FirstBank at 130: Enduring Legacies and Giant Strides of the Big Elephant

FirstBank at 130: Enduring Legacies and Giant Strides of the Big Elephant

By Bolaji Israel

Like a fine wine, FirstBank has only improved with age, becoming more agile, dynamic, and trusted by the nation. This is a testament to the diligence and devotion of the many great leaders who have steered the bank to success. Under the leadership of current Managing Director and CEO, Dr. Adeshola Adeduntan, FirstBank has reached even greater heights, driven by resilience, grit, gravitas, and panache.

March 31st, 2024 marks a significant milestone for FirstBank as it will attain 130 years of operation in Nigeria. From its humble beginnings in 1894 as the Bank of British West Africa, the institution has evolved into a financial behemoth and a formidable force not only in the banking industry but in the nation and beyond.

Throughout its long and illustrious history, FirstBank has played a pivotal role in the economic development of Nigeria. Not only has it served as a monetary and fiscal policy regulator for the entire West African region, but it has also been at the forefront of technological, industrial, and societal advancements across the country.

The banking giant has achieved numerous firsts, demonstrating resilience and support through periods of rapid and radical changes. It has also pioneered and charted the course in the financial industry and the nation as a whole.

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Over the years, FirstBank has become deeply ingrained in the fabric of the Nigerian nation and its vibrant population of over 220 million people. As a key financial player, the bank has recorded impressive trajectories for decades, experiencing massive growth and expansion in terms of revenue, influence, and technological advancements.

Globally, only a select few institutions can boast a rich and relevant heritage as a member of the over 100-year Club, and FirstBank proudly holds that distinction with the Nigerian people. It serves as a symbol of pride and a beacon of hope for greater exploits from Africa.

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FirstBank at 130: Enduring Legacies and Giant Strides of the Big Elephant

Like a fine wine, FirstBank has only improved with age, becoming more agile, dynamic, and trusted by the nation. This is a testament to the resilience, diligence, and devotion of the many great leaders who have steered the bank to success. Under the leadership of current Managing Director and CEO, Dr. Adeshola Adeduntan, FirstBank has reached even greater heights, driven by grit, gravitas, and panache.

The recent appointment of Femi Otedola as the Board Chairman in its 130th year indicates that the banking giant shows no signs of slowing down or resting on its laurels.

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While many smaller banks have collapsed, FirstBank has reinvented itself like the eagle, emerging stronger in terms of financial capacity, corporate governance, liquidity, industry leadership, optimised risk management and visionary roadmaps. The iconic elephant, representing the bank’s brand essence, symbolises its strength, agility, and forward momentum.

The lending giant has acquired enterprise technology capacities and made significant investments in digital infrastructure, reducing brick and mortar practices. The bank recognises that its people are its biggest resource and has taken banking to the people, ensuring accessibility and inclusivity. Strategic recent investments in technology include the development of its smart and interactive Transaction Banking Platform known as FirstDirect2.0. 

FirstDirect2.0 provides a one-stop shop online banking platform for corporates, offering best-in-class capabilities such as Payments, Collections, and Account Services, and a locally focused phased implementation of Trade and Supply Chain Finance – a first for the Bank. 

During the COVID-19 pandemic, the bank demonstrated its commitment to social responsibility by donating millions through CACOVID, providing online learning tools for students in partnership with the government, distributing food items, and implementing a hybrid work model to ensure the safety of its employees.

In line with the UN Sustainable Development Goal 5 which seeks gender equality and empowerment for all women and girls, FirstBank has demonstrated its commitment to Diversity through policies, partnerships and initiatives, such as its employees’ ratio of female to male (39%:61%); and 32% women in management), as well as various initiatives aimed at addressing gender gap and increasing participation of women at all levels within the organisation. In addition, the Bank’s membership of the UN Women is an affirmation of a deliberate policy that is consistent with UN Women’s Women Empowerment’s Principles – Equal Opportunity, Inclusion, and Non-discrimination. 

Its financial holding company, the FBN Holdings recorded a 127 per cent rise to N309.89bn in 2023 from N136.17bn recorded at the end of 2022.

This was indicated in its unaudited consolidated financial statements for the period ended December 31, 2023, filed with the Nigerian Exchange Limited earlier in February.

During the period under review, the interest income of the lender also rose by 66.27 per cent to N917.71bn from N551.94bn in 2022.  Fee and commission income appreciated to N204.90bn from N143.98bn in the previous year.

