Banking for the Common Good: The First Bank Example

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From digital innovation to revolutionary banking, First Bank has been consistent with its pacesetting agenda. Since 1894, in the era of Brick-and-mortar banking, the bank’s customer-centric philosophy has placed her poles apart from competition. This was taken a notch higher with the entrance of Dr Adesola

Adeduntan, as the Managing Director and Chief Executive Officer of the Bank. Dr Adeduntan has led many pioneering efforts and chief among them is his efforts towards solving major economic issues through the Bank’s range of products and services.

According to Simon Sinek ‘all the great organizations in the world, all have a sense of why that organization does what it does.’ For First Bank of Nigeria Limited, it is no different. Since its inception and for more than a century, this Nigeria’s oldest and West Africa’s premier Bank has distinguished itself as a leading banking institution in terms of excellence, customer service and digital innovation. Established in 1894, FirstBank thrives at the heart of banking, where the core intermediation is the role of savings-investment linkage, capital allocation, trade development, and foreign exchange facilitation. Yet, it also focuses on providing various support programs and initiatives that enable it to bridge the gap in Banking for the common good. Over 127 years ago, the Bank began as a small institution with a paid-up capital of £12,000, trading under the name of Bank of British West Africa. In that capacity, it was a precursor of the mother company, FBN

Holdings Plc, which now operates three financial services groups in Commercial Banking, Investment and Asset Management, and Insurance. Through the turn of two centuries, the Bank has stood tall, delivering excellent services and bespoke banking products, coupled with support for national development, education, economic empowerment, art, sports, and SMEs, through sustainable partnerships and activities. All of these have contributed to the growth and community impact of the Bank since it first opened its doors, seeing through years of constant unbroken business operations.

Banking Reach

From Nigeria, its home country, FirstBank has stood the test of time in following the nation’s growth from its amalgamation in 1914 to its independence in 1960 and several other vital periods in the nation’s history.

However, the Bank is not limited to the shores of Africa’s most populous nation. With over 32 million customer accounts spread across Nigeria, UK and Sub-Saharan Africa, FirstBank has over 800 branches worldwide, providing a comprehensive range of retail and corporate financial services.

The Bank’s international footprints cut across the United Kingdom with FBN Bank (UK) Limited in London and Paris, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Ghana, The Gambia, Guinea, Sierra-Leone, and Senegal under the FBNBank brand name; and in China through the FirstBank Representative office in Beijing. The Bank has never wavered in its focus on consistently building excellent customer relationships with an eye on the fundamentals of good corporate governance, strong liquidity, excellent risk management and exemplary leadership.

Contributions to the Nigerian Banking Ecosystem

FirstBank has proven itself to be the leading banking solutions services provider in Nigeria and a significant contributor to its economy over the years. At the US-Africa Legislative, Legal & Good Governance Conference 2022, the CEO of the FirstBank of Nigeria Ltd, Dr Adesola Adeduntan, outlined the institution’s focus on providing service to society through employment generation, funding infrastructure and industry development, creating inclusive economic growth, and shaping monetary policy. Furthermore, the Bank supports the generation of more employment opportunities through efficient resource allocation and distribution, by working closely with government institutions, agencies and parastatals to provide the funding required for various developmental projects that improve the socio-economic wellbeing of citizens. In terms of a wide range of initiatives to propel better infrastructure growth and positioning,

it provides funding for developing infrastructure and industries in the economy through relevant tailormade financing structures. It also helps to balance economic growth by propelling growth in specific sectors through sectorial/segment-based allocation of credit and intervention funding. Finally, as a critical stakeholder, it plays an active role in macro-economic policy matters through various industry and no industry advocacy programs and initiatives in Nigeria.

FirstBank pioneered initiatives like international money transfer, electronic banking, and cash deposit Automated Teller Machines (ATMs) for the 32 million customer accounts it serves in Nigeria. The Bank boasts a rich bouquet of products and services. These range from digital channels to various bespoke account packages, credit solutions, card products, payment and collection solutions. Impressively, the Bank has embraced the tradition of not being limited to its corporate face. As such, flying with the vision of improving socio-economic conditions, the Banking institution pioneers ‘Common Good’ programs covering financial inclusion, responsible lending/banking, corporate social responsibility (CSR) and sustainability actions. Digital innovation is the heartbeat of financial inclusion with agent banking and the development of innovative solutions such as Firstmonie, providing the much-needed focus to absorb the unbanked into the sector. The Bank aligns its CSR framework with both local and global initiatives. Locally, it is aligned with all the nine (9) demands of the Nigerian Sustainable Banking Principles (NSBP) and 5 out of 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) for better impact. The SDGs in focus include Zero Hunger (SDG 2), Good Health and Well-being (SDG 3), Quality Education (SDG 4), Gender Equality (SDG 5), and Decent Work and Economic Growth (SDG 8).

