstrated we have a knack for spotting trends in the creative industries. We identify those we wish to partner with for that year and they end up being the biggest names. As the foremost bank, based on our experience overtime, it should be expected. So any time you see us beginning to push a play or an alternative expression like spoken word or fringe theatres like Freedom Park, just know that person or trend is going to blow.
Would you regard IssaVybe as a success and what do you owe your success to?
It was a tremendous success because we reached a lot of our customers and had amazing feedback from social media. The engagement we had is worthy of a case study for any brand. I have an amazing team. And how they did all of that the whole of Deecember: up all night at the concerts and plays, and then the next day, they kept on going. I just think all of that was the vybe.
Going forward, how does FirstBank hope to capitalise on the publicity gained from IssaVybe?
It was not a publicity stunt. It was actually supposed to be something that would deepen capacity and appreciation of the various genres that I talked about. What we did was cross-pollination: For those who ordinarily would go to concert, when we engaged them, we were also telling them, “Don’t do only concerts; do financial literacy as well.” It was really about making sure we opened people up to new experiences. FirstBank has become the defining curator for December experience
Do you have other promos planned for each month or is this just a one-time thing?
Yes, we do. It is not that we have just started but we have always done. Throughout the course of the year, there’s a very rich and robust calendar of different things.
Will these be tied to your 125th anniversary?
This year we are definitely going to be celebrating 125 years. If you look globally, how many countries can claim and boast of having an institution over a 100 years. We want Nigerians to be proud to say actually, we have a home grown brand that stands tall with other companies out there at 125 years. We are a bank and a brand that has demonstrated, within its DNA, it knows how to reinvent itself and remain relevant through all ages. We are still at the forefront of technology and innovation through all the things we do. Very true to our name, we have introduced a lot of things first. I think there’s reason to celebrate 125 and everything we do this year would be around it.
Why the sudden push for a young, hip brand image –through #FirstBankIssaVybe for example?
What we push for is to remain around for the next 125 years. It is not necessarily about appearing cool but enabling everybody to succeed, young and old alike. We are a bank for all generations.
There is Significant Opportunity for Consolidation in Banking Sector….Adeduntan
The Managing Director/CEO of First Bank of Nigeria Limited and Subsidiaries, Dr. Adesola Adeduntan, in this interview reveals that with about 12,000 agents across the entire network, the distribution of its automated teller machines across the country, the bank has built a solid foundation upon which it can rapidly grow its business and that the financial institution will continue to be a dominant player in the retail banking segment of the industry. Obinna Chima, Goddy Egene and Nume Ekeghe present the excerpts:
There was a major development in the banking industry some days ago, which saw Access Bank and Diamond Bank signing a business combination agreement. How did you receive the news considering that it is one that is going to shift the balance of power and ranking in the banking industry, and for FirstBank being one of the industry leaders, are you prepared to cope with the emerging competition in the industry?
We have had two waves of consolidation in the market. The first was in 2004-2005 which was orchestrated by Professor Chukuma Soludo. The second wave happened between 2009 under Governor Lamido Sanusi which was what saw to the acquisition of Intercontinental Bank by Access Bank. So, we have seen two big waves and there have been other minor waves. And if you also look at the number of tier 1 banks we have today in Nigeria, that is compare the size FirstBank, GTBank, Access Bank, Zenith Bank and the United Bank for Africa, when you put them on an African landscape, our banks are actually quite small. That is the truth.
In fact, from the last statistics I reviewed, there was no Nigerian bank in the top 10 banks in Africa. When you then realise the fact that Nigeria has the largest economy in Africa, but we are not in the top ten banks, that tells you two things: Firstly, that there is a significant opportunity for growth for banks but secondly opportunities for further consolidation. So what is contemplated by the merger agreement between Access Bank and Diamond Bank is not strange. For operators like us who have been watching this strategic landscape, it was not unexpected. For banks and indeed any institution or any business venture, you do have two opportunities or two key options of growth. You can decide to grow organically or you can decide to grow inorganically, which is what Access Bank is doing.
