Access Bank Makes Strong Positioning Statement with Global Recognitions

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Raheem Akingbolu writes on the recent exploits by Access Bank Plc at the 2017 Karlsruhe Sustainable Finance Awards in Germany as well as its upgrade by Agusto to Aa- in its new rating and concludes that the feats have further confirmed the international status of the brand

In most cases, the strength of a brand is not only measured by how it has been able to rub off on the bottom line of the business but also its ability to sustain equity in the market place. For brands that operate in competitive sectors, achieving such objective is always a big task. This explains why some brands don’t stand the test of time before kissing the dust. In the Nigerian financial sector where competition is the order of the day, many banks have recorded low rating as a result of failure to withstand the heat. However, a few of the brands have not only sustained the tempo, they have actually done the country proud on the global scene.

Access Bank Plc falls in the second category. Like all breakaway brands, the bank has consistently formed an emotional connection with its audience as well as growing its brand equity respectively. The brand owners understand the rules of the game and the language of their banking public and have continued to pursue it with high level of professionalism. Of course, all these efforts have not gone unnoticed as the bank continues to attract laurels and recognition within and outside the country.

Fresh
For the second time in a row, Access Bank recently won “Outstanding Business Sustainability Achievement Award 2017” at the 2017 Karlsruhe Sustainable Finance Awards in Germany. In a related development, foremost rating agency in Nigeria, Agusto & Co, has raised the bank’s rating from “A+” to “Aa-”, with a stable outlook. The upgrade reflects Access Bank’s strong financial profile, resilient profitability levels and solid capital position. To analysts, the feat has simply confirmed the status of the bank as an outstanding brand in the nation’s financial sector.

Aside the upgrade, Agusto & Co also recognised Access Bank as an institution of very good financial condition and strong capacity to meet its obligations.The rating is further supported by the bank’s strong domestic presence supported by extensive branch network, good liquidity profile as well as experience and skill of its management team.

Speaking on the new rating, Group Managing Director/CEO, Access Bank Plc, Herbert Wigwe, said, “The rating only goes to confirm our consistency over the years in delivering superior value to our stakeholders in line with our vision to be the world’s most respected African bank.The upgrade in the bank’s outlook reflects our commitment to the core values of innovation, professionalism and devotion to excellence in our operations and service delivery.”
The rating upgrade reflects Agusto & Co’s view that Access Bank has strengthened its risk profile, deepened its retail banking drive by creating a digital business and embracing a cost-reduction programme and the use of value chain to capture small businesses in the retail segment of the market.

This is further supported by the bank’s five year strategic plan to rank among the top three banks in its chosen markets and across financial metrics by the end of 2017. It has translated to a growth in market share for Access Bank with the bank becoming the third largest bank on the basis of its total assets and contingents of N3.3trillion as at 31 December 2016.

“We note positively, the bank’s proactive risk management measures such as frequent stress testing of the loan portfolio, the reduction in foreign currency (FCY) loan book exposures and the frequent review of its loan book played significant role in preserving asset quality,” Agusto & Co stated in its credit rating report.

Imports
The uniqueness of the “Outstanding Business Sustainability Achievement Award 2017,” which was won at the 2017 Karlsruhe Sustainable Finance Awards in Germany was the fact that it was the first African bank to receive this prestigious accolade.

The award conveners presented the accolade in recognition of Access Bank’s outstanding success in incorporating economic, social and environmental aspects into its corporate strategy and business processes. This prize also brings global recognition to the bank’s impressive success in holistically embedding sustainability across all aspects of operations within the financial institution.

The award ceremony, which held last week, was attended by CEOs of leading international financial institutions, senior executives of other winning institutions and top German government officials.

Speaking at the presentation ceremony Herbert Wigwe, Group Managing Director/CEO of the Bank said the award validates the Bank’s continuous efforts and commitment to the Sustainable Development Goals.
“Since we were here last year to receive the 2016 “Outstanding Business Sustainability Achievement Award,” Access Bank has continued to champion responsible investing, innovative health initiatives, environmental protection and financial inclusion. We are doing this profitably. So, we continue to encourage other institutions to embrace the same principles and practices,” Wigwe said.

“At Access Bank, we believe our operations; loan and project finance must have the barest environmental footprint. Indeed, we believe the net impact of our activities must be positive on the environment. As such, we are champions of climate change mitigation and adaptation” he added. He assured that the bank would be further motivated and maintain profitable growth while embracing sustainability.

The conveners said the 2017 awards focused on honouring organisations that have made outstanding contributions in the field of sustainable finance, stimulated the interests of financial institutions and other stakeholders in integrating sustainability in their core business strategy.
It also recognises candidates who promote growth of sustainable financial instruments and markets worldwide particularly in the fields of green finance and investments, financial inclusion and social finance, green equity and holistic integration of sustainability in the financial services institutions.

Like few Nigerian brands that have become household names in the market, the new Access Bank entered the market humbly in 2002, but with the ambition of becoming a solid brand that would command respect in many sectors. Its handlers were able to know early enough that branding was much more than just a cool logo or well-placed advertisement.

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 crafted a clear expression of what their company was most passionate about. Within a short time, the bank turned to a major player in the banking sector focusing on four business segments: Personal, Business, Commercial and Corporate & Investment banking.

Others
Few months 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. Again, observers didn’t believe the feat was 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 one year for operational excellence, responsible business practices and innovation, is unarguably one of the most coveted awards in the banking sector globally.

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 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.”

Over the years, Access Bank has established a reputation as one of the most formidable financial institutions in Nigeria. This is not 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 organisations and multilateral agencies seeking partnership in Nigeria.

For some of its pioneering initiatives and outstanding performance, 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’.

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.

Several 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.

Recently, 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 Wigwe, the product “does not exist in the Nigerian banking industry” and “will make every bank in Nigeria to rise to the occasion.”

CSR
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 all our stakeholder groups.