Sekibo: We Have No Regret Acquiring Enterprise Bank

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Mr. Ifie Sekibo is the Managing Director/Chief Executive Officer of Heritage Bank Plc. In this interview with Joseph Ushiaghale, Chika Amanze-Nwachuku and Obinna Chima, the bank CEO responded to all the allegations levelled against the financial institution. He also highlighted some of the programmes put in place by the bank to ensure its numerous customers get the best value for their investments. Excerpts:

We have had this continuous negative news about your bank, that it is illiquid and that you can no longer meet your obligations to customers. What is the true situation of things at Heritage Bank?

The true situation is that it is not true that we are illiquid, we have always been liquid. It is true that the whole industry faced some form of liquidity challenge when we all moved monies into the Treasury Single Account (TSA). So, a customer makes a request overnight for N2 billion or N3 billion, and you tell him to allow you pay him over two days, and they shout, thinking it is illiquidity. It is not! It has to do with the management of your liquidity position. But we dare to say that since June that this negative press started and till today, our doors have not closed one day. Every customer that comes in gets his money. Yes, there could be delays, but those are normal banking activities where you are managing your liquidity naturally, so that you gauge your inflows and outflows and know how to manage them. And if anybody would look at it, we have over this period, because of the negative press, not that the negative press are true, and people’s anxiety, we had flight to safety.

That is some customers took their money away from the bank, and when they found out that nothing happened to the bank, they brought back their money. In that outflow period, over N300 billion left our system and came back into our system. It left and majority of that fund have come back in, because people have realised that it is all false rumours. Firstly, they said the next bank the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) would take over was going to be Heritage Bank. It is not true! The central bank cleared that issue.

Again, some people believe that if you don’t sell foreign exchange (FX) to them, then you are illiquid, it doesn’t add up that way. FX is a general problem within the industry. If we can’t get it from the central bank and it is not available, we can’t sell what we don’t have. So, for somebody to say if you don’t sell FX, that means you are illiquid, it doesn’t add up that way. Are my customers who have domiciliary accounts with me satisfied? Yes they are. Am I able to fund Letters of Credit (LCs) that are legitimate? Yes, I am.

Am I able to open new LCs? Yes I am. Am I able to give credit to customers that need them? Yes I can. So, if I am doing all these natural banking and traditional banking, where then is the illiquidity that anybody is talking about? Naturally, when people hear that there is a problem, they rush to the doors of the bank and even the slightest service failures could make people believe it is true. But when you correct the service failure and naturally everything is going on well, then you ask, where is this story coming from? We are a public institution and so members of the public react to the kind of news they get and the kind of news they are fed with. We are saying that there is no such thing as illiquidity and we are not insolvent. We are very liquid, we are meeting our obligations and we would continue to meet our obligations.

You touched on the FX issue. One of the allegations was that the FX in the domiciliary accounts of your customers had been eroded by the bank?

Let me put that in context. And this has to do with the entire industry. When we first had challenges with FX, we resolved either to bring down our past due obligations of our customers, to use some of our domiciliary account position to be able to fund. It was a national issue. If you don’t pay down your past due obligations outside with your correspondent bank, they cut off your credit lines and everything you have. Your customers would be unable to open new LCs. So, you took the difficult decision to say let’s fund from our position, those LCs, believing that either the CBN, or you could have funds from export proceeds to be able to meet those obligations.

Now, because the supply from those two ends is limited, there is a funding gap. That funding gap could cause delays here and there. Don’t forget that we have risk assets which are loans we have given to customers in dollars. They also pay in piecemeal. So, sometimes, a customer comes to say he wants to take $1 million and you promise to give him his $1 million in two days, because you have a shortfall. Another customer owing you pays back, and you then meet up that obligation.

So, naturally, it revolves. No bank today can say every customer that comes into their banking hall, they can pay them all. It is not possible. And when you have a challenging situation like we have today, the chances are that there would be gaps here and there, but in the long run, you meet your obligation and pay them, which is most important to the customers. There is no where that it is written that if John gives me $1, I should keep the $1 and wait for him and whenever he comes, I should give it back to him. When John’s $1 comes, I can use it to pay Peter. When James’ $3 comes and John request from his $1, I would take from the $3 to give him and then keep $2. That is cash management and in that process there could be gaps, which is why we have the interbank.

