For over seven decades, WEMA Bank has weathered the storm in the financial sector and built a robust brand profile across its regional and national markets, Raheem Akingbolu reports
Like other enduring brands, Wema Bank seems to have seen both sides of the coin and learnt its lessons. Like other Nigerian financial institutions, the brand has, for many years enjoyed a seamless operation and also recorded challenges that opened new opportunities. When the bank celebrated its 70th anniversary as Nigeria’s longest surviving indigenous bank a year ago, it left no one in doubt about its resilience with the unveiling of its new logo and identity. The message was about the new thinking in the organisation, to reposition for improved and innovative banking services in the country.
After the consolidation in the financial sectors, some banks, including Wema bank were declared weak, while some failed the audit process and pronounced unfit for operation. Naturally, this became a burden to both the management of the bank and its agencies, especially, Centrespread Advertising Limited, the agency that was hired at that critical period when the need to reposition the bank became necessary. Among other things, there was a major communication challenge as stakeholders’ confidence was greatly eroded as a result of the CBN audit and subsequent publications in major media on the state of the affected banks. Though it wasn’t good news but the promoters the brand saw a future that could bring hope.
Communicating the truth
If there was anything the handlers of the brand got right, it was accepting the reality. One of the major communication challenges at the time was how to restore consumer confidence in the brand, which influenced them to go back to the drawing board to brainstorm on tone of communication.
Rather than seeing the development as a setback, the team quickly turned the disadvantage to opportunities for the bank through a simple communication strategy that tended to tell the world nothing but the whole truth and a quick readjustment of the bank operational policy.
They knew that it wasn’t all about window dressing. They didn’t tell the public that things were in good shape in all fronts or that they have just posted a particular profit. The management team admitted that even though there had been issues, they are trying to rectify those issues, and rebuild the brand. To them, that would be better than covering the bank in borrowed ropes. To this end, they enjoined the people to join hand with them to rebuild the brand. With this, the promoters felt that it would be more believable and they expected positive result which they eventually got.
For the creative agency, this was a turning point because as at that time, a new management came in and it became a good platform for the agency to launch its communications.
At the beginning, the communication department of the bank rolled out what could be described as a goodwill message, telling members of the public that “great things are happening in Wema Bank”; that the management was knocking things into shape. The mode and style of presentation of the ‘great things are happening’ campaign was different from what one would expect from banks ads as the agency infused some natural elements that has to do with the message that was being passed.
The campaign paraded someone like a carpenter or repairer with things like hammer, nails and other tools needed to put things to shape. This generated a lot of words of mouth for the bank because it was something that hadn’t been done before by any bank. According to a source close to the bank, within and outside the industry, people were calling Wema bank to congratulate them for the job well done. Observers saw this as a good approach and since then, the journey seems to have been smooth.
Just when the dust raised over unhealthy banks was subsiding, the regional banking issue came up and this generated a lot of confusion in the market place. People, who didn’t understand what the regional banking means had the feeling that the bank was actually going down. But having done their homework and knew it was their sure way of getting out of the crisis that was looming in the sector, the promoters of the bank held tight to their belief.
With well cut out strategies and good implementation, the story changed as the bank quickly demonstrated in practical terms that its decision to play a regional game was born out of the need to refocus on its core strength. With this, the bank became a regional bank and made an indelible mark which prepared it for the next stage –national operator.
For an organisation that is conscious of growing its reputation in the industry, it was a deliberate strategy by the management of the bank to celebrate the efforts made in the last four years at positioning the brand as a modern and more customer-centric organisation.
The bank’s latest status as a National Bank is a major point of commendation and demonstrates its resilience for excellence. Also worthy of note is the recent international credit rating and awards, which are added pointers to the innovative disposition of the present management.
Wema Bank Plc recently added more feathers to its cap with the award of International Organisations for Standardidsation, (ISO) Certifications by the British Standard Institute (BSI). The other was the ISO/IEC 20000-1:2011 (IT Service Management System) certification, which indicated thatWema Bank has developed and implemented a template for improved IT services for both its internal and external customers.
Wema Bank Plc is also said to have also broadened its’ SMEs financing in Nigeria. The bank in its bid to actualize its passion for sustainable economic growth in the country, received a N3.3 Billion Line of Credit (LOC) from the African Development Bank (AfDB) to support the growth of small and medium enterprises (SMEs) business in the country.
The Managing Director/ Chief Executive Officer of the bank, SegunOloketuyi described the rebranding process as a “thorough business evolution.” It is expected that this ongoing revolution will fast track the organisation’s drive to become a leading retail bank in the country.
For any institution to survive the test of time, a major element is the connection with the consumers. This understanding has worked for leading brands across the globe, and it is not lost to the management of Wema Bank.
In its bid to protect the interest of its customers, the bank has introduced an innovative card control feature. This is an anti-fraud solution that enables customers choose the preferred electronic platforms and countries to use their cards.
Mr. Oloketuyi who underlined the strategic position of the consumers to the survival of the organisation said, “The customer is at the centre of everything we do and nurturing great relationships has been a hallmark of WemaBank since its inception. We have also made significant investments in people, technology and process improvements in the last few years to lay a solid foundation for the future.”
He emphasised that this is only possible through proper alignment between the management and staff.
“With regular training and development of its staff, the Bank has acculturated the importance of doing things right, the first time with the ultimate goal of delivering excellent service to all existing and prospective customers,” he said.
The journey so far
As the Bank celebrates its 71st anniversary on May 2nd, 2016, this is a mission that it must hold to heart.
Established on May 2, 1945 as Agbonmagbe Bank, the organisation is known for its distinctive brand of relationship banking and has undergone a rapid transformation in the past five years which has seen it gradually regain its pride of place in the Nigerian banking industry.
Widely reputed as the longest surviving and most resilient indigenous Nigerian bank, Wema Bank Plc has over the years, diligently offered a fully-fledged range of value-adding banking and financial advisory services to the Nigerian public.
Incorporated in 1945 as a Private Limited Liability Company (under the old name of Agbomagbe Bank Limited) and commencing banking operations in Nigeria the same year, Wema Bank later transformed into a Public Limited Company (PLC) in April 1987 and was listed on the floor of the Nigerian Stock Exchange (NSE) in January 1990. On February 5, 2001, Wema Bank Plc was granted a universal banking licence by the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), thus allowing the Bank provide the Nigerian public with diverse financial and business advisory services.
However, in 2009, the Bank underwent a strategic repositioning exercise spearheaded by a new management team that has seen its profile rise considerably which finally culminated into its taking a sound strategic decision to operate as a commercial Bank.
In 2010, Wema Bank downscaled to operate only within its core areas of business – South-South, South-West and FCT Abuja. In November 2015 the bank with a capital base of N43.8 billion, having met the regulatory requirement as stipulated by Central Bank of Nigeria, was granted a National Banking license. This historic event has made Wema Bank the first bank to be granted a National Banking License having previously operated with a Regional License.
On the development that the bank has witnessed in recent time, Oloketuyi said he was very proud to see the great changes that have taken place internally and externally at Wema Bank and that his team was committed to offering even better services into the future.
“The new logo is all about creating and nurturing relationships through professionalism, trust worthiness, service excellence, mutual respect, integrity, accessibility, teamwork, innovation, focus, dependability and much more,” he said.
With the current drive and management pursuit, it is safe to say that the bank’s vision, to be the financial institution of choice in service delivery and superior returns, is being attained.