Why definition of bank customer is changing – Ecobank CEO

Fashion home! MD/Chief Executive Officer Patrick Akinwuntan
MD/Chief Executive Officer Patrick Akinwuntan

Patrick Akinwuntan, Managing Director and Chief Executive Officer of Ecobank, last week held a major engagement with the media since assuming office in the second half of 2018. In this interview with our reporter, Akinwuntan highlights prospects of the bank and also took a look at the Nigeria economy in 2019. Excerpt:
What is the identity and stand of Ecobank in the banking industry?
We were established from day one as a pan-African entity with shareholding from different countries. Within our first year of operation, we have established in five countries, namely Nigeria, Republic of Benin, Togo, Ghana and Cote d’Ivoire and that was in 1989 and so next year, we would be 30 years in business as a pan African entity.
Because of our vision across Africa, we started out from our day one model as a global financial institution. We are multilingual, we started from bilingual. We now operate in four languages – English, French, Spanish and Portuguese. We are present in 36 countries in Africa, four counties outside Africa – France, the UK, the UAE and China – essentially to provide a linkage to global trade and to facilitate financial transactions of our customers.
In Africa, within the 36 country network, we have full banking operations in 33 of the countries. The other three countries where we don’t have full banking operations are Ethiopia, Angola and South Africa where.we have rep offices. When you look from Senegal, to Rwanda, to Kenya in the east to Cameroon to a bit south, down to Zimbabwe, you have Ecobank in every country.
From the west of Africa, east of Africa, north below the Maghreb, and south above South Africa, Ecobank is present in every country in that geographical space. It’s a unique footprint in order that we deliver the mandates of our shareholders which essentially is to provide world class financial services to every African and the economic development of Africa. And we’ve done this now for 29 years effectively.  We’ve built a customer base in excess of 20 million as a group. We provide full banking services right from the wholesale business to the small and medium scale businesses and to individuals.
And in order to do this, we’ve built technology platforms that ensure that we are able to deliver our services in a convenient accessible fast, affordable and reliable manner for our customers and in a manner that is sustainable to provide returns for shareholders.
What should be the focus and outlook of the economy in 2019?
For us, as I have explained, we look at the fundamentals. We look at Nigeria, the population is there; you look at the demography of the population. Over 50% are less than 30 years old and that speaks of growth potentials. Though, it does have its challenges but in terms of economic activities, it demonstrates a huge viable market with growth potentials.
You look at the intellectual capacity within the economy. This is an aspirational economy; an economy where the average participant believes strongly that he or she can do better. And therefore for us, the focus in Nigeria should remain the fundamentals; on, infrastructure, power, rail, in order to harness the significant potential in the county.
Growth of the intellectual economy is important. I’ve commented about this and I’ll still reiterate it. Nigerians are a very resourceful people. Participation in services where you have to use your intellectual capacity leveraging on the Internet, leveraging on the digital access available globally, Nigeria should focus on becoming a top player globally.
It is not by accident that Facebook proprietor came to Nigeria. It is not by accident that the telcos have grown exponentially in Nigeria. It is not by accident that Internet and broadband growths are at a high pace in Nigeria. We need to focus. It is not by accident that our Nollywood products really dominate not just the continent, but also becoming globally accepted.
It is true we have oil but the oil should not be our base. We should focus on various areas where we have comparable advantage and go ahead to realise our potentials as a country.
Even in fashion, Nigeria sets the standard, such as the kit won by footballers at the World Cup. You find the willingness of people to pay for something created by Nigerians. In the area of art and culture, we are naturally a leader and we should exploit that significantly.
Kenya is exploring tourism, Ghana is exploring tourism, Togo has focused on being the relevant port for commerce within West Africa. We have so much potentials in Nigeria. So, Nigerians should begin to focus on discussing more of the opportunities that we have and really highlighting where we have comparable advantage and doing it to scale up.
If you pick any country that we referred to as doing well, what they have done is concentrate their energy on their area of advantage and make sure that everywhere in the world you refer to them, that is their own way of attracting foreign direct investment, creating employment and making sure that the future is bright within their country.
So, for us in Nigeria, the discourse should be around the fact that we have opportunities in these areas. Because we have a young demography, a demography that reflects youth, education and health and anything around basic food and basic nutrition are areas of growth. In various ways, there has been effort; the effort focused on agriculture, the ability to feed ourselves and reduce the amount of import in rice, amount of import in various drinks because not too long ago, bottle water had to be imported into Nigeria.
But there are a lot of Nigerian entrepreneurs today doing it locally now. So, we can scale up in any of these areas. And we should focus on our areas of comparative advantage and competitive advantage and use the scale of production to bring down inflation, bring down cost of doing business, bring interest rates down because in the long run, for the productive sector of the economy to be funded, the cost of being funded needs to be affordable. And given the ability of Nigerians to communicate, my own opinion is that we should focus on our areas of strength and keep discussing it till it becomes a global reference.