If I have a gap, I can call on Bank B, to say I have a gap and I need fund, and I would pay interest to Bank B for that gap to be filled. The day Bank B also has a gap, it would call on Heritage Bank for support to cover its gap also. And that gap coverage might be one day or two days. It doesn’t make the bank insolvent or illiquid at all. The system is self funding and self correcting over time. So, you don’t just target one bank, when in truth every bank will do the same thing.

Another of the allegation was that your bank is now relying heavily on the interbank market and borrowing at very high interest rates?

There is what is called the interbank. In today’s market, if I have to take money from bank B, I would give them treasury bills in replacement. It is a treasury play. If I say Bank A, give me N1 billion, I must give Bank A N1 billion worth of treasury bills. That is in lieu of cash. When I get my cash, I return back the N1 billon and collect back my treasury bills and keep. When they don’t have, they would give me same treasury bills and give them cash. That is what the interbank market is all about.

Now, some banks have relationship with other banks that don’t require them to give treasury bills, just the money. We call that clean lines. As a new bank, I don’t have a clean line with any bank. So, every bank that gives me N1, I give them corresponding treasury bills, which means I must be strong. So, while you call it borrowing, for us, it is a treasury play. Again, I might have a customer that wants to do a transaction.

For instance, he wants to bring in goods and request that Heritage Bank should borrow him N2 billion. And I say okay, rather than use my cash which I use in trading everyday, I can go to Bank A, give the bank treasury bills, I collect the cash and give to customers. The bank gives me at probably interbank rate, I top it up and give to the customer. The customer finishes, refunds me my money and I redeem my treasury bills. So, how I manage my treasury is a function of what I see, what I read in the economy and how I view the economy. I might have tonnes of cash and I may decide to buy treasury bills and hold and take cash from interbank. Sometimes, treasury bills rates are better than interbank rates.

So, I will put the money in treasury bills and collect cash from the interbank. What I now do is to go to the central bank, buy treasury bills at a higher rate, I take the treasury bills, I go to Bank A and say take treasury bills and give me cash, at a lower rate. I use that cash to trade. The net difference is profit to me. That is what is called trading in treasury and interbank market. And it is a continuous thing for every bank. And if while doing that, I have a shortage of cash, I then quickly unwind.

So, doing natural banking shouldn’t be a problem. I have a balance that was published and everybody saw it. We have only been one year as a national bank after taking Enterprise Bank, which was a loss-making bank, and we were over N1 billion profitable. That bank is not insolvent. Our balance is there for anybody to review. We have over N65 billion of shareholders’ funds. So, you are not talking of a bank that is small, even though we are new.

The other issue is that because of what is going on in your bank, FirstBank that is handling your international clearing is said to be very reluctant to deal with Heritage Bank and that your bank is indebted to them to the tune of about N5 billion?

Let me correct that impression. For every clearing you do, first you put what we call a collateral with the clearing bank. That is a basic minimum, that in the event my clearing cheques comes in and my inward clearing is less than my outward cheques, I must have enough to security to cover the difference. On one or two days, which happens anywhere, there was a difference and FirstBank said we should make up the difference, and we made up the difference. Now, when a bank comes under the type of bad press we faced, there is always the tendency of mass cash out. In that period of mass cash out, you then need to find a way to quickly unwind your securities to back it, which was what happened.

That I was out of FirstBank’s difference by N3 or N4 billion is not new and not illiquidity. FirstBank would only say Heritage Bank should make it up by N5 billion. Then the question would be, how much is our clearing collateral with them? Probably, if clearing collateral is about N4 billion, then we need to send them extra collateral of N1 billion treasury bills. Once we give them, you are covered and you go to clearing the next day. Now, when you have the kind of bad press, it is possible that in three or four days, you may have more outflows than inflows. You have to be strong enough to withstand such shock.

FirstBank being your clearing bank would want to know if you are able to stand it and our answer to them was “yes, we can.” And that “yes, we can” is a function of us moving treasury bills. So, we have to do that daily, we don’t do that monthly. I would not want to give FirstBank, N1 more than what I am required to give them, which I will never know until the end of the day. It is only around 6pm of that day, that FirstBank would send me an e-mail, stating our net clearing position and they would inform us of the amount expected from us.

And the first thing in the morning, Heritage Bank would move the money to FirstBank. The next day again, you do clearing and they (FirstBank) might say “Heritage in your net difference, you have credit,” and they will ask you (Heritage Bank) if they should return the money or they should hold it since it is a revolving process. If you say hold it, they would and if you ask them to return it, they would return it. So, whether you have a negative or positive position is a function of how much comes in and how much goes out.

