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FirstBank: Sustaining market leadership with innovation

By The Citizen

Major brands have continued to explore the power of innovation to maintain a competitive position among their peers globally. Brands such as Apple, Samsung, Coca-Cola, Unilever, Google, Intel, Toyota and a host of others that have persistently made it to the top 100 brands globally through innovation and consistency in quality of customer service aside other factors.  The brands invest heavily in the equity of their brands, continuously seeking to find the connections between consumers and the products they buy, and how to ultimately transform consumers to brand loyalisists.

This scenario is also playing out in Nigeria as Indigenous brands are not resting on their oars in the quest for market leadership through innovation. This trend has particularly been dominant in the financial services sector where innovation is redefining competition. The sector is witnessing creative introduction of bespoke financial solutions that speaks to several segments of the market. Some players in the sector are reaping rewards already by way of enhanced bottom line and awards from local and global reputable organisations.

At the 2013 Africa investor (Ai) Index Series Awards, FirstBank of Nigeria Limited, coming on the heels of same outstanding performances at similar events, beat other contenders, such as Mobinil, Kenya Airways, BHP Billiton, Nation Media Group, Stanbic and Uganda Sasol to the award of Most Innovative Ai SRI50 Company. The award recognizes the Bank’s commitment to creatively deploying Socially Responsible Investments (SRIs) to enhance safe and convenient banking; financial inclusion; and support for small and medium scale businesses across the nation.

The Ai Awards are the only international, pan-African awards that recognise and reward Africa's institutional investors, stock exchanges, best-performing listed companies, stockbrokers and capital market regulators.

Only last year, the lender which commenced business in 1894, was adjudged 'Africa's Most Innovative Bank' at the African Banker Awards. FirstBank’s spokesperson Folake Ani-Mumuney says the Bank has remained the market leader for over 100 years through dynamism and innovation.

She explains that the Most Innovative Ai SRI50 Company award demonstrates the global recognition of the giant strides the Bank has achieved over the years in the areas of deployment of technology to power its operations and services and ultimately making banking services more convenient, accessible and faster.   'FirstBank is at the cutting edge of technology, attracts the best minds and demonstrates original and practical use of technology to provide customer convenience, better and cheaper services as well as greater access to financial services to over 7 million customers,” says Ani-Mumuney.

The Africa investor Index Series Awards ceremony coincided with the 6th annual Africa investor CEO Institutional Investment Summit, held in association with NYSE Euronext. The Summit brought together over 250 international investors, African CEOs, pension funds and capital market professionals to explore investment partnerships in African assets and equities.

Explaining the bank's strategy for success, Ani-Mumuney says, 'Our banking business has a strategy focused on building an efficient and customer-focused bank, which will deliver strong sustainable shareholder returns within the context of opportunities in the different regions where our businesses operate. Our strategy aims to re-define our leadership such that we are also the best in terms of customer value proposition, employee satisfaction and good governance.”

In a recent review, First bank extended its branch network from650 branches in 2011 to over 750 branches in 2012 to improve accessibility to banking services for its customers. In 2012, the bank also successfully launched Firstmonie, a mobile financial services solution that enables subscribers conveniently perform banking transactions.  The service is aimed at facilitating e-banking through the use of the mobile phone, mitigate the challenges of banking services delivery to the vast unbanked market, whilst expanding financial inclusion of the unbanked into mainstream financial services.

In addition, the Bank launched several new retail products in 2012 one of which is the First Instant Savings account targeted at the under banked/unbanked segments of the society.

Among other products, the Bank has also strengthened its operational processes to comply with international best practices. For instance, its operational processes were upgraded with the migration to the world class Finacle 10 banking application in 2013.