Celebrating UBA’s ‘LEO’

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Oluchi Chibuzor writes on the impact of the United Bank of Africa’s chat banker – LEO – three years after its introduction into the market

Technology has been a veritable gift to mankind, and over the years, it has been responsible for creating amazingly useful resources which put all the information individuals need at their fingertips.

The development of technology has also led to so many mind-blowing discoveries, better facilities, and better luxuries, which has in-turn helped to improve lifestyle and standard of living.
For instance, through relevant technological development, the average individual has been empowered to shop online and carry out seamless transaction any time of the day or night from the comfort of his own home or business place.

To this end, forward thinking companies and financial institutions with eyes in the future who have been conversant with the new trend in customer behaviour, have painstakingly designed new products and services tailor-made to meet the growing needs of customers anytime anywhere.
It is bearing this in mind that Pan-African financial Institution, United Bank for Africa (UBA) Plc, changed the face of e-banking in the African continent for the first time with the introduction of Leo – UBA’s Chat Banker.

The idea of Leo, which was birthed in 2018, was to enable customers make use of their social media accounts to carry out key banking transactions with ease.

This is the first time ever that a financial institution in Africa evolved a one-stop solution to simplify the way customers transact, a key essential in today’s fast-paced world with demands for quick-time transactions and response.

With Leo’s help, customers have been able to open new accounts with ease, receive instant transaction notifications, check their balances on the go, transfer funds and airtime top up.

Cheque confirmation, bill payments, loan application, account freezing, request for mini statements, flight bookings, airtime and data purchases, are some other services that the chat banking BOT has been helping customers to carry out since 2018.

And Leo, the Artificial Intelligent Bot which carries out seamless conversations with his customers – who he calls his friends by the way- has achieved this and more in its three-year existence; allowing users to carry out quick, fast and recurring transaction with ease from their popular social media accounts such as Facebook and Whatsapp.

No wonder the bank has earned a lot of laurels and accolades in the last three years confirming Leo’s global acceptance and recognitions, as pointed out by UBA’s Group Managing Director, Mr. Kennedy Uzoka, some of which are: ‘Africa’s Best Digital Bank of the year’ by Euromoney; The Most; Innovative Bank of the year’ by International Finance; ‘Best Customer Engagement Tool’ by Africa Fintech; Pulse magazine rated Leo on WhatsApp as ‘The best WhatsApp Banking App’; ‘The Best Social Banking platform’ in Uganda; ‘Excellence in Automated Chatbot Initiative’ by Finnovex Awards; ‘Next Generation Class of 2019’ by CIBN; ‘Best Automated Chatbot Initiative, Application or Programme’ by The Asian Banker. The list is endless.

“The formulation of this product, is consistent with UBA’s Customer 1st philosophy, where we have been doing things not the way we like, but focusing on what the customers want, where they want it, and in the exact platform they want it,” Uzoka explained.

“At UBA, we have been continuously working with technology giants that have the global capacity to ensure not only seamless but also effortless banking for the millions of our customers across Africa; as all the bank’s subsidiaries in Africa have activated Leo to perform financial services for customers.

Continuing, he said, “Since 2018, Leo has been helping with most transactions and to deliver any form of banking services. And this has been highlighted more especially during the lockdown occasioned by the COVID-19 virus, as Leo assisted all its users on all major social media platforms to carry out all their banking activities without having to physically visit a branch.

“This, to us, remains an admirable feat because with Leo, the banking needs of our customers have become easy and simple – as simple as chatting”; Uzoka pointed out.

“UBA remains committed to its vision of becoming the undisputed leading and dominant financial services institution in Africa. We will continue to innovate and lead in all our business segments, whilst delivering top-notch operational efficiencies and best-in-class customer service. We are beginning to realise early gains from our ongoing Transformation Program and I am indeed excited about the days ahead,” Uzoka added.

Within three years of operations, UBA’s Leo has recorded a number of milestones including opened a total of 390,756 accounts; achieving 2,169,384 subscribers; conducting a total of 9,605,703 transaction count worth a value of N81,530,918,868. Leo which has over 2.1 million unique users has also generated over 20 million conversations and over 85 million engagements; with such impressive feedback and usage and remains the only AI BoT showcased at the F8 in Mark’s Zuckerberg’s opening remarks.

As a demonstration of his leadership capability, under Uzoka’s watch, UBA has expanded across the continent and beyond, meeting client’s global banking needs through its presence in London, New York and Paris.

In 2019 alone, UBA launched operations in Mali and upgrade its operation in the United Kingdom. On March 1, 2019, UBA launched its full banking operations in the United Kingdom, an expansion move that further consolidates its unique positioning as the first and only Sub-Saharan African financial institution with banking operations in both the UK and the US.

A techie himself, the GMD has ensured significant investment in the digitalisation of the bank’s activities and processes, particularly the LEO.

“Our commitment to customer service excellence is translating to strong, operational and financial efficiency,” Uzoka said, reiterating the bank’s commitment to continue to put customers at the forefront of its activities.

“We are focused on adding value to the customers as we strive to give them an excellent experience at all times. We do this by having a vivid understanding of our customers and their specific needs, and by effectively monitoring their satisfaction through the feedback mechanism, and more importantly, making valuable improvements from their feedback. I am pleased to see we are increasingly becoming the bank of choice for individuals and businesses across Africa,” he said.

UBA’s Group Head, Digital Banking, Sampson Aneke, reiterated that Leo is not just a chat machine, but an artificial intelligence personality meant to address any type of banking concerns raised by customers.

“Leo has been operating a secure lifestyle banking platform on Facebook messenger, WhatsApp and IOS and Andriod to assist customers with their transactions while chatting with your friends and business partners.

The security with this platform has been that for every transaction, a One Time Password (OTP) is generated to the phone number that is registered on your account,” he explained, and adding that the bank is working tirelessly to improve LEO’s services to the customers in the coming weeks.

United Bank for Africa Plc is a leading Pan-African financial institution, offering banking services to more than twenty-one million customers, across over 1,000 business offices and customer touch points, in 20 African countries. With presence in the United States of America, the United Kingdom and France, UBA is connecting people and businesses across Africa through retail; commercial and corporate banking; innovative cross-border payments and remittances; trade finance and ancillary banking services.

In highly challenging environment affected by COVID-19, UBA was able to record an impressive nine months results as of September 30, 2020, and stakeholders have been confident the results would be improved when the full year 2020 results are published.

The pan-African financial institution reported a growth of 5.9 per cent in gross earnings for the nine months ended September 30, 2020, despite the difficult operating environment.

UBA grew its gross earnings by 5.9 per cent from N428.7 billion in the nine months of 2019 to N454.4 billion in 2020.

Net interest income rose by 17 per cent to N186 billion compared with N158.9 billion. Impairment charges printed at N11.476 billion, up from N6.663 billion in 2019.

The pan-African financial institution reported a Profit Before Tax (PBT) of N90.4 billion compared to N98.2 billion recorded in 2019. Similarly, it recorded an after-tax net profit of N77.1 billion, thus putting its annualised return on average equity at 16.4 per cent. Operating income also improved by 10.4 per cent year-on-year to close at N293.7 billion, up from N265.9 billion achieved in the corresponding period of 2019.

The bank continues to maintain a very strong balance sheet with total assets improving by 26 per cent to N7.1 trillion, compared to the N5.6 trillion recorded at the end of December 2019. The shareholders’ funds remained very strong at N655.3 billion rising by 9.6 per cent from N598.0 billion recorded in December 2019, thus reflecting a strong capacity for internal capital generation and growth.