You may now go further to look at the tier 1 banks. There are banks in the tier 1 bucket who have never done any M&A and GTBank and Zenith Bank stand out. FirstBank has done one or two relatively small M&A which in reality you can take out. So it would appear that just looking at the market, that banks like FirstBank, GTBank and Zenith have perfected the act of growing organically. Whereas when you look at Access Bank, the bank was a major beneficiary of 2004/2005 consolidation in the industry. As at that time, they acquired Marina International Bank, Commercial Bank Credit Lyonnais, so they were a very key participant in that wave. In the second wave which happened between 2011, they were also a big beneficiary bank. So what I’m saying is that broadly speaking, there are banks that have perfected the act of growing organically and there are banks that have also perfected the act of growing inorganically. Nothing precludes one, and none is mutually exclusive.
What does it mean for the industry? I think it is very good. I think for the size of our economy, we actually require bigger banks. Like I said, there is no Nigerian bank in the top 10 banks in Africa whereas Nigeria is the largest economy. So it is kind of counter intuitive and that scenario is wrong. The top four banks in Africa are South African and that speaks to the strength of South African banks. If our economy is bigger than that of South Africa, naturally you would expect that we should have bigger banks and even if not bigger, but to become comparable in terms of size to those banks. I think we are on a journey it is an industry that would continue to see growth from my perspective. Like I said earlier, people can choose a path on how to grow and all they can also choose both.
But with this development, do you foresee FirstBank also adopting an inorganic growth strategy in the medium term, considering the intensive competition we expect to too in the industry?
As an institution, you always have the option of organic versus inorganic growth. Unlike two of the tier 1 banks that have never been involved in any M&A activity, we have a history in M&A. Also, a bigger part of our history is actually growing our businesses on our own. So what that says is that both capabilities are inherent in our DNA and are available to us. What we would do continuously as a management working under the guidance of our board is to re-evaluate our position. And to say what are the growth opportunity for us, either inorganic or organic growth.
What is the update on your African subsidiary, are they now profitable?
I’m happy to announce to you that we have fully recapitalised our subsidiary in Ghana. You would recall that in the course of 2017, the Bank of Ghana announced a significant increase in the minimum pay up capital for all banks operating in Ghana. I’m happy to inform you today that FirstBank Nigeria own 100 percent of FBN Ghana. We have fully recapitalised FBN Ghana and we are now fully compliant with the new minimum capitalisation. What we done with our subsidiary is that we have basically reposition all of them and they have moved from where I would call them net taker of resources, we have broken even and as we journey in 2019 we expect growth and an increasing contribution to the groups profitability.
Last year, you had expectations for your bank, were your economic projections and expectations for the bank met and how will you describe 2019?
You would recall that the Nigerian economy was recently in a recession and we came out of the recession in 2017 and what consistently the key operators have said is that the recovery remains fragile. However, we have recovered and we are recovering. When you look at the growth that has been recorded in the course of 2018 you sit back and say we could have done more but, if the growth was also not well orchestrated the way it has always been orchestrated, we could have also slipped back. So for me, I would give the economy a pass mark.
As we move into 2019, the expectations are that things may be a bit slow on the back of the elections and given the fact that naturally, key players especially on the fiscal side of the economy would be focussing on re-elections.
But post that, the projections that I have seen are all quite positive and they all speak to the fact that the expected growth should be higher than what we recorded in the course of 2018.
For FirstBank, we started a massive transformation program in 2017 and 2019 is the end of that strategic cycle. That plan is focused on transforming the entire business with the work stream focusing on the way we serve our customers and around innovation. There are projects around reigniting the passion of our people, there are projects around strengthening our technology platform and there are projects also around save guarding our assets which is essentially risks management. We are quite delighted from the progress we have made over the last two years and we believe that in the course of 2019, we would have accomplished all the critical components 2017-2019 strategic agenda. We are also looking forward to 2019 because with what we are doing; we have basically built a new foundation to enable our bank to run more as digital bank rather than a branch led institution. Today, based on what we are doing, more than 80 per cent of our customer-initiated transactions are actually carried out on alternative channels.
