Deputy Chief Executive Office Stanbic IBTC, Dr. Demola Sogunle, in an exclusive interview with Nume Ekeghe on the sideline of the launch of the bank’s digital branch in Lagos, spoke on pressing economic issues as well as the bank’s bid to champion digital and mobile banking. Excerpts:
Can you tell us about the new digital branch that was unveiled by Stanbic IBTC and what prompted the bank to embark on this initiative?
This is our very first fully digital branch and for us in Stanbic IBTC, this is the beginning of a new phase when it comes to customer interface, channels and access to products and services. For us in the banking industry, we believe the days of brick and mortar is over and the future of banking is actually mobile. And the idea is for our customers to be able to bank on the go, paperless environment, self-service and if you bear in mind the fact that almost 80 million Nigerians are on the internet, we believe that we should be able to key into that in terms of the provision of banking and services to them. So for us, this is the first and amongst so many of this type of digital branches we are going to roll out.
What distinguishes this digital branch from any other E-branch?
It is a fully digital branch. You come in, and it is a paperless environment, self-service and it speaks completely 100 per cent to the aspirations of the millennia’s. So whatever you want to do, you come in and you go to any of the point and you are able to either pay, collect cash or make enquires everything is available for you. There is very little interface with human beings. When it comes to access to internet products and services, millennia are very conversant with everything that has to do with self-service and internet access. So we believe that we are plugging in into the future and that is one of the reasons why we are starting this journey.
What is your bank doing in trying to attract the unbanked population?
The unbanked population is journey because don’t forget one of the cheapest ways of actually reaching the unbanked is also going through mobile devices. Even though you have got 90 million unbanked, the important thing is the fact that we have more Nigerians with SIM cards and mobile phones. The idea is that what we are trying to do with mobile and internet banking is faster easier and cheaper for us to bring the unbanked into the banking system. We cannot do it by brick and mortar. We cannot do it by trying to open branches in every part of the country. But the moment we go on the internet and mobile banking, it is very easy for the customer to deliver through our products and services. It is very easy for us to do and we would continue to push that to reach the unbanked population.
Most banks have been having challenges as a result of the challenges in the economy, how has Stanbic IBTC been able to cope through this period?
To be quite frank, there are challenges every year and I do not want to underestimate the challenges of the broader economy or the financial system has faced this year. The important thing is that we are always ready and prepared to weather through those challenges. We are here to deliver services to our customers for the long haul and we are ready to go through all these challenges to fulfill our obligations and responsibilities to all stakeholders. So challenges are there and they are always there every time but we have had to maul through in order to fulfill our obligation and responsibilities to all our customers, shareholders, staff members and the communities within which we operate to fulfill all our obligations to them in spite of all the challenges
Stanbic IBTC has a large customer base of multinationals, and presently there are a lot of currency issues. How has the bank being coping with these?
Well we continue to try our best. You are right; FX is a major issue within the system, within the economy presently. And we are talking about FX liquidity not being adequate and even the value of FX that is available is not sufficient but we have tried our best. We have got other sources of FX and we are tapping into that in spite of what is happening given the fact that we have the biggest custody business when it comes to Stanbic IBTC nominee, custody business for foreign investors so we tend to see most of the FX flows. Our global market is also very strong so in terms of trading FX we have also got our parent company. We have had to combine all these to ensure that we are able to continue to provide something that is very scarce but something that is very important to all our customers. And we continue to do that and that is why I mentioned earlier in spite of all the challenges, we have got commitment and we are trying our best to continue to fulfill these commitment to our customers given the FX liquidity challenges.
What do you think is the best way to fix the foreign exchange challenges in the country?
We discussed this at the banker’s committee retreat recently. The FX regime is not the key thing – floating, fixed or flexible. What has been discovered is that all the country dependent on commodity has been affected irrespective of the FX regime they were practicing. We saw that the same thing happened to Russia, Angola, Brazil and Venezuela just name all those countries. So because the price of crude oil internationally had dropped significantly from above $100 per barrel at a point it went as low as twenty something dollars per barrel that is the major problem. So it has to do with the availability of foreign exchange for the country and the central bank has to find a way to manage it right. But the important thing is that every country that depends on commodity as a major source of foreign earning has been impacted. Don’t forget Nigeria depends on this between 80% – 85% on crude oil. So this is something that the central bank would continue to manage and find a right balance. So there is always room for improvement. Don’t forget Nigeria has already devalued the currency by almost 55% to 60%so it has to be managed to the extent that there is cash. There must be a fine way to manage it not to stay at one extreme or the other extreme. One extreme is to have a fixed rate; the other extreme is to have a completely floating rate. Between those two extremes you have a managed FX regime and that is the central bank is trying to do.
You newly upgraded your mobile app recently, can you tell us a bit about it and the safety tools attached to this App?
It is one of those products or services we had to put out there and we had to go through a lot of co-creation processes. So our customers and other stakeholders contributed significantly in the new mobile app. So everything that has to do with security, everything that has to do with encrypting and ensuring that it is safe has already been incorporated and we have no doubt. It is a fantastic product that we have put out there. Everyone who has used it have come back to commend the app. Given what have put into this app, we just didn’t put an app out there; it was co-created with all key customers. Everyone contributed significantly in what we are seeing now. We are really happy about our new mobile app and I would encourage everyone to try it.
Going forward, what should we expect from Stanbic IBTC?
Look out for much more in this digital and mobile space and the banking of the future. We want to be at the cutting edge of application of technology. We want to be at the cutting edge of digitalising the whole process of banking. And the idea is that we have just made one milestone, please look out for more because I don’t want to let the cat out of the bag. At every point in time, we would continue to improve, continue to extent our services to the key customers that we are looking at.