FirstBank at 125: Stronger With Age

First Bank of Nigeria last month celebrated its 125th anniversary and launched itself into the next 125 years with a series of events that highlighted its pay-off line of “Woven into the Fabrics of the Society”. BUKOLA IDOWU writes on the pathway of the oldest bank in the country that leads to the future.

The banking industry in Nigeria has grown over the years to become one that is not only reckoned with globally but also one that is driven by innovation. The annals of the industry would however be incomplete without Alfred Lewis Jones, a shipping magnate who had a monopoly of importing silver currency into West Africa through his Elder Dempster shipping company.

He had founded the Bank of British West Africa, the very first financial institution on the continent in 1894 to cut out the downsides of the barter system that was in use then, as a bank could provide a secure home for deposits and also a uniform medium of exchange.

Not only did the bank which later metamorphosed into the indigenous First Bank of Nigeria promote commerce with a uniform means of exchange, it made sure expand it giving out loans to indigents who were in need of it and who had collateral to present.

Overtime the bank remained in the forefront of the business activities as well as national development in the country. For example its nation building traits had emerges as far back as 1955, it began partnering with the government in building infrastructure, starting with the expansion of the railway lines in the country.

The bank’s drive for financial inclusion began over a century ago as it had spread its tentacles as far back as 1963, just three years after Nigeria’s independence with 114 branches spread across the country and beyond its borders. The bank is yet to relent on its drive as it remains at the forefront of financial inclusion and presently it has the largest number of agents across the nation, about 20,000 of them penetrating almost all 774 local governments of the country.

Its contributions to the society goes beyond just its banking services as it had contributed human resource not just to the banking industry and the private sector, FBN had left its mark in the public sector. It is the only bank in Nigeria that has provided two governors for the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN).

In 1999, it former managing director, Mr. Joseph Oladele Sanusi was appointed by the federal government as the Governor of Central Bank of Nigeria. Coincidentally, 10 years later, his namesake, Sanusi Lamido Sanusi, who was managing director of First Bank in 2009 was appointed as the CBN Governor by the late President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua.

Just like its mantra, “Woven Into the Fabric of The Society” First Bank has left a trail, an history in the lives of most Nigerians and businesses in the country, just as the annals of the country cannot be complete without it.

First Bank which had transformed into a one-stop financial conglomerate, FBN Holdings Plc, last month celebrated a major milestone as it clocked 125 years and began its journey into the future. It marked its entrenchment in the nation’s development for 125 years, and its significance as a nation builder and a national icon.

Speaking at the commencement of the month long celebration, managing director and chief executive of First Bank Nigeria Limited, Dr Adesola Adeduntan described the bank as a long-standing institution, which even predates Nigeria as a unified entity. FirstBank he said is entrenched in the nation’s development “woven into the very fabric of society, with our involvement in every stage of national growth and development.”

From the humble beginning of a desk in a corner of the Elder Dempster Agencies, Firstbank he said has traversed all sectors of the Nigerian economy past the shores of the nation into the African continent and beyond.

“Our institution is therefore a case of entrepreneurship at its best. From that very modest beginning in 1894, FirstBank has traversed an incredible journey of delivering impeccable financial services to its customers and supporting the building of the modern-day Nigeria and indeed, West Africa, including our early pivotal role as the monetary and fiscal policy regulator for the entire West African region,” Adeduntan noted.

Being one of the very few institutions which have stood the test of time in the world, Firstbank enjoys the privilege of being amongst the centenarians and it has continued to show itself as one that can stand the test of time, having scaled through several banking crisis and recapitalisations unscathed.

Rather, it seems to grow stronger and finer with age like fine wine, achieving landmark feats and transforming alongside the ever-changing technology driven world to meet the needs of the diverse and huge customer base. In 2008, it emerged the first Nigerian Bank and indeed the first quoted company in the country to hit the N2 trillion market capitalisation on the Nigerian Stock Exchange.

FirstBank had been recognised by Interswitch as the first financial institution in the country to achieve 100 million sustained monthly transactions in electronic payment, in December 2015 and again in May 2016.

FBN Micro Finance Bank Limited became the first microfinance bank in Nigeria to issue debit cards which can be used on all ATMs and make online purchases. The bank was also the first microfinance bank to implement use of biometrics POS terminals for transactions. The transactions are online and real time.

For six consecutive times, from 2011 to 2016, The Banker Magazine had named FirstBank as the Most Valuable Banking Brand in Nigeria, and for 15 years it was recognized as the Best Bank in Nigeria by Global Finance.

FirstBank had also emerged the Best Retail Bank by The Asian Banker International Excellence in Retail Financial Services Awards, the most recognised international Awards programme in the Retail Financial Services Industry for seven consecutive years.

Looking into the future at 125 years old, the management of the Bank believes that FirstBank is on a new journey in impacting lives, building businesses, driving economic growth and further entrenching itself into the fabric of the society for the next 125 years.

Culled from Leadership

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