That means, 80 per cent of our transactions happen on Firstonline which is done online, Firstmobile which is done with your mobile phones and USSD which is done on both smart and basic phone. That for us is our star product because today we are the clear leader in that segment of the economy. We currently have almost 6.3 million customers processing transactions on our USSD platform. If you look at Firstmobile, we are a very close to number two, with over 2.5 million of our customers processing transactions. We process very close to 25 per cent of the industry volume in terms of transactions. We are quite delighted with what we have achieved so far. We are basically building the foundation and we believe our next cycle would be around significant growth on the back of the fact that we have fixed the foundation and we trust the foundation that we have built that it would enable to grow rapidly and we are going into 2019 with that highly optimistic mode.
You predicted growth for the economy in 2019, with the recent interest rate hike in the US, don’t you think this would affect Nigeria’s growth trajectory next year?
You need to sit back and look at the impact of the US on the global economy. The reality of it is that because of the size of the US economy and also because for all practical intent, a chunk of global trade is denominated in the US dollars. So, whatever happens in the US economy because it has a vibrating impact across the entire world, affects other economies. So when US interest rates go up, it does have an impact on everybody. Don’t forget that whether as a country or as a financial institution, we all are going into the international capital market to borrow money. So when interest rates go up, the implication is that when you want to tap that market again, you have to go at a higher rate. Because the question the investors would always ask is why they would want to take emerging market risks when they can also get a decent return within their own economy.
The simple answer is that it would impact economies that are US-dependent, Nigeria being a key one. But globally, any action or inaction in the US has a significant impact because of the size of the US economy on the global space.
One issue manufacturers and some businesses complained about in 2018 is the tight Monetary Policy Rate(MPR), how did that impact on your operations during the year?
The Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) Monetary Policy Rate stance has always been tight. So what I would say is that it was not unexpected. If you look at the major pronouncement of the Monetary Policy Committee (MPC) throughout the year actually retained for the most part all the key MPC matrices. So it is something we have all been dealing with and would continue to deal with. But you need to also understand the contest which the CBN has adopted those measure and that is also equally very important.
Firstbank is the cashcow of FBN Holdings. What are you doing in terms of risk management as well as to ensure you deliver maximum returns to shareholders?
I alluded to it when I spoke about the projects and all the transformation work we are doing. You are right; Firstbank is a big entity within FBN Holdings and the largest. Part of the work stream I earlier mentioned is one that focuses on safeguarding our assets. We have done a lot of work around our risk management. For example, when we started this journey about three years ago, we recruited a new Chief Risk Officer (CRO), we revamped the credit risk system, we have implemented a new risk management solution and in fact we have also implemented one now that has reached a very advanced stage. And what you see if you have been monitoring the NPL ratio for FBN holdings, of which FirstBank is substantial contributor to that, you would see that it is a dropped materially. We still have some wave but we are quite optimistic that by the time we are wrapping up our current strategic cycle by December 2019, we would be single digit which is quite significant.
What are some of the initiatives taken by the bank to drive financial inclusion, especially in the area agency banking?
Agency banking is one of the most successful initiatives we have introduced over the last 12- 18 months. Indeed, over the last year, we now have close to 12,000 agents across the entire network. Our agents are present in all local government in Nigeria except for one or two local governments. And what means is that when you layer that over 700 operating branches and we also have the largest distribution and network of ATM of about close to 3000. So that makes FirstBank a bank with the largest distribution network as far as financial services is concerned and that is quite significant. With the kind of foundation, we have built; we are confident that we have built a solid foundation upon which we can now rapidly grow our business. And that was speaking to the distribution network and to the revamped risk management system within our institution.
