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First Bank takes on Africa


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By Ada Anioji


Persuaded that the place of growth today in the banking arena is on the turf of continental expansion, First Bank of Nigeria Limited, a subsidiary of FBN Holdings Plc, has intensified efforts to expand its footprints across Africa.

The most recent initiative in this regard is the launch of FBNBank Gambia, which had been formerly registered as the International Commercial Bank (ICB), Gambia.

The unveiling of the latest offshore subsidiary of Nigeria’s biggest bank by assets size comes following the agreement reached by FirstBank and International Commercial Bank Financial Group Holdings Ag (ICBFGH) for the acquisition of a 100% equity interest in ICB Gambia.

The unveiling further consolidates FirstBank’s position as the largest corporate and retail banking financial institution in sub-Saharan Africa with presence in Ghana, Guinea, Sierra Leone and Senegal as well as additional presence in the UK and Representative Offices in Johannesburg, Abu Dhabi and Beijing.

Acvcording to the bank, the current expansion represents its strategic objective to maintain significant market share, expand its pan-African footprint and diversify earnings while delivering value to shareholders.

Equally, FBNBank Gambia, the bank through a statement explains, is strategically positioned to foster greater collaboration and provide better service for the country’s public and private sector clients, and the general public at large.

It outlines that the Bank would be leveraging on ‘FirstBank’s international network, business expertise, which is part of the diversified synergies of the FBN Group to offer innovative, convenient and secure banking services to its customers and better seize the emerging opportunities in the local market.’

Speaking at the launch event itself, the outgoing GMD of FirstBank, Mr. Bisi Onasanya said: “The launch of FBNBank Gambia is yet another milestone achievement in our ambition to steadily broaden and build a more diverse footprint across Africa. We are committed to developing a multi-local business model that broadens our geographic revenue base while providing enhanced service delivery to our new customers and equity participation to local investors.”

Commenting further, the Acting Managing Director, FBNBank Gambia, Uloma Kings-Olikagu said “Having built value for Nigeria over the last 120 years, FirstBank through FBNBank Gambia is poised to do even more in the Gambian financial market. FBNBank Gambia will provide customers with a bouquet of banking solutions that make their financial lives more convenient and stress-free whilst providing a delightful banking service experience.”

“Given our heritage and market leadership at FirstBank, we are committed to co-creation; to listen and input feedback received from our customers in the development of products and services that are relevant,” Kings-Olikagu added.

Analysts wager that the present FBN to diversify further afield the African banking space is not totally unexpected, even as it also has a historical footing. Initially established in 1894 as the Bank of British West Africa, BBWA, the financial institution which helped spawn the central banking institutions in Nigeria and Ghana, changed its name to Bank of West Africa in 1957 to help it secure a better footing even then as a holistic sub-regional brand.

In its first incarnation, the bank was very widespread and ran operations in Sierra Leone, Ghana, Nigeria, the UK, Gambia, the Canary Isles, the Cameroons, the US, Egypt Morocco, Fernando Po, Germany and Tangier. However, this pan-African and global thrust relatively petered out between the 1960s and 1990s.

After years of being largely confined to Nigeria, the bank briefly attempted to strongly re-explore a continental bent during the banking consolidation exercise of the mid-2000s but failed in this bid with talks between it and its chosen expansion partner, Ecobank Transnational Incorporated, ETI, broke up.

Beyond recovering lost continental and global grounds however, one other reason for the current expansion would be a primary desire to improve its book value. Despite its burgeoning assets base, the bank is currently struggling to keep its numbers above the red lines. One way out is to expand further beyond Nigeria which is in itself facing dire economic straits at the moment.

In reaching this decision also, market watchers suggest that it may have been assisted by the financial records of some other Nigerian brands that have presently moved afield to explore juicier climes in other nations of the continent, and notably by the good fortunes in this regard that has presently been gleaned by one of its competitors, the United Bank for Africa, UBA. As the records outline, UBA’s pan-African subsidiaries contributed an impressive 23 percent to its 2015 half year numbers.

Thus the task before FirstBank is simple: expand to save your life. And if not for the spread; do it for the numbers; and also before a more nimble competitor begins to get more ambitious in their skull…and attempt a hostile takeover. In the world of African business today, many things do happen.

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