First Bank office
As the organisers of Excellence in Retail Financial Services 2013 Awards named First Bank as the Best Retail Bank in Nigeria, Raheem Akingbolu writes on how the bank has continued to sustain a leadership position in the market
Talking about a brand that has existed to justify itself in the Nigerian market, the name ‘First Bank’ will readily comes to mind.
From any criteria one chooses to judge it, the bank has proven to be second to none within and outside the banking sector. However, of all its achievements in recent times, its re-engineering process, which has helped the bank to sustain the leadership position despite the market savvy of the new generation ones, is exceptional. Since it crossed that hurdle with a few others, it has been a success story all through.
Recently, the bank recorded another feat when it emerged the Best Retail Bank in Nigeria for 2012. At an award ceremony, which was organised in conjunction with Asia’s most prestigious retail banking event - the Excellence in Retail Financial Services 2013 Awards at Westin Chosun, Seoul in South Korea on March 21, 2013, First Bank beat other contenders to win the award.
According to a statement issued by the organisers, the three-month evaluation process was based on a balanced and transparent scorecard, which was used to determine the ranking of various retail banks in Nigeria.
The statement, which was signed by the Director of Research of the Asian Banker, the organisers of the event, Mr. Chris Kapfer, indicated that First Bank was picked based on its performance as market leader in deposits and retail loans with a huge lead compared to its competitor.
It was stated that the bank was the first financial institution in Nigeria to cross the 5 million mark in issued payment cards and the only bank which is able to issue an ATM card in 15 minutes. Other things considered were the bank’s wide reach and good financial performance as well as its strong focus on customer service.
“First Bank has a large customer base of six million people and a large market share in retail loans and deposits. The Bank grew its retail loans by over 44 per cent in 2012, besides its revenue and operating profit. With its wide reach and good financial performance, First Bank of Nigeria stood strong on our balance scorecard”, he said.
The Excellence in Retail Financial Services Programme was instituted in 2001 to recognise the pursuit of excellence amongst retail financial institutions in the region. Its promoters stated that the programme was a repository of evolving best practices from which players could benchmark their own products and processes over the long term.
The Excellence in Retail Financial Services programme is said to be predicated by a core belief centred on the fact: “that a well-run retail bank is one that demonstrates a long term, sustainable, profitable franchise with the customer as its core proposition.”
To the organisers of the award, an outstanding player in the retail financial services industry should demonstrate the following attributes: outstanding annual performance of the retail banking unit, sustainability as a franchise over a long period of time and across economic cycles, a well-defined franchise in the chosen marketplace and transparency and accountability of business model.
Others are; clear sales and execution skills at the product level, rigorous risk management capabilities, superior business and operational processes and technology and strong penetration, and efficiency of distribution channels.
Reacting to the latest achievement, First Bank’s spokesperson and Head of Marketing & Corporate Communication, Mrs. Folake Ani-Mumuney, said the bank is relentlessly deepening its retail dominance with the launch of innovative products and services, tailored to suit the changing times and ever growing customer base.
“Emerging the ‘Best Retail Bank in Nigeria’ for 2012 after a stringent three-month evaluation process is a clear indication of the effectiveness of our strategy with regards to sustaining business services and retail financial products which, has helped to positioned our customers as first at all times”, she said.
The award ceremony was said to have been witnessed by about 150 senior bankers from 29 countries across the Asia Pacific, the Middle East, Central Asia and Africa. The award programme is administered by The Asian Banker and referred by prominent global bankers, consultants and academics. It is regarded as the most prestigious of its kind in the region.
Since 2006, when the then Governor of Central Bank, Prof. Charles Soludo, instituted a consolidation exercise in the banking sector, competition in the industry has taken a new turn. Aside checkmating unhealthy practice, the development redefined the industry and creates a new way of managing financial brands.
For First Bank and others that were then classified as: ‘old generation’ institutions, the new order put their handlers on their toes as they instantly incorporated more aggressive marketing techniques. As the competition became stronger, each player tried to look for the winning tool.
As a brand that has over the years maintained a profile of integrity and reliability, it was not difficult for First Bank to consolidate on its cutting edge strategies, with more commitment to retain the leadership position. In a way, this helped the handlers of the brand to create unbreakable customer relationship.
Having established a credible name and a strong niche in the market, First Bank was quick to adjust and redefined its essence in the market as a bank for all segments and all generation. Expectedly, there must be a way of expressing this; hence its recent diversion into youth based brand activation programmes.
In November 2009, the bank in partnership with Lagos State threw its weight behind the FIFA Under-17 World Cup in Nigeria and successfully connected millions of football enthusiasts across the nation.
Then last month, in what looked like a strategy towards consolidating its full grip on the youth market, the bank inaugurated an empowerment programme in two of Nigeria’s leading Universities; Universities of Lagos and Ibadan to galvanise the students’ populace on realising their dreams.
In today’s market, it is obvious that many things are working for the bank beyond the name; ‘First’. Among these are; total assets and gross earnings, branches that cut across all the nooks and crannies of the country and its presence in some international markets.