BY PETER EGWUATU
*Inherited N21bn deposit base…* Core investor owns 80% shares, Saraki family holds 9%…
Society Generale Bank which regained its operating license about three years ago will today open its doors for business. The bank will operate under a new name Heritage Bank. The shareholding structure of the new bank showed that 80 per cent of the new bank is owned by a core investor, 9 per cent by Saraki family (owners of SGBN) and the remaining g 11 per cent to depositors of the bank.
The new bank emerged from former Societal Generale Bank of Nigeria (SGBN) having met the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN)’s requirement to operate as a regional bank. It decided to begin operation today at the end of the revalidation of account exercise of its old customers which came to a close last week.
Speaking to Vanguard on Friday at the Heritage Bank Night, Managing Director/CEO, Mr. Ifie Sekibo, of the N21 billion deposit base it inherited from SGBN, customers have withdrawn close to 60 per cent amounting to N12.6 billion. But only 15 per cent of such customers have responded to the bank’s verification exercise. Continuing, Sekibo said three branches will be opened at the monent, two in Lagos and one at Ibadan.
Speaking at the event , Chairman, Heritage Bank, Mr. Akinsola Akinfemiwa, said, “We are going to be focusing majorly on Small and medium businesses to ensure that we boost their operation. We are not there to compete with the so called big banks; our services are going to be quite different from what other banks do. We will work closely with the small and medium businesses to nurture them to greater height. We will be enlightening them on her to keep proper books of accounting, how to manage their businesses and make them grow.
Continuing, he said, “our services is going to be technology driven. We may not have many branches, but we are going to deploy technology to reach our customers. It should be noted that SGBN pioneered Automated Teller Machine (ATM) which many thought will never work. But today it is working and making withdrawal easier for people. We are going to do same as we resume operation, our employees have been trained, we attach importance to technology, excellence, professionalism, innovation, dynamism, tenacity and solutions.”
It would be recalled that SGBN is one of the two banks whose licenses were recently restored by the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) following court orders nullifying the revocation of their licenses. The second bank, Savana Bank, is also preparing to return to the banking industry any time from now. SGBN which has now resurfaced in the Nigerian banking scene as Heritage Bank has commenced full banking operations. It began accounts verification of customers of defunct SGBN on January 28, 2013 to give customers opportunity to either withdraw their money or reactivate their accounts with the new bank.
Vanguard’s investigation at some of the centres designated for customers to verify their accounts balances show that some of the customers of SGBN who had lost hope of regaining their trapped money trooped into the designated centres to revalidate their accounts and take possession of the money they thought was lost.
Investigation revealed that Heritage Bank provided thirteen designated centres across the country for customers of former SGBN to revalidate their accounts and collect instant cheques of the value outstanding in their accounts if desired. The centres which are spread over eleven States/Cities included Lagos, Oyo, Kwara, Rivers, Delta, Akwa Ibom, Bayelsa, Adamawa, Zamfara, Kaduna and FCT.
It was also gathered that Heritage Bank would operate as a Regional bank with a capital base of N10 billion. On how many branches the Bank is likely to have when it starts operation, sources within the bank said, “The process and modalities for commencement of operations are still being worked out and perfected. As soon as these are finalized, we will inform you. For now, it is preposterous to hazard any guess.”
The aim of the revalidation exercise according to the bank is to possibly pay all customers of SGBN who came to participate in the exercise and cheques were issued to those who requested for their deposit at the validation centres immediately their accounts were successfully validated. When Vanguard visited some of the centres in Lagos, few people were seen collecting their cheques.
Sources close to the bank said, “It is not compulsory for customers to forcefully bank with Heritage Bank. However, any of the customers who willingly want to retain his/her account with the new Heritage Bank could exercise that option.”
It was gathered that some of the customers had asked for their validated SGBN accounts to be retained with the upcoming Heritage Bank, but nobody was coerced or forced to do this as many others have opted to collect their money.
According to sources who spoke on condition of anonymity “The bank would be sending pictures of people being paid at the centres to you and a few other media partners very soon. As the exercise was on Vanguard investigation on the level of compliance had showed that the turnout continued to improve in all the centres; more and more people are now visiting the centres, having put away initial skepticism. And the management of Heritage Bank is happy and satisfied that Nigerians who had already lost hope of recovering their trapped funds in the old SGBN are now actually collecting their money at the validation centres, thereby getting a priceless opportunity to move on from the trauma of the past years.
Meanwhile, one significant highpoint of the account validation exercise, which kicked off on Tuesday 29 January, 2013 for customers of the defunct SGBN is the immediate issuance of payment cheques to customers whose accounts are successfully validated.
Investigations conducted across some designated centres showed that the exercise was in two parts namely verification of accounts and instant issuance of payment of cheques for those who prefer to collect their balances in their accounts with defunct SGBN. At the AIB plaza centre in Lagos, an official who asked not to be named stated that the management of the new Heritage Bank has put everything in place to ensure that all SGBN customers who turn up for the month-long exercise went back satisfied. In her words, “Management has made adequate arrangement for everybody and we have the financial strength to pay everybody if the need arises”.
On the modality for account validation, the official said Savings account holders are expected to come with means of identification such as driver’s licence, passport or national identity card, as well as their cash withdrawal forms and deposit slips. For Current and Corporate accounts, holders are expected to present their cheque books or cheque stumbs.
“The process is simple, hassle-free and technology-driven to ensure that customers that turn up do not have to wait endlessly. We just call up the customer’s number from our server base at the head office. Once this appears, the customer’s picture is taken and stored and the form is passed on to the Validation officer through the control officer, for the account to be verified, including the balance in such account. Once this is done, the customer is referred to the cashiers who instantly write cheques for those that want their account balance paid”, the official explained.
Though turnout of customers was yet to pick up at the various centres visited during the first week of the exercise, the sources who spoke with Vanguard attributed it to customer apathy due to the failure of such exercises conducted on behalf of SGBN by CBN in the past.
A Lagos-based financial analyst, Jaye Opaleye, noted that most customers would still be having doubt about how the current exercise would be different from the past ones. It would be recalled that in 2005, SGBN customers were asked to come for the validation of their accounts, but nothing tangible came out of the exercise. “ So, it is expected that the turnout now would be tentative. But with the way Heritage Bank is conducting the exercise, especially the aspect of issuing payment cheques to customers at the validation centers, one could see that they are very serious and prompt. It is a really different attitude and style which is a mark of integrity and a boost for the new bank and the banking sector generally”, Opaleye noted.
Customers interviewed in some of the centres expressed happiness at finally having the opportunity to reclaim their trapped monies after many years. According to a happy, middle-aged customer at the Akoka centre who waved his cheque excitedly, the current exercise by Heritage Bank has ended his long wait. “I am really happy that after so many years, we, depositors of SGBN can now smile again. This is a good development indeed and a credit to the new bank- Heritage Bank- because this exercise has just been fantastic. It took just a few minutes for them to resolve my issue and settle me.