Have we been out of clearing? Not one day, not one minute and not one second. Is FirstBank anxious? Yes, FirstBank would be anxious. When there is a bad press, they know because bad press gives rise to possible more outflows than inflows. There would be inflows quite alright, but there might be more outflows. So, they (FirstBank would be talking to you (Heritage Bank). So, anybody who sees that talking to as a problem, then doesn’t understand banking. Let’s say there is a worst case scenario that I don’t have bills to cover my position that is where the central bank comes in because it is the lender of last resort.

If FirstBank says today, Heritage Bank what you have is N2 billion or N3 billion as negative, what we have as your clearing collateral is N1 billion, do you have N2 billion to give us? And we say no, I would tell FirstBank to hold on one more day and we would talk to the central, bank, so that we can borrow from the CBN and give you (FirstBank). So the CBN would give us the money at the Monetary Policy Rate (MPR) plus five. While the CBN sets the MPR is that any bank that has that would come and take from her and use. So, if then I say because of the rush out of the door, I need N5 billion, to cover for the gap, the CBN would give me. But I must always tell the CBN when I am going to repay.

In fact, they don’t need to ask me, the day they see credit in my position, they take it. It is a self-running and self-balancing treasury system. But we must be talking to each other just to be sure that we know what is happening. So, when people said we are out of the clearing or that we are owing FirstBank, it is just a revolving situation. That was why the central bank can boldly come out to say every bank is okay.

Again, one of the allegations was that you have been frequent at the CBN discount window, which to some is also a sign of trouble?

If you have a kind of negative press which makes money go out of your system more than it enters, you will access the window so that you don’t cause systemic risk.

One of the things that exposed the situation at Skye Bank then was the frequency at which it was accessing the discount window…(cuts in)

No. Let’s separate the two, and this is very important. The reason the CBN intervened in Skye Bank was very clear and the CBN also mentioned it. We are not in that situation and we cannot be part of that situation. Those things the central bank stated as reason why it intervened in Skye Bank do not apply to me. What we have here are normal interbank and banking activities. We are profitable; we are in the money market playing normally. We are placing and we are receiving funds. That one day my placing figures went higher than others, does not mean a problem.

When there is a black swine effect where a negative press comes in and you have a more than normal outflow suddenly, the central bank and everybody would want to know what is happening. Somebody who gave you money for 90 days, from which you have planned and given loans, you bought treasury bills with the money, and the person comes before the 90 days that you give him back his money. That will surely reverse everything you planned for. You have to quickly adjust your cash position to be able to address the situation.

There are also allegations that you and your directors are involved in insider trading and you laundered over N12.8 billion. Also, that the EFCC has invited you for questioning over money laundering. What is your position on these issues?

I think the EFCC is still alive and is still there. Those kind of allegations are easy to find out. I have never been at the EFCC to discuss any such thing. They have never called me and we have never had any discussion on it. There is no day anybody has come to my office to have that type of conversation. The only time almost all bank CEOs went to meet the central bank was because of the NNPC money. They mentioned our name in the press. And Heritage Bank had the least of the amount owed – $85 million, which we inherited from Enterprise Bank.

We took over Enterprise Bank, in 2012, NNPC gave Enterprise Bank $85 million. Today, it is not there, so we are dealing with it. And we have gone into an arrangement with the central bank and NNPC to tell them how we would pay back. I was not in that organisation when the $85 million was given. So, when somebody makes that type of allegation, I just wonder how you launder money that is in the bank’s position. As at 2012, I was not even a managing director of a bank and how can I launder money that I was not part of? So, I am saying it is not true.

So, what do you think is the cause of the continuous bad press?

You see, when we were Heritage Bank, we were at peace. We were small and we threatened nobody, we did our thing and we grew our business. We bought Enterprise Bank. Apparently…(laughs).

So are you saying it was the acquisition of Enterprise that triggered the bad press?

I want to be very philosophical about that. Why? As a business decision for Heritage Bank then, we believed it was one of the best decisions we took. Enterprise was an organisation that had about 160 branches; Heritage Bank had just 11 branches. To get one branch functionally running, could cost you on the minimum, N60 million. It’s a no brainier to say if you get those 160 branches, you can do more business, distribute your services across the country, than with 11 branches. Secondly, the financials with which we used in taken over Enterprise Bank was 2013/2014. It took us a year and six months to consummate that transaction.

