Access Bank Plc, Nigeria’s leading Tier-1 financial services institution, has demonstrated capacity for innovation in the manner it handled the fallouts of the Coronavirus pandemic, which literally crippled businesses and crashed economies around the world from the beginning of the year. Whilst the pandemic threw up challenges that caught many organizations napping, caused disruptions that affected operations, it provided Access Bank an opportunity to test the resilience and workability of its investments made over the last two years.
Prior to its merger with Diamond Bank, Access Bank invested heavily in information communication and technology (ICT), training and innovation.
The Covid 19-induced lockdown not only made the investments come in handy, it also provided an opportunity for the bank to progress its far-sighted strategies of digitalized support for customer banking needs, and supported its quest for enhanced re-skilling of its greatest asset – employees – for the emerging demands and habits of its over 11million (Mobile App) customers during the Covid era and beyond. Although, Access Bank is well known for its customer-centric approach to service delivery, it further stepped up such services using numerous digital platforms, which allowed customers transact businesses from their point of comfort and in the convenience of their homes and offices. For the non tech-savvy customers, the USSD remains a most convenient and available platform for use.
During a recent chat, the Deputy Group Managing Director, Roosevelt Ogbonna FCA, said these investments have seen the Bank recording continuous signon of new customers, thus making it the largest mobile banking network within Nigerian’s banking system, with 11 million customers using its mobile app. The bank is said to also leverage its’ agency banking platform, enabling customers transact businesses within their localities, rather than go far to do so.
Ogbonna also confirmed the Bank’s growth through the COVID- 19 situation with several of its innovations, helping to increase service delivery to the satisfaction of its customers, at this time of experiencing the ‘new normal’.
Quoting him, “as we go into the future, more customers will rely on the digital platforms and alternative channels for their banking transactions and business. Access Bank is well resourced with the infrastructure required to serve our customers and help them through the journey to arriving at a very profitable place,” Ogbonna said.
He continued that, Access Bank has long come to terms with the fact that change has come in the way things were done, in terms of having big offices and big branches. The world may never go back to the PRE-COVID-19 way of doing things. He further expressed that, investments made by banks and other institutions in technology would begin to pay off as the world readies itself for the post-coronavirus era. Although, branch network would remain relevant, about 70 to 80 per cent of transactions would be done via alternative channels, progressively.
“The new normal is here and it is a reality”, he said. “It is about banks and customers seeking out effective platforms that enable them perform their daily transactions without hindrances. As such, there is a channel for every customer depending on the level of security they require, skill and awareness on the adoption of technology”. In his opinion, banks, especially Access Bank, is ready to provide alternative platforms for all customers to transact their daily business with ease.
Speaking further, Ogbonna confirmed that Access Bank has in the past shared with the market, every five years, its plans for expansion for the purpose of achieving its vision of becoming one of the dominant and most respected African financial institutions, as well as the continent’s gateway to the world. In doing so, the bank must remain relevant in the African market. Its current five-year plan is expected to run up to 2022. The plan entails making its presence and operations felt on the continent through involvement in viable markets.
In one of such involvements, Access Bank has operated in Zambia in the last 10 years, consolidating its franchise in the East African country. It has also acquired a bank operated in Kenya, with the thinking that in leveraging its global network, it should be able to add significant value to the market in that country.
“In East Africa, you cannot rule out Kenya because it is central to doing business in that region”, says Ogbonna. “Kenya for us is a key hub as we spread across East Africa. We currently operate in Rwanda, also in Mozambique and we aim to use Kenya as our hub in managing the entire network in that region. There are two or three other markets in Southern Africa that look interesting, but Zambia will be our anchor as we invest in the rest of the Southern African region”.
According to him, “The Bank’s thrust is that in every significant market we play, we want to be in the top five rank in those markets. If we are not going to do so, then there is no point being in that market”.
Access Bank’s plan to be a major player not just in the African but international financial market is quite an ambitious one, such that it inspires confidence in the financial institution as one that is capable of placing Nigeria prominently on the world financial market.
“In our plans, we have divided the Access world to have global financial centers, which includes London, Hong Kong, New York and Tokyo”, Ogbonna said. “We have to be in several of these markets over the course of the next two to three years. We also have what we consider as trade hubs in Dubai, Mumbai, China and Lebanon. In these hubs we have created, several of them will operate as branches or representative offices and of course we have the rest of Africa. Thus, we are connecting Africa to the rest of the world as well as ensuring that Africa connects with itself”.
Our Bank has identified new areas into which it may channel investments, as 2020 draws to a close. This includes infrastructure, telecoms, food and beverages to mention. We are working closely with the Central Bank of Nigeria in the area of healthcare, to support its growth. Others are small, micro and medium enterprises, women and personal banking, as well as agriculture. For sectors not adversely affected by COVID-19, the Bank will make payment extensions to ensure they survive through the pandemic.
For now, number one on the list of priorities is ensuring that the year ends on a positive note. There are indications that this objective will be achieved.