Looking at the retail business space, what is FirstBank going to do differently in 2019, to ensure you remain one of the leaders in that segment of the market?
Remember my response to the issue of agency banking. Agency banking is actually targeted at the unbanked and the people at the base of the pyramid. Our star product; USSD banking I referred to where I currently said we have customers in the excess of 6.2 million is also targeted at people at that level. So a combination of our agency banking and it is still growing. I mentioned that we currently have about 12,000 agents and we do have a growth projection around that but equally important is the fact that our USSD continues to grow. The reason why we have been quite successful with that is that you don’t need to have an expensive phone to be able to transact. Once you have a basic phone and you are able to send an SMS then that automatically becomes a tool to which you can transact. So a combination of growing our agent network and our very solid and rapidly growing USSD banking for us remains the winning formula in ensuring we have more people at the bottom base of the pyramid.
Don’t also forget that we operate from over 700 branches and our mobile banking called Firstmobile is actually the second in the industry today and we would continue to also focus on that and that is focused more on the middle income earner.
Sustainability banking is one the areas the CBN is asking banks to embed, what are you doing in this area?
FirstBank is committed to Global Sustainability as it is an area we have been very active in over the years. For many years, we partnered with Lagos Business School on its Sustainability centre. In addition to this, we are a member of The United Nations Disarmament Commission (UNDC). Internally as a bank, we have the right policies, the right framework and when we are going into projects that we believe would fall into sustainability; there are certain things that we look out for as part of our transactions or credit review. For example, when we look at a credit, we look at the environmental impact and analysis. We would now often ask questions on how projects would impact on the environment; if it would result in flooding or displacing people and what plans do you have to ensure that the environment is not destroyed or degraded on the back the project you are doing. So it is a critical part of what we watch out for.
There is a perception about Firstbank as not appealing to the younger generation, what are you doing to do to attract a younger generation?
That used to be the case some three to five years ago. I don’t have the statistics readily available now, but I would tell you that even from an internal perspective, more than 75 per cent of our workforce is less than 40 years. So that is a very young workforce. In the course of 2018 alone, and no other bank has done anything near that, FirstBank recruited 700 fresh graduates to join our workforce. Mind you, the maximum entry age is 27 so that gives you an idea of what you have done. And as I am speaking with you; we have advertised that we want to bring in younger people. So we are carrying out massive refreshment of talent and injecting a lot of young people at the base of our institution. If you also look at our customer profile within the retail statistics, I also know that between the age of 18 to 45 that is the age bracket between which the majority of our customers are. It is a perception issue that we have been working on and perception takes a while before you can completely change. So whether you are looking at our staffing or our retail base, we are actually indeed a very youthful bank.
Do you think the budget proposal presented can drive growth?
What is your outlook for 2019, and what message do you have for customers of Firstbank?
We are quite optimistic about 2019 despite the fact that there is an expectation of a slowdown in the first half of the year on the back of elections. I did mention that GDP growth expectation based on IMF predictions is actually better than 2018.
For us at FirstBank, 2019 is also a very significant year for us. By March next year, our bank would be 125 years old and that is quite significant. We are by far the oldest financial institution in Nigeria and in the entire West Africa. But we are old in terms of age and if we have a large chunk of our customers that are youths. So we are old in terms of age but very youthful in terms of operations.
You would also notice that in the course of 2018 we launched our financial laboratory which we call First Digital laboratory whose essence is to do research for our new products and innovations. For example, today we are the only bank doing Whatsapp Banking. So this is an institution that is old but in terms innovation, culture it is youthful.
To our teaming customers, FirsBank has always been there, we would continue to be there for them and more importantly, we intend to take our game to the next level in terms of innovation, quality of customer service, in terms of our ability to provide customer with necessary support to grow their business.
Culled from Thisday Newspaper
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