Access Bank: The Making of a Global Brand

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Despite the challenging operating environment, efforts of managers of the Access Bank brand have paid off with its latest Bank of the Year award, reports Raheem Akingbolu

Taking a business from the level of a company to a recognisable brand is always the desire of most business owners. However, experiences over the years have shown that starting a business is easier compared to growing it into an admirable brand. That explains why it is easier to companies while statistics of successful brands are minimal. This notwithstanding, a recognisable and loved brand is one of the most valuable assets a company owns.

According to Nielson’s Global New Product Innovation Survey, 59% of consumers prefer to buy new products from brands familiar to them. As a small business, the survey established that one may be competing against big brands with devoted customers. That’s why brand owners always find ways to differentiate–with a solid brand building process of their own.

Like few Nigerian brands that have become household names in the market, ACCESS Bank entered the market humbly about 26 years ago but with the ambition of becoming a solid brand that would command respect in many sectors. With an on objective, coupled with a properly aligned strategy and service offering, the bank has grown from that humble beginning into banking giant with reputation admirable reputation that transcends the local market.

Today, the bank offer a full service commercial banking, operating through a network of about 305 branches and service outlets located in major centres across Nigeria, Sub Saharan Africa and the United Kingdom. The great work that has gone into building the bank into a formidable banking brand, beyond just a cool logo or well-placed advertisement, but in terms of the cutting edge strategy and precision-driven is not lost on industry watchers and has been fetching recognitions in various forms.

Observers note with importance that the promoters of the ACCESS Brand followed a simple rule of branding; they started small with their branding and didn’t forget to focus on their target niche and audience first. They also craft a clear expression of what their company was most passionate about and added that within a short time, the bank became a major player in the banking sector focusing on four business segments: Personal, Business, Commercial and, Corporate & Investment banking.

Bank of the Year Award
Few weeks ago, the innovation and creative ingenuity of its handlers paid off as it was named ‘Bank of the Year’ at the 17th annual Bank of the Year Awards black-tie dinner in London. To analysts, the feat was not by accident, considering various positioning tools deplored by the bank’s promoters in the last 10 years.

The award, which validates other nine international honors earned by the Bank over the past ten months for operational excellence, responsible business practices and technology-backed innovation, is unarguably one of the most coveted awards in the banking sector globally.

Over the years, Access Bank has established a reputation as one of the most formidable financial institutions in Nigeria. This is unconnected with its impressive growth trajectory and contributions to the development of the Nigerian economy through empowerment initiatives and practical SME schemes. As an acclaimed innovative industry pioneer, the Bank has remained the choice of international financial organizations and multilateral agencies seeking partnership in Nigeria.

The Banker Awards is an annual event of the Banker Magazine, a publication of the highly influential Financial Times of London; arguably the world’s leading monthly journal of records for the global banking industry, with expertise in monitoring and publishing developments in the African banking industry and beyond for more than 90 years. It is a mark of the award’s reputation that it was held in London, arguably the financial capital of the world.

Analysts believe that the latest award will further swell the bank’s reputational capital, particularly with international lending organizations and ease access to loan facilities whenever the bank needs one to further enhance its innovative service delivery a notch higher.
Besides further swelling the banking brand’s reputational capital, observers contend that it has further position it in the global marketplace as one of the most successful banking brand in Africa and with an eye on the global banking landscape.

For some of its pioneering initiatives and outstanding performances, the bank has earned a number of recognitions in the past months. The recognitions include the ‘Karlsrushe Outstanding Business Sustainability Award’, ‘BusinessDay Banking Award – CEO of the Year’, ‘BusinessDay Banking Award – Best Bank of the Year’, ‘EMEA Finance Best Bank in Nigeria Award’, ‘EMEA Finance Corporate Responsibility Award (Pan-African)’, ‘EMEA Finance CEO of the Year (Pan-African’ and World Finance Most Sustainable Bank of the Year Award’.

Presenting the award, Michael Buerk, BBC News journalist, commented: “In spite of the challenging operating environment and rapid changes in the industry, Access Bank has remained a formidable institution. Specifically, the Bank has been a purveyor of innovation in the Nigerian banking space and consistently outperformed industry forecast. It is firmly believed that its operational model, risk management and governance framework, which enable sustained superlative financial performance need commendation”.