So, by the time we finally consummated the transactions, the financials we used were far different with what we came out with. We are not making excuses; we did not go out to shout that that was wrong. We took it in and we believed we could turn it around. Don’t forget our history, Heritage Bank used to be Societe Generale Bank of Nigeria (SGBN). That bank was dead for 10 years. This same group of young men, turned a 10-year old dead bank to life and made it work.

Now, before we could swallow that, we went and bought Enterprise Bank. So, suddenly you are seeing some people who were not able to revive one organisation that was dead, customers monies were lost and we were able to make customers get back their monies 10 years after. We now went into Enterprise Bank with the belief that we can do the same thing and leverage on the branch network. And we succeeded. There was no rancor. Most times if you have merger of that nature you have rancour, but here there was none.

We kept almost every staff. Then, we said let’s keep them for one year and that after one year, we would do an evaluation and then we begin to let people go. We were about to let the first set of people go when the first negative press hit us. So, we stopped and didn’t let anybody go again. Let me show you the coincidence, when again we decided to let people go, the next bad press hit us. What does that tell you? I don’t want to speculate.

I am the MD of the bank, I love my staff, I appreciate them because they work very hard, but not all of us work very hard. We have been told in our faces that some people like to be in a government bank rather than being a private entity, because we push too hard on targets and all that. Yes, we are going to exit people because of targets. We are going to exit those who have been docile for years.

We are saying, is it worth the job of 4,000 people employed in the organisation? If your income is not able to sustain the business in the level at which you want, you need to rationalise. Now, in that space of rationalising the business, some people would get hurt and they could do anything. I am not saying they did, I am only saying the coincidence for me is just too much. As a responsible organisation, we have never woken up and just fired people. We announce it, we meet as a team. The moment we make such conversation, we get a bad press.

So, do you have one house in the bank?

Even in a family where you have same father and same mother, they quarrel. But it is still one house. It is not two houses. I have been a student of banks working amongst each other. The biggest challenge is always the people. Our merger was one of the fastest and seamless, but the people were the problem. Now you say people who were former Heritage Bank and people who were in former Enterprise Bank, there would be a culture clash.

But we took time to educate ourselves that everybody must be equal on one platform. Now, is it possible that some people don’t believe in this dream? It is possible. Is it possible that some of us see the new outlook as a threat to their own survival? It is possible. Now, as the MD, it is my responsibility to gather them and keep selling the dream to them and keep explaining to them that we are better off together than trying to say I was former Heritage Bank or former Enterprise Bank.

Some of them are easily able to look at the new dream and run with it. Some find it difficult to run with it. Even those in the former Heritage Bank see the coming of other people to take their place as a challenge. So, culture is a challenge. We are working on it. We are having conversation and engagement. At our board meetings, we discuss. It would be miraculous for anybody to think that in one year you would be able to get a culture fit for both organisations. That is one of the core challenges of merger and I am sure that textbooks are filled with how to deal with such issues. I am in it and I am managing it.

Am I successful 100 per cent? No! But I will not give up, I will continue to engage. Now, some people might argue that maybe the MD understands where he is going, but what about those next to him? Every organisation has silos. We have had various engagements. We have gone from place to place, point to point and we have clear service mandates. We discuss these issues and try to explain why it is important for us to work hard to make it happen. You can never win 100 per cent with people. You can try.

Now, each time you want to take a decision about exiting workers, you have a bad press, so why do you keep putting forward a dooms day?

Managing crisis is a different thing from managing a smooth going organisation. Your decisions under pressure and under crisis are not you as an individual alone. As the MD, you might have what you want to do, your board might have a view and regulators might have a view. For a bank, the most important thing is depositors’ safety. So, if the regulators and every other stakeholders believe that if you continue with your course of action, you may lose depositors and depositors may lose their money, you have to stop your course of action. The primary item on your agenda is safety of regulators. It becomes the most critical item of the decisions you must make. You may not like it. But it is more important. It is not a private company where you can wake up, do things and walk away. Whether you are a private or public company, when it comes to a bank, you are automatically a public organisation. So, your decisions must always be mindful of that. Your business school solution might be don’t stop, just go, but if you do that and there is a run on the bank, the wider implication is financial system stability. If it is something that you can contain, you might have to be paying somebody salary for inefficiency.

