By Ehime Alex, (National Accord)
As information technology evolves rapidly, the disruption or advancement in the banking sector will continue to be digitised. Only the bank that can transform itself into truly effective digital organisation and embrace the changes in digital technologies and consumer behaviour will survive and thrive in both the current and future digital environments.
Leveraging experience spanning over a century of dependable services, Nigeria’s premier financial institution, First Bank of Nigeria Limited, also called FirstBank, has kept pace with the evolving global operating environment, responding to the dynamic needs of its customers, investors, regulators, host communities, employees and other stakeholders. Through a balanced approach to plan execution, this iconic banking Brand has consolidated its industry leadership by maintaining trans-generational appeal and continually boosting its customer-base, which cuts across all segments in terms of size, structure and sectors.
With these unbroken business operations experience, FirstBank has continued to build relationships and alliances with key sectors of the economy that have served as strategic building blocks for the wellbeing, growth and development of the country. Also, with its huge asset base and expansive branch network, as well as continuous re-invention, this Nigeria’s strongest banking franchise has maintained market leadership on all fronts in the nation’s financial services industry.
Minds are still refreshing on the 125 years anniversary of this leading financial services solutions provider in Nigeria. A milestone that will continue to speak volume of FirstBank’s journey through the ages, her footprints traversing the nook and cranny of Nations with indelible landmarks of several firsts in the development of the banking industry in Nigeria, and contributions to banking sectors across Africa, the World at large.
It cannot be forgotten in a hurry, not so soon, how on Friday, March 1, 2019, FirstBank had the world stand still as it held its symbolic flag hoisting ceremony across Nigeria and other countries where it does business – a historic happening which officially flags off the bank’s commemoration of attaining the milestone year of 125th.
The last 125 years has passed, FirstBank says it is now focusing in building for the next 125 years and beyond to purposefully blaze the trail in its industry thereby sustaining leadership position and remaining youthful; an effort, no doubt, that is aimed at redefining the “Heritage of First” into the world of digital banking.
According to the digital banking report for 2018, in the past, providing a seamless customer experience has only ever been secondary to other higher priority items for banking institutions. This has to change to providing digital solutions for customers in and out of the institutional doors.
Meanwhile, before the transition to digital banking in Nigeria, conventional banking system had held sway which historically started in 1952. As it lasted, the industry witnessed a lot of regulatory and institutional advances, with FirstBank notable as one of the five out of 89 banks then; and all through, when in 2004 the banking industry went through reformation.
It could be observed that, when today’s customers evaluate financial institutions, they don’t compare different banks anymore, they compare experiences that impact everything in their lives as consumers for better than ever, with real-time, smart digital services being delivered through various devices 24/7 at the snap of their fingertips.
To survive the digital environment, FirstBank has continued to put in place the right framework to compete and succeed in the banking industry of the future, with goals set to create more efficient operations, higher profits and happier customers, “You First”.
According to FirstBank’s Chief Executive Officer, Dr Adesola Adeduntan, the digital banking offerings of the Bank have been optimised to ensure ease of banking and convenience via other channels such as FirstMobile app, Firstonline, FirstMonie, USSD banking and WhatsApp banking. Fundamental shifts where staying relevant means becoming an active part of a customer’s digital life!
Explaining about the chat banking on WhatsApp, during one of its occasions, FirstBank’s CEO said, “It is one of the ways First Bank puts You First and enables you to stay connected with your contacts, loved ones, friends and finances all on the go while you chat with them because, at First Bank, we are driven to bolster relationships on all fronts, anywhere and anytime.”
It can also be recalled that, Dr Adeduntan said, “Mobile and digital banking leverages native and responsive digital innovations to deliver aesthetically consistent physical and digital experiences to customers. Thus, we deliver real time event driven information and offer to proactively serve the immediate and long term financial needs of customers.”
As the saying does go, with digital opportunity comes digital risk, FirstBank recognises that as customers continue to gravitate to the ease and speed of digital banking, the associated risks will be on the rise.
Telling it as it were to curb the anticipated risks head-on, FirstBank CEO said, “We have adopted a disciplined approach to deliver unique customer experiences through best in class value and customer service; enabling customers to initiate, pause and restart transactions across various channels at any time. Also, we use advanced analytics to evaluate customer behaviour, determine preferences and deliver personalised customer services.” The FirstBank Boss added that, “The bank is focusing on the feelings and behaviour with the aim to provide real value for the customers so as to have a positive impact with the product and the services provided to its customers.”
With FirstBank’s involvement in every stage of national growth and development, the Bank has recorded laudable feats since the advent of digital banking in Nigeria. Starting from 1991, when the Bank introduced first ATM (automated teller machine) in Marina, Lagos, it now has more than 2,700 ATMs across its 730 business locations, 18,000 Agent Banking spread and has earned itself the 2nd Bank in Africa and 1st in Nigeria to issue 10 million cards.
In 2007, FirstBank introduced the innovative credit administration software called Innovative Finnone credit administration software, being the first bank in Africa to pioneer the service. Other notable corporate transformation projects included the launch of FirstContact, the 24/7 multi-lingual integrated and interactive customer service contact centre, a key component of FirstBank’s service delivery transformation, which revolutionised customer feedback processes.
FirstBank is also the first to launch Biometric ATM in Nigeria, consistent with its tradition of pioneering far-reaching innovation in the financial services industry. In 2010, FirstBank becomes the first organisation to be granted notable international standardization certifications, the prestigious Information Security Management System (ISMS) Certification, which is the world’s highest accreditation for information protection and security; and Business Continuity Management System Certification, both from the International Organisation for Standardisation (ISO), following rigorous certification processes by the British Standards Institution (BSI), a leading organization in the field of auditing management systems and processes.
In 2011, FirstBank launched the first Cash Deposit ATM. The Bank has earned recognition as the “Most Innovative Bank in Africa” by the African Banker, attesting to its forward-thinking approach; and named “Nigeria’s Number One Banking Brand” by Brand Finance Top 500 Banking Brands by The Banker, an international banking magazine published by Financial Times, Ltd.
Acknowledged by Interswitch, Africa-focused integrated digital payments and commerce company, as the first financial institution in Nigeria to achieve 100 million sustained monthly transactions in electronic payment, in December 2015 and again in May 2016. Same year, FirstBank celebrated 20 years of partnership with Western Union Money Transfer.
In 2017, FirstBank total number of Firstmonie (FirstBank money wallet) users hit 4,035,307 and with over 6 million digital banking users (the fastest mobile banking penetration across Africa).
Indeed, FirstBank is the first indigenous organisation in Nigeria to launch Human Resource Solution in the Cloud. As at 2018, it won Best Retail Bank in Nigeria (an award given by the renowned Asian Banker Awards) for the 7th consecutive time. In that same year, processes the highest number of transactions on electronic channels in the industry annually, representing above 1.6 billion (about 33 per cent of the industry volume).
Awarded a second time back-to-back recognition for Digital Bank of Distinction, Nigeria; Firstbank, last year, won the Best Bank in Nigeria award for the 15th time, both by Global Finance Magazine.
By and large, FirstBank continues to seek out better solutions to digitise its offerings whilst optimising its workflow and lowering operational costs for the future ahead in digital banking.