By Omoh Gabriel, Business Editor
GTbank Plc, two weeks ago, organised a one week training programme for business editors of major Newspapers in the country. The programme took place at the Park Plaza Hotel, Embankment Street, London. Participants were taken through various discussions on issues affecting the media as well as going to the London Stock Exchange to interact with some officials of the Exchange.
Managing Director Guaranty Trust Bank (UK) Limited, Adekunle Adebiyi, took pains to brief participants on the activities of the bank in London. He said that GTbank UK is a fully owned subsidiary of Gtbank.
GTbank UK is authorised and regulated by the UK Financial Services Authority (FSA). According to him, Guaranty Trust Bank (UK) Limited offers both retail and wholesale banking products and services to private, corporate and institutional clients.
The bank’s products and services, he disclosed, are designed to address the needs of individuals and corporate clients either visiting or based in the United Kingdom with business or personal connections in Africa and vice versa.
He said that the bank undertakes corresponding banking services for Nigerian clients of GTbank, most of whom live in Nigeria but do business in London. He also said that the bank assists Nigerians who want to purchase property in London through mortgage financing for which prospective buyers are expected to deposit 40 percent of the value of the property they intend to buy. He said such mortgage facility goes for as low as seven percent instead of the 22 percent being paid in Nigeria.
According to him, banking in London is highly regulated with emphasis on good corporate governance and transparency. He said that the experience the bank has gathered in the UK is being shared and implemented at the Nigeria Head Office.
He said that the bank has well trained and experienced staff, first class systems and a strategic location in Central London, adding that GTbank UK is strongly positioned to deliver exceptional customer service to its valued customers.
While in London, GTbank launched one of its pet projects that will focus on African arts at the prestigious London Tate Modern. The art project, the brainchild of GTbank and Tate Modern, London will be equally launched across the African continent. Known as “Politics of Representation”, the event saw in the London launch, a day of performances by Nigeria’s Otobong Nkanga and Angola’s Nastio Mosquito.
During the London version of the programme, the Managing Director of GTbank Mr Segun Agbaje told journalists that the bank was moved to project the good image of Africa as against the negative image of the continent being portrayed out there in Europe. He said Africa is not all about hunger, war and pestilence, adding there is a lot of good things happening in the continent.
Chris Dercon Director of Tate said that the project would be taken to Accra, Douala and Lagos. It will run till 2014. He said the event, which will include discussion session, is expected to attract contributors who would examine issues of cultural identity. He noted that in Douala, Cameroon, the event would hold next year and focus on public sphere, the Accra leg of the event is expected to address issues such as institution building.
Dercon said interdisciplinary practice would be the theme of discussion at the Lagos event holding in 2014. He stressed that each city would determine the format of presentation but that formats such as dialogue, debate and social media would be considered.
Across the board is an extended collaboration and experimental platform featuring African artists and exploring recent practices in the continent. It constitutes a pioneering and challenging approach to cultural partnership whilst complimenting Tate’s collecting activities.
General Manager and Head, Communication and External Affairs of GTBank, Lola Odedina, said the three main purposes of the projects are the creation of a platform to engage with local art scenes and its protagonists, curators, artists, scholars and institutions; enhancement of Tate’s collecting activities and to generate new dynamic and experimental types of programming at Tate.
Last year, GTBank announced a partnership between it and Tate, which includes the creation of a dedicated curatorial post at Tate Modern to focus on African art, an Acquisition Fund to enable the gallery enhance its holdings of work by African artists and an annual project.
Consequently, a curator, Elvira Dyangani Ose, was appointed early last November for curating GTBank project for Tate as well as contributing towards building the collection and the Tate programmes.
The Managing Director of Guaranty Trust Bank, Mr. Segun Agbaje, while speaking with journalists at the sideline of the event, said that Nigerian banks cannot afford to provide services for free and should be allowed to charge appropriately for services provided.
Agbaje, who spoke with journalists in London against the backdrop of the recent cuts in banks charges including the removal of the N100 inter-bank ATM withdrawal charges, said that while he believed that banks should give back to customers, it was important that banks charge for services rendered in order to cover costs.
According to him, banks should charge for services provided but such charges should not be exploitative or exorbitant. He said “What I believe is that banks should charge for services they provide, ultimately, the market will determine what people are willing to pay. if you look at the developed economies today, a lot of what led to the sub-prime crises in the United States was because people artificially removed banks charges and started introducing thing like sub-prime mortgages in order to make a return-
“Today, they have started to remove charges in bank instruments and the rest. What I will say is that you should not charge exorbitantly, but you should charge commensurate to the service you provide. I don’t believe that banks can afford to provide services for free in an economy where they have to provide infrastructure.
“Some of these charges are used to cover costs of what we do. Agbaje, who said that banks have stopped charging ATM fees in line with a resolution of the Bankers’ Committee, pointed out however that those services come at a cost which must be paid for.
“We all know that ATM services are not free, they come at a cost, but banks have to give back need to encourage people to use this service. He also faulted recent arguments linking the high interest rates with the slow growth of the real sector.
The GTB boss, who insisted that the Central Bank of Nigeria was in the best position to determine when the benchmark Monetary Policy Rate should be reduced or increased, pointed out that at the time when interests were low, the real sector did not witness high growth.
According to him, the refusal of the CBN to pump money into the system also known as quantitative easing has yielded positive results as inflation and exchange rate have stabilised in recent times.
“I believe that the fact that we haven’t gone into quantitative easing has its advantages. Interest and exchange rates have stabilised. I believe the naira is the strongest currency in Africa this year, so there are advantages”, he said.
Speaking on the possibility of the bank growing inorganically against the backdrop of recent acquisitions of weak banks by competitors, Agbaje said the dreams and aspirations of the bank remains the same.
According to him, “Our preference and our first call is to grow inorganically, but we are not against doing an acquisition if there is a good acquisition to do and if we believe that it will add value, but to those who are my shareholders, what I have always promised is to increase the value. So, if we can do that by acquisition, we will and if we can do that by organic growth, we will, but what I can say is that we will do what we can to grow the organisation.”
The London trip with GTbank was not all about classroom work. It also involved visiting some land mark places in London. Participants were on tour of London where they visited the Burchinam Palace to experience first hand the daily change of guard at the Queen’s official residence. It was a beehive of activities with several tourists milling around, taking photographs. It was a pleasant sight.
The tour also took participants to London Stock Exchange, London eye, a cable car circle of about 100 meters high, a position from where you can see the whole of London in view. What was also fascinating is the rebuilt old London city where the streets are so narrow that they can hardly take cars.
The landlords, it was learnt, have up till today refused to have their homes modernised or demolished to give way to new road construction arguing that the century hold build are their history.