So, that is what you are doing now?

If we have to deal with salary for inefficiency, yes! You have to carry a level of inefficiency in other to protect customers’ deposits. Now, it is a choice that may be difficult for you to take, but it is an important choice to make. The one person that can never lose his money is the customer. No matter what you do.

Another issue that keeps reoccurring is the relationship of your bank with the Senate President. What is Senator Bukola Saraki’s stake in Heritage Bank?

Yes, from the very first day we opened Heritage Bank and the press wanted clarity of this, I took out time to explain our relationship. A group of us, young men and investors, put money together and approached the owners of Societe Generale Bank (SGBN). We held a meeting between SGBN, the new investors and the CBN. And a decision was made to say we the new investors should buy 80 per cent of the bank. Eleven per cent of the bank was given to depositors who had indicated their interest to convert their deposits to shares and the former holders which included Saraki; but it is important to note that Saraki was not the only owner of that bank.

They were 19 other shareholders. Those old shareholders (Saraki inclusive) were given 9 per cent of the bank. My group that came in as new investors, bought 80 per cent with N10.2 billion cash, not N11 billion or N12 billion. That is why when they say I laundered N12 billion, I was just laughing at them. We paid N10.2 billion for a regional bank. The depositors who had their monies in the former SGBN wrote to the CBN that they want to convert their monies to shares and were allotted 11 per cent of the bank. The 9 per cent was allotted to the former shareholders. Thereafter, we raised new capital through a private placement that was publicly subscribed to, in which case we had about 56 new shareholders and the Saraki group did not subscribe to even one new share.

So, they got diluted down to about 4 per cent. When we now got into Enterprise Bank, in order to acquire the bank, we went to the capital market again and raised N11 billion from the market. That N11 billion was over 100 shareholders. Again, I repeat, the Saraki group did not subscribe to any new shares. They got diluted to less than 1 per cent of the bank. And we bought Enterprise Bank. If you look at the shareholding structure of Heritage bank as at today, because they did not subscribe to new shares in the two rounds of capital raising, they now have less than one per cent of the bank.

But whenever people go out there, they would say it is Saraki’s bank. I have said anybody can go to the Corporate Affairs Commission (CAC), you can come to our office to ask for the register of shareholders. We have an annual general meeting in which the register was made public. See, whether there is a pseudo or anything whatsoever, you can trace. You can take each of the shareholders and trace them. Saraki is also alive, you can ask him if he has at any point in time added to his shares at Heritage Bank.

But would I deny that they were the owners of the bank before we bought it? It is true! I was a secondary school boy if not less, when SGBN was running. I wasn’t part of it, I am just an investor. Many investors had tried to buy SGBN over the years, but we succeeded. If anything, I think we deserve commendation. Rather than crucify us, we should be given national awards for bringing a dead bank back to life. I dare people to go do a research of the whole world, whether a bank had gone down and come back to life. We have done it. If nothing, as a Nigerian, I am proud of myself. Every press that tries to run us down tries to call a Saraki into it. The good news is that we turned SGBN around and people got their monies and are able to transact their businesses.

Do you regret buying Enterprise Bank?

No! I would never regret buying Enterprise Bank. Would there be challenges? You may choose to look for the easy way out. Even if you create a bank, you will still have challenges once you employ people from other places. Where will I employ the people? Are they not in the same industry? Same Nigerians, same people and if they choose not to work hard, same challenges will happen. So, it is not because of Enterprise Bank, it is the people. And if we, the people believe in ourselves to say we can make this work, then we can make it work. I tell my staff that we don’t have any reason to blame outside, but we have every reason to blame inside. We should take responsibility and work hard to make it happen.

What is your operation like in the northern part of the country, because they said over there, you are being sustained by just one company, Rano Oil, and that customers have virtually withdrawn their deposits from the bank?

Okay, all my children’s accounts are with Heritage Bank, including mine. Rano Oil is a customer that trades in oil and gas. Does he have volume? Yes. Dangote is my customer. I am not here to begin to list my customers. But there is no, I repeat, and you can check, every big customer in this country has accounts in almost all the banks. As long as FX is involved, they put money in every bank and if you sell them FX, they come, if you don’t sell them FX, they move it to where the FX is sold. Today, I am happy. Heritage Bank from the onset, set out to be a retail bank.

