By Femi Babatunde
When the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), under Mallam Sanusi Lamido Sanusi, CON, now Emir of Kano, Muhammadu Sanusi II, rolled out its policy of inspiring a cashless economy, not many people gave it a chance of survival. The pronouncement was trailed by the whiff of doubt that often accompanies such policy declaration in Nigeria.
The palpable feeling among the undiscerning was that the policy was bound to hit the rock sooner than it had started. Their argument was largely predicated on the nation’s weak infrastructural base, ditto for the almost non-existent data base. For the critical stakeholders and observers, however, the whole idea of instigating a cashless economy was certainly the way to go, the hurdles notwithstanding. They opined that Nigeria could no longer afford to lag behind the rest of the world where technology now leads the way in propelling the economies of nations.
Of course, the banking sector was and still the greatest player in the financial sector. While it could be said that prior to this time, the recapitalization exercise earlier embarked upon by the apex bank forced a purposeful sit-up for several of the banks that scaled that hurdles and they had begun to invest heavily in technology, the cashless policy was definitely bound to exert a lot more pressure and demand. And it did, almost cascading into a rat race among all the banks. It was either they deployed technology to its fullest like their contemporaries in other parts of the world, or risk losing out in the emerging cashless space, where discerning customers demand nothing less than the best cutting edge satisfactory service.
For, in this e-world, technology, ease of access and convenience are the watchwords. It became quite clear that the world had moved on and any self-respecting bank that hopes to be a big player in business, nationally or internationally, could not afford to ‘carry last’, as the common street parlance is wont to put it. Apparently, virtually all the banks knew that a new day had dawn. It could no longer be business as usual. Consequently, they began to devote attention at developing a system that could support the flow of business the way it now appeared through purposeful investment in technology and intensive manpower development. This needed to be done to enable them stay on top of the game. It was a world of limitless opportunities that emerged and only the wise would fly with the tide.
While the CBN as a regulatory force was waiting on one hand to bear its fang on recalcitrant players, the other leg of that showed the pathway laced with the irresistible allure of the bulging youth population and the retinue of the unbanked population equally offered itself for grab, for anyone bank prepared to win the trophy. To my mind, the battle line between the subsisting banks was sharply drawn, and the victory was bound to be decided on three key values: dynamism, focus and service.
Certainly, the jury is still out on how each of the banks have fared, years down the lane. However, one cannot fail to admit that the one banking institution that has shown great promise and leadership is the First Bank Nigeria Limited. Aside its very highly successful recapitalization experience, the bank through undeniable managerial wizardry promptly swung into action to position itself, albeit, strategically, for the limitless opportunities the emerging cashless economy held. Not only did the bank invested aggressively in cutting edge technology and innovation to the delights of its already expansive customer base, it also appropriated sufficient funding for retooling its workforce towards enhancing banking operations and customers experience.