As the Managing Director/Chief Executive of Access Bank Plc, Mr. Herbert Wigwe, has remained the chief marketer of the fast-growing financial institution, who seizes every opportunity to tell the story of how the bank continues to break more grounds. In his recent interview with an international agency, Wigwe released the bank’s ambitious plans of expansion in Africa, as captured by Festus Akanbi
With a few three weeks to the end of the year, it is expected that businesses would be winding down to fine-tune plans for the coming year. In the case of banks, the wounding down cannot be total as banking transactions are bound to spill over to the new year.
However, in the case of Access Bank Plc, the ambitious expansionist drive which took off early this year will keep its management and staff on their toes even as the new year beckons.
In its move to conquer the African continent, the bank under the leadership of Mr. Herbert Wigwe has continued to defy the limitations of boundaries as Access Bank continues to plant branches in most parts of the African continent.
This ambitious move was confirmed by Wigwe who disclosed that the bank’s target is to have a strong presence in major trade centres in Africa.
Interestingly, while the bank is extending its network to cover more jurisdictions in Africa, it has shown that it is not taking away its eyes from the opportunities in Nigeria, with Wigwe saying the bank is driving to serve 50 per cent of Nigeria’s bankable population.
Speaking during an interview session with Julia Chatterley, Anchor of First Move on Cable News Network (CNN), the Access Bank boss said, “We are making sure that we have a strong presence in all the major trade centres in the continent, to make sure that we use Access Bank United Kingdom as a strong anchor and that we can support corresponding banking and that we can build that model around the continent that supports payments within the continent.”
The bank is banking on its successful outing in the United Kingdom, an experiment that has vindicated Wigwe that a good institution will shine anywhere. He said, “That was the same thing when we went to the UK, people said it was a very tough market and I think we are almost the strongest African bank in the UK. Now, what are we doing in South Africa?
“We are going to ensure that it becomes a hub for the continent as far as correspondent banking services are concerned, we would help support corporates because there are interesting niches in that market that are yet to be served and we would help to ensure greater financial deepening.”
“I think we are on track in terms of profitability our different franchises are doing extremely well and I think 2022 is going to be a big year for the institution.”
Responding to a question on what is attracting the bank into other regions of the African continent, Wigwe explained that such ambitious expansion is being driven by the realisation that Africa still has a large market yet to be served. “Without revealing much of our strategy, there are interesting markets that have not been served that we would cater for. But apart from that, you need to see us in the context of a large player in the continent, banking several corporates in different parts of the continent and putting that whole network together is extremely important.”
Access Bank, according to him, is also aiming to play a very big in the area of trade and correspondent banking in the African continent. Inter-African trade requires stable and strong financial institutions, a role that Access Bank is poised to play.
He said, “trade is important, correspondent banking is important and of course facilitating the development of the country within the South African context, which is, of course, the largest monetary zone in the continent would be very important for us.”
While conquering more grounds in the continent, Wigwe believes Access Bank should continue to maintain its pre-eminence position in the ranking of banks in Nigeria, especially given the sheer population advantage Nigeria has in Africa. Despite this huge population, it is unfortunate that a huge percentage of this is still unbanked.
“We have about 200 million people in Nigeria and there is still a very large unbanked population. We have people outside of major commercial cities who don’t have a bank to service them. What are we doing?
“Apart from ensuring that today we bank over 50 million Nigerians, which means that we bank 25 per cent of the population, but in terms of the bankable population, we have one-third of the bankable population. Now, banking one out of every two Nigerians should take us to about 100 million people.”
“Now, in terms of bankable Nigerians, it would be anywhere between 80 million and 100 million for us to get there. So, we are going to be pursuing this activity through our agency banking network and the fact that we have created a different type of branch network in specific localities that are outside the major city,” Wigwe said.
Robust Customer Base
Access Bank, according to Wigwe, is already making significant headway in building a robust customer base, a feat which he said will grow significantly in 2022. He is banking on a series of innovations brought to the bank as well as the role the bank is paying in agency banking.
“Today, we are probably going to be bringing in about 700,000 customers every month and I think that figure is expected to grow a lot more as we get into 2022 with some of the things which we have done and the increase in agency banking that we have done.”
“Now, the question as to whether we need all of those people is the fact that if you went back 20 years ago, you would have said some of these customers didn’t have enough disposable income to be banked. But, technology has changed that whole narrative.”
“There is a cheaper cost to serving all of these people. But besides that, we see ourselves as one of those institutions that are leading change in Nigeria by providing and ensuring greater financial inclusion, and that in itself would help to jumpstart and support the economy,” Wigwe stated.
Determined to take a commanding role in the financial inclusion drive of the Central Bank, Wigwe said that Access Bank will use its wide coverage to support the financial inclusion policy.
He said, ‘there are several reasons why we are doing this and at the end of the day it is profitable to bank them. High net worth individuals, private banking, and affluent professionals is a market that we are very familiar with, but it is a very competitive market and the margins are thinning out there.
“So, what we need to do is to take it down market and ensure that there is greater financial inclusion, just in line with some of the things the central bank has been pursuing by the way and to ensure that all of this can help in the development of our market and ensure greater financial deepening.”
The Access Bank boss believed there is still a need for more branches to meet the yearning needs of customers. According to him, “There are two perspectives to banking. We have the traditional branches that are serving customers who may want to go to some branches. But let me also let you know that if you look all over the world and ask yourself if the banks are shutting down branches? The reality is that the banks still need a reasonable number of respectable branches.
“Now, we also have those digital solutions that serve customers who don’t even want to get to the bank branch. Now, we understand that the fintech players may be getting an interesting proportion of that customer base. But guess what?
“At the end of the day, if you have a physical branch, even if the customer doesn’t want to get into a bank branch, it helps from an integrity standpoint for the customer to just know that he has a place to go to.”
Wigwe recalled that as a gender-friendly bank, Access Bank in 2006, the Gender Empowerment Programme, pointing out that what the bank wanted to do then was basically to help provide financial services to women and help support their businesses grow.
“We set target, working with the International Finance Corporation, of how many women we wanted to support and what threshold we wanted to take them as far as their turnover and profitability was concerned.
“We did extremely well and we had less than one per cent in terms of default as far as the loans that we granted was concerned. But eight years after, in 2014, we created the ‘W’ programme, which is much more robust and it is about inspiring and connecting women.
There is no doubt that Access Bank is not only ready for the year 2022, the bank is also ready to take Africa by storm.