The mix of retail to core business banking is 85:15. So, 85 per cent of my customers are retail customers. They are the SMEs. We have a youth scheme where we have about 1,500 customers on the NYSC scheme. On the National Youth Council Joint Programmer, we have over 50,000 customers. That is not Rano! On my SME platform, I have another 100,000 customers and that is not Rano. So, if one major customer is being advertised, then he must be satisfied to be advertised.

We have many branches in the north and Rano is not in most of them. I have a school feeding programme in Kaduna state and I have a position in every local government in Kaduna state as my pilot for the school feeding programme. I have a farming youth programme in Rivers State that caters for close to 50,000 youths. Are they Rano? You know it is easy to castigate. If I say I have a million customers and one of them is the richest, it would always be the richest. But I am not going to doubt that customer because it is important to me. Every filling station he has, I have to help him serve his filling station.

Most of the trucks of Forte Oil were bought and funded by Heritage Bank, is that Rano? I am not here to name my customers because of competition. If competition says I have one customer and in my books I have over one million, I don’t have anything to prove. I am working towards having a bank where I have 10 million customers that have only N50,000 each. It is also the basis for my agency banking, my retail banking and SMEs’ banking. We didn’t hide that feeling when we said we would help SMEs into a funnel where if we have 50 of them, after two or three years, let’s have one or two of them that made it to the stock exchange.

And we are committed to that. Today, we have the Next Titans, where we are looking at the next set of entreprenuers we are going to build. The winner would have his business established and we fund it. Meanwhile, the 16 of them that reached final would also be supported. If we can make just one of them a Dangote, or even a Rano, I would be happy for it. Rano has paid his dues and if he trusts me enough to hold his business, I should be happy. My core business is retail, Rano does retail and I am happy to serve him. There is a network of supermarket, City Supermarket, which just came up and we are putting it together from the scratch.

We nurtured from the corner shops and today it is planted in about five places. We are building it to be what it can be. We have Shoprite, don’t you want a Nigerian company to compete against them? We are funding it. The big banks probably are banking Shoprite and we are saying that our business model is to support small businesses and grow with them. Today, I beat my chest, if I have not built a network of customers; at least we have supported 10,000 SMEs. We are worth our salt.

We would grow, face challenges, bad press or no bad press. The customers that we have built are with us, bad press or no bad press because they know that when they had challenges like us, we stood with them. They have said to me that they know that those information are lies and that they are staying with us. Eight five per cent of my customers are in the retail space and my ambition is to make it 95 per cent and when we get there, anybody can publish anything he likes. If my customers are happy, I am good. It doesn’t have to be me, Ifie Sekibo as MD, we are building an institution.

I happened to be the person who happened to start it. I have a tenure and at the end of my tenure, I will be out and another person will take over as MD. The first MD of FirstBank is probably dead, but the bank keeps going. Heritage Bank is less than three years old and you want to put me on same platform of the man that is over 100 years old. It is not possible! I will make my mistakes. I have a very professional board and I always tell people to go and check every member of my board, you won’t see a money bag. We are middle class persons, but what we all bringing to the table is our knowledge.

That is one thing anybody can take away from any of us. It is a challenging time, especially when you see those that you think are your friends are walking away, because of some bad press, which are all false. Why? They are running to safety. But the ones you nurtured are standing with you saying that they know it’s all false. But we are tenacious and even stronger.

We are used to challenges. In fact if there is any challenge that I have met, Enterprise Bank was one. It is a challenge because when you swallow something bigger than you, like a big python, you don’t move from where you are standing and you have to be strong to do that. The money we used in buying Enterprise Bank was public knowledge, but they have said all kinds of things. Part of the process of buying the bank was that you declare where your money was coming from. It was in black and white, that Afreximbank would give us certain amount of money and the letters were submitted to the CBN. The day we signed the bridge financing, it was public knowledge and Afreximbank’s agreement was that we were going to fund SMEs in Nigeria. We have changed how SMEs should be looked at. What we see essentially are the glitches in trying to get to the promised land, but we must get over it. If we chicken out, then we are not tenacious.

Finally, what message do you have for your customers?

We are strong as a financial institution, we have very good shareholders’ fund, N65 billion in shareholders’ funds, we are profitable and we would remain profitable. Customers’ deposits are safe and there is nothing wrong with the bank. We meet every obligation. We are a service company in the business of banking. The customer is priority and customer safety influences our decision. We may be young, but we have a large heart and we are destined for great things.