For First Bank, the Beat Goes on at 125

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Business/BRANDS & MARKETING Page

As the promoters of the First Bank brand hoist the flag to commemorate its 125 years of unbroken operation in the Nigerian market, Raheem Akingbolu writes on how innovation and commitment to brand promise have continued to boost the brand’s equity

The story is that of not giving up despite all odds. However, the greater story of the First Bank brand was never told by those who promoted it, but the hope of financial security it gave to the ultimate owners of the brand- the banking public. In a country, where mortality rate is high in the market, First Bank has become a reference point, when it comes to building an enduring African brand in the last 125 years.

Looking back at the history of First Bank Nigeria, it is easy to establish that many factors have contributed to its brand building process. One, a close look at the evolution and growth of First Bank reveals the passion of its promoters towards the brand promise. Over the years, they have not only stayed glue to the promise, but have consistently worked to broaden it. Another major thing that has worked for the First Bank brand is that despite its success story, the management of the financial institution has never allowed complacency to set in for a day. Beyond basic banking activities that have created a niche for the brand in the market place, sustaining the leadership position of the First Bank brand has also come with frequent reviews of strategies, sponsorship and commitment to its corporate social responsibility philosophy.

The bank’s Chief Executive Officer, Adesola Adeduntan, captured it well few days ago, when the management of First Bank Holdings rolled out the drum to mark the 125th anniversary of a brand that has become a legacy brand in the Nigerian business environment. Speaking during the anniversary flag hoisting Adeduntan said the bank was celebrating 125 years of unbroken business operations in Nigeria.

Adeduntan said in the last 125 year, the institution has been “supporting and enabling dreams”.

“We are celebrating 125 years of trust, safety and security as well as 125 years of long term value to all stakeholders,” he said.

He said: “This is a remarkable day as we officially flag off the commemorative activities marking the 125th anniversary of our iconic pan-African institution. First Bank clocks 125 years on March 31, certainly a big deal for us and our very supportive stakeholders. Today is a special day as we witness the hoisting of our 125th anniversary flag in celebration of this uncommon milestone in the annals of Nigeria’s history.’’

Presidential Message

Few hours after the flag hosting, President Muhammadu Buhari was among the first set of people to send goodwill message to the management of the bank. While congratulating First Bank Nigeria on its 125th anniversary, which he said, “historically and remarkably marked the commencement of banking in the country in 1894”, Buhari commended the board, management and staff for upholding the vision of the founder, Alfred Lewis Jones.

In a statement by his Special Adviser on Media and Publicity, Femi Adesina, the president felicitated with the bank on behalf of the Federal Executive Council (FEC) and Nigerians in general.

Buhari joined the financial services industry, particularly the banking sector, in celebrating “the purposefulness, prudence and propriety that has become the hallmark of the bank for more than a century and quarter.”

Earlier, patrons of the bank and other corporate entities in the FBN Holdings Group had collectively had a 125km relay walk to celebrate the bank’s 125 years of unbroken business operations in commemoration of the anniversary.

Growth Trajectory

Beyond any reason that may be given by brand owners, who involve in rebranding, one thing that is sacrosanct is the need to keep abreast of changing needs in the market place. This happened few years ago, when the First Bank Holdings rolled out the drum to usher in a new identity. In less than 24 hours after the official unveiling, customers, who visited a few branches of some branches and other subsidiaries of the group had started noticing the change. According to THISDAY findings, the conceptualisation and implementation of the new identity had taken the creative eggheads within and outside the bank some 18 months before they arrived at the final output. What this translated to, it was not done in a hurry.

Above all, as a best-fit corporate governance promoter, First Bank’s corporate governance practice remains at the industry’s leading-edge. This is especially evident in its laudable leadership transition processes, ensuring that there is seamless business continuity and stability in all aspects of the bank’s businesses.

Another thing that has distinguished the brand is the long-drawn transformation in the Nigerian financial services sector, which has also made it Nigeria’s strongest financial services group. This is arguably as a result of its proactive and far-reaching transformation programme initiated ahead of the turn of the present century. First Bank was the first quoted company in Nigeria to achieve the feat of hitting the trillion naira mark in market capitalisation, the clearest evidence of the market’s estimation of its worth. In 2012, the First Bank Group adopted a holding company structure – FBN Holdings Plc – in recognition of the need to retain the diversity of the bank’s businesses, to enable the provision of a full range of financial services needs to customers beyond commercial banking, to investment banking, insurance and other financial services.

The commercial banking group is reputed to be led by First Bank, which has operations in 12 countries, with nine subsidiary companies which provide a comprehensive range of retail and corporate financial services, including commercial banking operations, pension fund management, and mortgages, offering banking services to a rich network of both individual customers and businesses.

Perhaps a major development in recent time, which has helped the bank to deepen its global acceptability, is the fact that its promoters don’t limit themselves to the local market. Knowing well that building a global brand requires more than just launching a website, that is accessible from almost anywhere in the world, they have moved further by understanding customer behaviour across the major markets in Africa. To this end, First Bank has all along been positioned properly. This explains why First Bank has today become a well-diversified financial services group and the largest private sector financial services provider in sub-Saharan Africa, except probably South Africa. In all the markets where it operates, the bank maintains the leading position and well recognised brand equity with a large customer base. With almost 800 business locations in Nigeria, all online and real time, the bank has one of the largest domestic sales networks in the country.

As a market leader in the financial services sector, First Bank pioneered initiatives in international money transfer and electronic banking in the country, serving more than 9 million customer accounts.

First Bank’s strategy has been focused on restructuring the business to take advantage of growth opportunities within the industry, pursuing business line expansion across strategic business units, continuously implementing a systematic international expansion plan, sequencing its growth initiatives across defined metrics, as well as building synergies and cross-selling across the First Bank Group. This strategy supports the brand’s vision of being the leading sub-Sahara African financial services group. It is believed by analysts that continued implementation of this strategy will produce long-term profitable growth as well as build great franchises and deliver value to all stakeholders.

Sponsorship and innovation

To take its message to the youths, First Bank, had few years ago threw its weight behind Nottinghilll Carnival. This was seen by analysts as a fresh journey towards creating a new appeal among future banking audience. Then came the sponsorship of ‘Before 30’, a TV drama series, which tend to address the issue of late marriage among city ladies, which was also powered by the management of the First Bank Nigeria Plc, in Lagos.

Again, few years ago and in what looked like a rare positioning move, handlers of the brand had come out with a new innovation; ‘First Premium Lounge’, which was conceptualised to give patrons a better banking experience. According to the management, it was aimed at providing unimaginable comfort for loyal customers of the brand, who determined to have long-term relationship with the bank.

As the bank strives for leadership among competing brands in the financial sector within and outside Africa at 125 years, it is believed across board that if the management of the bank keeps the tempo, the First Bank brand will soon emerge Africa’s best.