Nigeria is a massive country with a projected population of over 180 million people and diverse natural resources. The human capital is highly mobile and very enterprising, resilient and ready to take up challenges if given the slightest opportunity and the necessary infrastructure. However, the country is overwhelmed with infrastructure deficit which has slowed the developmental process over the years. Nowadays, these challenges are becoming good investment windows for ingenious and astute investors both from within and outside the country. Currently, a new set of corporate organizations are springing up to change the narrative and drive the much needed impetus to take the country and indeed the African continent to the high point of economic development. Some of these companies were recently recognized by the London Stock Exchange Group, and tagged; “Companies to inspire Africa 2019’’.
FSDH Merchant Bank Limited, a leading merchant bank in the country and one of the companies recognized by the LSEG, led by Mrs Hamda Ambah, is one of the companies making Nigeria proud and inspiring others to stand out. Commenting on the LSEG recognition the FSDH boss said it’s a vote of confidence in the bank’s operational model.
“I think what is important for us in FSDH is – because there are many banks, many financial institutions and ultimately we are all trying to deliver financial services to our clients – that there is need to differentiate ourselves. What sets us apart is the focus that we put on integrity and for us, integrity is not just about ‘not stealing’ (obviously integrity precludes us from stealing), it is also about being truthful to the client and putting the client first. What do I mean by that? If the clients ask for our advice on transactions which we consider not to be in their interest to do, even though there’s an opportunity to do something that can make us a lot of money at that time, we will tell them not to do the transactions. We may be a small firm, but we value relationships. Our customer outlook is fostering a relationship that will be retained for years, so we don’t have to try and collect every kobo today. If the relationship lasts, the value of a long term relationship will always be much more than a transactional relationship. So for me it’s important for our client to trust us. In our environment, trust doesn’t come naturally, because people and situations will test you”, she said.
Over the years, the FSDH Group has become a financial services supermarket that delivers expert financial services in the Nigerian market to its select clientele, thereby assisting them to create long term sustainable wealth.
On innovations the bank has brought to fore, Mrs Ambah revealed that her firm structured its balance sheet differently in a manner that gives room for liquidity. This, she said, makes it easy for asset conversion to raise liquidity. She pointed out that “securitizing assets is very important because it makes the balance sheet liquid and enhances our ability to do more transactions. Then our assets and liability management has to be second to none. We are constantly watching the numbers, so we are not running undue risks. But ultimately success comes from satisfying our customers. We have a belief that it is the customers that guarantee our continued existence and ultimately, our view is that it’s not about getting deposits, it is finding out what your customers’ needs are, finding out what proposition or products you have to satisfy that need. Once you have the customer with you, the deposits will come”, she said reassuringly.
To her, Nigerians are very enterprising people blessed with ability to work and be diligent, stressing that this strong signal tells the world that Nigeria as a country is open for business.
“We have huge capacity; we are a country with huge potential also with our variety of cultures and natural resources. The one thing that is going for us is we have the population; depending on how we treat it, it should be a strength but if we are not careful it could become a weakness” she pointed out.
Referencing MTN’s investment in Nigeria as evidence of the business opportunity offered by Nigeria, Mrs Ambah said, “I am very proud to recall that when they came to Nigeria, FSDH as a discount house then, was a member of the first syndicate that funded their start-up operations. When we reviewed the projections, they were amazing and let us give credit to MTN because when those licenses were auctioned at $285 million, it took a lot of guts to invest that kind of money. Other foreign companies dropped out because they had a negative perception of the country. Guess what?, in the first six months of operating in Nigeria, we asked them if they were having any problems; they said the problems they were having were not the ones we were anticipating. Their problem was that if they put a base station on ground today by 10am, by 2pm it is congested! So the equipment they thought would last them one year was overstretched within three months. The demand was far in excess of the most optimistic projections. That is the type of problem any business person would love to have. They have succeeded in making money but had to be bold to make that investment in the first place”, she said
FSDH Merchant Bank’s journey to becoming a merchant bank started when the Central Bank of Nigeria revoked all universal banking licenses in 2009 and created a new banking structure in the country. Under the new structure, banks were categorised as commercial or merchant banks. Prior to the creation of the new structure by the CBN, FSDH had – through its subsidiaries – developed the structures required to offer the full range of merchant banking services (to the extent permitted by regulation).
At FSDH, this change was recognised as an opportunity to expand the scope of operations while retaining a focus on the core activities in order to serve customers better. As a result, the company applied for a Merchant Banking license from the CBN which was granted in November, 2012. FSDH Merchant Bank Limited was one of the first merchant banks to be awarded a license in Nigeria in this new era.
“I think I’m very fortunate to have a very capable and professional team here. This refers to the staff and the board of directors. The tone that is set by the board of the directors is such that everyone is in support of the direction that has been determined and we are all working collectively to achieve the lofty aspirations of the bank.