Although this view is consistent with Analysts’ opinion on the Bank in the past one year, but its Group Managing Director, Herbert Wigwe who received the award for the Bank said, “While innovation, excellent risk and corporate governance framework might be the advantage we have over our competitors, the Bank is propelled by a vision of becoming the world’s most respected African Bank, and this requires us to do things differently to standout. He thanked the bank’s stakeholders for their support and assured them of improved performance in the years ahead”.

Innovation
As a bank that is being driven by innovation, a lot is daily being invested in technology to make banking seamless in all the markets where it operates. Generally, things are happening so fast in the banking industry that many would think it is the only sector being driven by technology. The reason is simple; banking concerns all, whether old or young. But with many faces of online transactions that have been developed over time, the entire banking audience seems to be enjoying a kind of honeymoon.

As the banking public continues to adjust positively to the new regime, promoters of various banks in the market have also seen the need to raise the bar in the area of innovation to give more value as well as having competitive advantage over others. To achieve a seamless mobile money services, most operators are re-jigging their mobile money strategies.

Few months ago, Access Bank broke a new ground in innovation by introducing PayWithCapture, a mobile payment solution that permits customers to make payments by scanning a merchant’s pre-generated QR-Code using the camera of their mobile device or via a one-step Beacon-NFC System. This is happening at a time a consortium of six banks and Unified Payments inaugurated PayAttitude, an electronic payment scheme that allows transactions in both online and offline platforms. The two products, though share some features, they are different in many areas. The bottom-line however is that both are introduced to create a hitch free transaction for consumers.

Two weeks ago, the bank launched the country’s first corporate-focused internet banking solution – “Primus” – to ease the complexities of daily supply chain and financial management of blue chip companies.

The multi-transaction management software dubbed “a 21st century-game changer,” is one of the 200 initiatives announced by the Bank in July after the presentation of its 5-year strategy for 2013 to 2017.

According to Group Managing Director/Chief Executive Officer, Access Bank, Aigboje Aig-Imoukhuede, the product “does not exist in the Nigerian banking industry” and “will make every bank in Nigeria to rise to the occasion.”

Beyond Margins CSR
The role of Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) to the overall success of any business has been well documented just as the importance of good corporate citizenship to bottomline has been well articulated in different business models. Little wonder that many businesses across different sectors now take CSR very serious.

According to the bank’s Corporate Social Responsibility Report, its CSR philosophy was developed in accordance to relevant international standards and guidelines such as the AA1000 Assurance standards and the Global Reporting Initiative (GRI) G3 sustainability reporting guidelines.
The report focuses on the Group’s approach to sustainability with respect to specific environmental and social issues that were of interest to bank’s stakeholder groups.

The bank has successfully made its impact felt in the area of Corporate Social Responsibility and empowerment. Recently, Access Bank Plc hosted an innovation challenge where several ideas were pitched by participants with a view to finding solutions to problems in agriculture, transportation, security and power, in line with its corporate strategy of developing innovative solutions that drive economic development.

The Access Bank Innovation Challenge is a competition that invites teams of contestants to develop innovative solutions challenges noticeable challenges in the country, and provides them with educational guidance along the path to prototyping and possibly implementing their projects.

The 2016 Access Bank Innovation Challenge focused on the Internet of Things (IoT), which connects billions of smart devices to the Internet.

A total of 15 teams formed by the 76 attendees worked on solutions to problems in Agriculture, Transportation, Security, and Power. The N1 prize money was shared amongst the top 3 winners. The 1st, 2nd and 3rd prize winners received the sum of N500,000, N300,000 and N200,000 respectively.

Victor Etuokwu, executive director, Personal Banking, Access Bank Plc, who addressed participants during the training workshops said one of the Bank’s core values is ‘Innovation’ and this is visibly rooted in the culture and attitude of the employees of the Bank.

“When we talk about technology innovation, it is something dear to us at Access Bank. Innovation is unique because without innovation, we would not make the progress we seek to make. In Nigeria, we are in dire need of so many things and technology is one of the tools we can apply to every area of our economy. In Access Bank, we have used technology to change so many aspects of our operations,” he added.

The recent award might be the confirmation of the bank’s leadership position in the market and a signal to the brighter future ahead.