The organization thrives on supporting initiatives/activities that align with the development of local communities and business engagements. These include creating the avenue for Small & Medium Scale (SME) Business Support and Capability Enhancement Program and women empowerment. Undertaking CSR, in 2017, the Bank introduced the Start Performing Random Act of Kindness (SPARK) Program. It is a values-based initiative designed to raise the consciousness of society to reignite values and reinforce an attitude of going beyond just meeting the material needs of people who are unable to help themselves, to showing compassion, empathy and affection.

Setting the Pace in Job Creation and Business Empowerment

With FirstBank, the numbers speak for themselves. Available data appraise the institution’s efforts to ‘bank for the common good of society.’ The Firstmonie Agent network covers 772 of 774 Local Government Areas in Nigeria through digital innovation, thereby bringing financial services closer to the people. Actual numbers place the Agent Banking network with over 140,000 Agent Banking Network locations in Nigeria. This is adjudged the largest domestic sales network of the country. Over 500,000 direct and indirect jobs have been created to tackle unemployment through the network. These agents earn an average monthly commission/income that equals the pay of government institutions in the country. The economic impact via jobs created by the FirstBank Firstmonie agent banking proposition is weighed at touching the lives of over 2 million persons. Notably, over 35,000 agents are women, following the Bank’s bid to drive gender-inclusive growth within rural communities. The network also operates to help access the collection of internally generated revenue across significant informal sector/rural areas in different Local Government Areas.

FirstBank’s contribution extends to empowering micro, small and medium-scale businesses with the required finance to play critical roles in their community’s investment, growth, and employment. The institution provides capacity-building opportunities through Business advisory clinics/Market storms; Business skills training for micro, small and medium-scale businesses; and, Specialized and Bespoke Financing Offerings for SMEs. These essential representations of the Bank are achieved through:

  • Tailored SME lending solutions for selected sectors, with a focus on the agricultural value chain within the rural and semi-urban communities to fuel Nigeria’s economic growth.
  • Basic business skills (business record keeping, financial management, etc.) targeted at micro, small and medium-scale businesses in rural and semi-urban areas.
  • Targeted Financial literacy clinic for artisans in rural and semi-urban communities, with sessions remarkably delivered in the Indigenous Pidgin language.

Empowering Communities Through CSR

As the world strives for gender equality, so does FirstBank support the mission. It is commendable that the Bank recognizes the critical role of women (both in rural and urban areas) in driving socioeconomic growth. This led to the creation of the ‘Women Empowerment Initiative’ to cater to women in Nigerian communities. The Bank has committed itself to specific projects that have impacted the development of women across the country. This includes empowerment and capacity-building programs for women in rural and semi-urban areas. For instance, there have been programs aimed at women-owned micro-SMEs, traders, and women in the agricultural sector from the 17 Southern States in Nigeria, focusing on creating awareness of women’s role as dependable economy change agents. It is estimated that more than 1,000 women were impacted directly by the program, with spill-over impact on different states.

Through its CSR and employee sustainability program, Start Performing Acts of Random Kindness (SPARK), FirstBank has positively impacted the rural economy in Nigeria. FirstBank employees lead the way by volunteering to teach financial literacy, with over 80,000 students are beneficiaries of this across several secondary schools in rural and urban areas.

The Bank has supported over 50 Charities/NGOs that focus on the rural population through support in various initiatives and direct program sponsorships. Over 20,000 widows and the less privileged in rural communities benefit from a partnership between the Bank and the International Women’s Society. In healthcare, the Bank has impacted several economically disadvantaged patients and provided economic support to various hospitals in rural and semi-urban communities. It has provided poverty alleviation support to numerous rural communities in 30 locations across Nigeria. In education, it has offered state-of-the-art ICT laboratories and perimeter fencing to secondary schools located in targeted rural and semi-urban communities.

Brand Excellence and Recognition

It is said that great organizations are proactive. They are in touch with their clients and know their pain points. They offer ideas and solutions without being prompted. It is no different with FirstBank Nigeria. The Bank has received several awards in recognition of its service and commitment to its stakeholders. In the past year alone, Global Finance named FirstBank the ‘Best Private Bank in Nigeria’ and the ‘Best Digital Consumer Bank in Nigeria.’ FirstBank was also awarded the ‘Most Innovative Banking Application – Nigeria 2021’ and the ‘Best CSR Bank – Nigeria 2021’ by Global Banking and Finance Awards. For six consecutive years, FirstBank was named ‘Most Valuable Bank Brand in Nigeria’ by the globally renowned ‘The Banker Magazine’ of the Financial Times Group. It has also been named the ‘Best Retail Bank in Nigeria’ eight times in a row by the Asian Banker Award. The International Finance Awards recognized the Bank as the ‘Most Innovative Banking Product 2021’.

The best words to sum what the Bank represents in its approach to serving people can be seen in this statement by its Chief Executive Officer, Dr. Adesola Adeduntan, when he said ‘By supporting and promoting the socio-economic wellbeing of the society, Banks help to build a stronger business environment where everyone benefits. Hence, banks should continue to focus on the common good by driving inclusive economic growth and promoting the wellbeing of the society.’

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