By Babajide Komolafe
A major contribution of the banking industry to the nation’s socio economic development is the ongoing effort to increase the number of adult Nigerians that have access to affordable financial services.
This effort is inspired by the strong linkage between financial inclusion and economic development.
A study by the World Bank in 2017 revealed that there was a strong positive correlation between bank account penetration of various countries and their Gross Domestic Product (GDP) per capita. The study among other things showed that High Income Countries with approximately 100% of account penetration posted Gross Domestic Product (GDP) per capital ranging from $25,000 above while Sub-saharan African Countries with less than 65% account penetration in most cases recorded GDP per capita less than $10,000.
This prompted the Central Bank of Nigeria and the banks to develop the National Financial Inclusion Strategy with the revised goal of ensuring that 95 per cent of the adult population have access to affordable financial services by 2024.
Critical to the achievement of this goal is massive deployment of digital banking channels, with banks leveraging on digital technology to make it easier for Nigerians to access financial financial services from any location.
In addition to this is the introduction and deployment of agent banking network, which involves engagement of banking and mobile agents to reach remote and difficult to reach customers. This led to the introduction of the Share Agent Network Expansion Facility (SANEF), with the goal of 500,000 agents.
FirstBank and Financial Inclusion
At the forefront of these initiatives is FirstBank of Nigeria Limited, owned by FBN Holdings Plc. Leveraging on its 127 years experience of supporting the economic development of Nigeria, 750 business locations including international presence in eight countries, as well as leadership in electronic banking services, FirstBank has been at the forefront of bridging the financial exclusion gap, thereby empowering Nigerians to carry out their financial and business-driven activities in contributing to national growth and development.
Reflecting the leadership role of FirstBank at promoting digital payment in the country, the bank has issued over 10 million cards, while it has more than 10 million people on its USSD Quick Banking service through the *894# banking code and over 4.5 million people on FirstMobile platform.
The bank developed and introduced the FirstMobile with the aim of putting its customers ahead in enjoying the art of digital banking services. Among other things, FirstMobile app is configured with modern banking functionalities which are regularly upgraded and designed with self-service features to ease the navigation capability and proficiency of customers to carry out their respective transactions with no hassles.
FirstMobile is also embedded with a card protection service for customers to enable and disable cards on channels, account switch off as well as second-factor authentication and device registration. With the upgraded FirstMobile, customers can remotely initiate the request for a new debit card as well as the replacement of a lost or damaged one.
To complement the FirstMobile, the bank recently launched of the LIT Application, created to revolutionise the culture and experience of mobile banking in Nigeria.
According to the bank, “The LIT application is not just about bills payment, funds transfer or airtime recharge, but also the app is equipped with several other exciting features that reiterate the bank’s resolve to continually expand its digital architecture to modernise its interaction with customers, irrespective of where they may be across the world.
“These functions of the LIT app include: multiple transfers which allow customers to select several beneficiaries at once for a single transfer; account opening opportunities for non-customers as well as account management, enabling customers to identify their relationship managers for immediate assistance, should the need arise.
Agent Banking Network
FirstBank introduced the FirstMonie Agent Network to drive its commitment to bridging the financial exclusion gap, providing convenient banking services that are easily accessible, thereby saving time and travel costs for individuals in the suburbs and remote environments that have no access to financial services.
Currently, the bank has over 114,000 Firstmonie Agents, spread across 772 Local Government Areas in the country.
Recently, FirstBank unveiled a N100 billion Agent Credit Scheme to empower its Firstmonie Agents to grow their businesses, whilst being at an advantage to contribute to national development.
In recognition of the above efforts, the bank recently received four major awards from two global organisations. These include the 2021 ‘’Retail Banking CEO of the Year Nigeria’’, ‘’Most innovative Retail Banking App Nigeria’’ and ‘’Best CSR Bank Nigeria’’ awards by Global Banking and Finance magazine.
The Global Banking and Finance Awards (GBFA) reflect the innovation, achievement, strategy, progressive and inspirational changes taking place within the Global Financial community. The awards were created to recognize companies of all sizes which are prominent areas of expertise and excellence within the financial world.
According to the organisers of the GBFA, the three awards conferred on FirstBank are in recognition of the indelible roles it plays in deepening financial inclusion in the country; advancing the digital banking eco-system as well as impacting individuals in its host communities with technology to make learning available to individuals of all ages, amongst many others.
Speaking on the awards, Chief Executive Officer of FirstBank, Dr. Adesola Adeduntan, said ‘’we are proud to be recognized with these awards, which speak to the investments we have made over the past years in bolstering our electronic platforms for our customers; enhancing financial inclusion through agent banking as well as empowering our communities in the education space especially by bridging the digital divide through e-learning initiative.
“These awards are dedicated to all our customers, as the trust they reposed in us being their bank of first choice in meeting their business and financial needs has been instrumental to the success we have achieved in our existence of over 127 years. We remain committed to putting You, our customers First as we contribute to the growth and development of our host communities” he concluded.
Furthermore,in May, FirstBank emerged as the second ‘most admired financial services brand’ in Africa – for the second straight year – at the 2021 Brand Africa 100: Africa’s Best Brands Event.
Brand Africa is an intergenerational movement to inspire a great Africa through promoting a positive image of Africa, celebrating its diversity and driving its competitiveness. It is a brand-led movement which recognizes that in the 21st century, brands are an asset and a vector of image, reputation and competitiveness of nations.
The award according to the organisers was in recognition of FirstBank’s leading digital banking services and innovative products like FirstMobile, USSD, Firstmonie Agent amongst many others, which have been essential to promoting cashless transactions in today’s digital age. “FirstBank’s digital savviness extends to the social media platforms where it has been ranked by Financial Brand as the number one on Instagram in Nigeria and second globally based on the highest number of fan base/followers and it’s clearly poised to reclaim number 1 position across all parameters,” they noted.
Appreciating the recognition on behalf of the bank, Dr Adesola Adeduntan, said, “we are grateful to Brand Africa for the back-to-back recognition as the ‘Second Most Admired Financial Services Brand in Africa’. This is a testament to the impactful role we are playing in promoting socio-economic development in Africa, which includes being at the forefront of bridging the financial inclusion gap as well as our commitment to supporting Small and Medium Enterprises because of the critical role they play in economic growth and development”. He further noted that FirstBank has created a functional ecosystem for SMEs to thrive through various value adding solutions and value propositions.
Since its establishment in 1894, FirstBank has consistently built relationships with customers focusing on the fundamentals of good corporate governance, strong liquidity, optimised risk management and leadership. Over the years, the bank has led the financing of private investment in infrastructure development in the Nigerian economy by playing key roles in the Federal Government’s privatisation and commercialisation schemes. With its global reach, FirstBank provides prospective investors wishing to explore the vast business opportunities that are available in Nigeria, an internationally competitive world-class brand and a credible financial partner.
Over the years, the bank has won several international awards. For example, FirstBank has been named “Most Valuable Bank Brand in Nigeria” six times in a row (2011 – 2016) by the globally renowned “The Banker Magazine” of the Financial Times Group; “Best Retail Bank in Nigeria” for seven consecutive years (2011 – 2017) by the Asian Banker International Excellence in Retail Financial Services Awards and “Best Bank in Nigeria” by Global Finance for 15 years.