Nume Ekeghe writes on FirstBank of Nigeria’s women-focused banking products

Former United Nations Secretary General, Kofi Annan once said ‘there is no tool for development more effective than the empowerment of women.’

With this in mind, FirstBank had launched a bespoke solution for women-led undertakings and initiatives – FirstGem for Women. With FirstGem, female customers can access support funds for their total financial well-being, free business advisory to meet their economic needs and aspirations, specialised trainings on business development initiatives, regular information and insight on business opportunities in various sectors as well as discounts at merchant outlets that offer lifestyle products and services amongst other benefits.

The product also comes in variants of savings and current accounts and it is designed to benefit women professionals, entrepreneurs, SMEs, women in paid employment as well as low income earners, traders and artisans.

According to the bank, with FirstGem, there is something for every woman. The bank’s Group Head, Marketing and Corporate Communications, Folake Ani-Mumuney, explained that women in diverse careers and businesses contribute a great deal to FirstBank’s bottom-line and the nation’s Gross Domestic Product in the long run. Owing to this, the bank is committed to supporting women-led businesses to stimulate sustainable growth and national development.

“FirstBank has hosted several workshops to support women-led businesses, especially SMES. The launch of FirstGem takes this support a notch higher to provide access to the required funds at a minimal interest rate” she added. In one year, the FirstGem Product team has been to several states in Nigeria – including Benue, Abia, Enugu, Osun – training women on how to better their finances.

So far, they have trained over 10,000 women and are committed to do more. The bank has also provided additional funds running into billions, created a community platform for the women and provided loans based on cash-flow, not collateral. This month, the bank marked FirstGem’s first anniversary with an interactive session which had in attendance notable personalities with business minds, including the bank’s Chairman, Mrs. Ibukun Awosika. At the session, the Deputy Managing Director of the bank, Mr. Gbenga Sobo said the initiative was parts of the bank’s efforts to empower women and keep them abreast of opportunities for financial growth and
economic development.

“An empowered woman translates to an empowered family, society and nation and this is to serve as a catalyst for that,” he said. Among other things, Sobo reiterated that FirstGem allows women access low interest rates and provides them access to free business advisories, regular information and insights on business investments. So far, he added, the response has been tremendous. “Over 17,000 FirstGem accounts have been opened within one year and I am sure that with First Gem, our women will record outstanding success in 2018,” he added.

An investment banker and the chief economist at Macroafricaintel, Rafiq Raji, highlighted some of the key things women should pay attention to take more intelligent business decisions. “We are out of recession, but times remain hard. Don’t despair, it is going to get better. This is because oil prices are likely to continue to rise as OPEC continues to cut down supply. “Although the oil sector only accounts for 10 per cent of our economy, it still carries the entire economic revenue on its shoulders,” he
added.

He advised women “to learn how to follow economic trends through studying data. In our environment, people don’t pay attention to these simple data trends. Successful people follow the data and use it.” He told his audience who were largely women, to pay attention to interest rate, which is heavily influenced by the inflation rate. “You should watch the news – it matters. Pay attention to things like Donald Trump’s tweets,” he said. “Follow the decision makers on Twitter; don’t wait for the newspapers to report on them. “You also need to pay attention to the budget. It is important because that might determine what businesses do. Then the politics, too, is important,” he advised.

He predicted that “2019 scheming may heat up polity and government will become more sensitive and responsive.” Also, the chief executive at dkb Markets, a financial trading company, Dr. Aderemi Banjoko spoke on stock market investments. “The key to understanding the stock market is to take away all the bells and whistles and focus on the meat,” he said. He shared some Warren Buffet’s anecdotes before explaining the Consumer Price Index (CPI). To beat inflation, he advised the women to start creating another source of income and spoke extensively about the power of compound interest.

“When you begin to understand money and how it works, you will use
your money wisely,” he said. “Most people can become wealthy from what they are earning now; it just depends on how they use it. “When it comes to the stock market, you need to understand what you are doing; understand that trading is significantly different from investing; trading is short term and investing is long term; the mental states for each are different. Not everybody can be a trader, but everybody should be an investor.”

He outlined the four major components of the financial market as:
Fixed income securities, stock market, currency market, and commodities market and noted that one must carefully decide, based on one’s appetite for risk and other parameters, “which markets you want to invest in.” On her part, the chief executive and Managing Partner of Brandzone Consulting, Chizor Malize, addressed the women on the importance of building a brand.

“Brands are finely crafted, like jewellery, each valuable strand adds to the beauty,” she said. According to Malize, brands have monetary value. The Apple brand, for example, she pointed out, is worth $170 billion. “You should build your personal brand because it is an extension ofb yourself and a part of your life’s story,” she said.

On how to build a personal brand, Malize advised the women to be known for something, to build and tap into their network, to be authentic and consistent, to give their profile a face, to build a platform for influence, to craft their own brand statement, to be unique, to build content and share their story, to build visibility offline, to build visibility on social platforms and build a strong digital footprint. “Stop hiding, women,” she said. Also, Awosika advised to those who continue to restrict the economic value of women, to desist from such.

“Only a crazy business man takes half of his resources and locks it up without full utilisation of that asset,” she said. “Every woman is a major asset for Nigeria but until we fully utilize the value within the women, our productivity as a nation would always be low.” She pointed out that her biggest successes in life came when she was already married, demolishing the idea that marriage should be a barrier to a woman’s productivity.

She encouraged the woman to see themselves as valuable and strive to make money through educating themselves. She also urged them to start with whatever little resources they could muster, before advising them to map our their 28 financial goals, write them down and work towards it. On the continued survival of the FirstGem product, she said: “As a bank, it is really important to us.” Some of the core values of the FirstGem is that it provides opportunity for women to create a savings plan and culture that guarantees them safety in the future; and enables them save towards a specific target which includes, enabling women create wealth for themselves and their families from various investment platforms offered through the product – different trust products, short-term financial derivatives, money market funds, among others.