Furthermore, in recent years, FirstBank has transformed its banking model, embracing a more modern approach and pioneering many firsts in digital and online banking solutions. The bank has invested resources to advance banking beyond physical walls, offering customers a plethora of options for convenient digital banking. Mobile banking, cards and personal banking, electronic banking, PoS agents, online banking, USSD services, and more have empowered millions of previously unbanked individuals in rural and underserved areas.

FirstBank has been nimble at promoting a digital economy in Africa and has issued about 13 million cards, the first bank to achieve such milestone in Nigeria.

With over 800 business locations and over 232,000 Banking agents spread across 99% of the 774 Local Government Areas in Nigeria, the Banking group provides a comprehensive range of retail and corporate financial services to serve its over 42 million customers.

Its financial inclusion and cashless transaction drive have resulted in over 15 million users on its USSD banking service through the nationally acclaimed *894# banking service and over 6 million users on its FirstMobile App, which was awarded the African Innovative Banking Product of the Year 2021 by African Leadership Magazine Awards.

More, the financial powerhouse has received some of the best in class global awards in banking for exceptional solutions and performances back to back in clear recognition of its outstanding stature and status. This includes Best Corporate Bank at the recent Euromoney Awards for Excellence, Nigeria 2023; Best Corporate Bank Western Africa, 2023, by Global Banking and Finance; Best Internet Banking in Nigeria, 2023, by International Business Awards; Most Innovative Banking Brand in Nigeria, by Global Brands Awards as well as the Financial Institution of the Year 2023, by Afreximbank Pan-African Business and Development.

For six consecutive years (2011 – 2016), FirstBank was named “Most Valuable Bank Brand in Nigeria” by the globally renowned The Banker Magazine of the Financial Times Group and “Best Retail Bank in Nigeria” eight times in a row, 2011 – 2018, by the Asian Banker International Excellence in Retail Financial Services Awards. 

In 2022, the Bank took a long stride on its growth trajectory with the Bank’s Viability and Long-Term Issuer Default Ratings upgraded to ‘B’ from ‘B-‘ (with Outlooks Stable) by Fitch, a leading global rating agency. This is an indication of the Bank’s strong internal capital generation and the corresponding recession of its risks to capitalisation. Fitch also upgraded the Bank’s National Long-Term Ratings to ‘A (nga)’ from ‘BBB (nga)’, to reflect its improved creditworthiness relative to that of other issuers in Nigeria.
Furthermore, the Top 100 African Bank Rankings 2022 released by The Banker Magazine revealed FirstBank’s ranking as number one in Nigeria in terms of Overall Performance, Profitability, Efficiency and Return on Risk. 

In 2023, FirstBank received notable awards including “Best Private Bank for Sustainable Investing in Africa 2023” by Global Finance Awards; “Best Sustainable Bank in Nigeria 2023” by International Investors Awards; “Best Bespoke Banking Services in Nigeria 2023” by International Investors Awards; “Best Financial Inclusion Service Provider in Nigeria 2023” by Digital Banker Africa; and “African Bank of the Year” by African Leadership Magazine.

In November 2022, Sam Aiyere-led FBNBank UK, a subsidiary of FirstBank Group celebrated 40 years of steady operations and growth far away in the United Kingdom. FirstBank also boasts of branches in Ghana, South Africa, Guinea, Gambia, Sierra Leone, DRC, UAE, USA, France and China.

Beyond its global financial institutional leadership and growth, FirstBank has supported and enabled dreams, fostered trust, safety, and security, and created long-term value for all stakeholders. The bank has played a crucial role in empowering youths, entrepreneurs, women, students, and the rapidly growing creative industries locally, which are gaining global recognition. Its massive and strategic interventions through the DecemberIssaVybe, FirstGem, SPARK, FirstBank Women Network and numerous others campaign have been impactful especially in addressing some key United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals.

Commenting on the milestone, Folake Ani-Mumuney, the Group Head, Marketing & Corporate Communications, described FirstBank as the ‘’Giant in your corner’’, resilient, supporting its customers to build the future they aspire to as they confidently navigate the complexities of the modern world, break free of limitation, and chase their dreams.  

“FirstBank is celebrating 130 years of being woven into the fabric of the society enabling success for its customers and other stakeholders (who call Africa home wherever they live or come from), driving nation-building and providing comprehensive and financial services, products and initiatives customised to meet their specific goals and needs.

“It is dynamic and committed to offering value through innovative financial solutions, bringing together unmatched scale, industry expertise, market insight and years of customer understanding to put customers firmly in the driver’s seat of their lives. FirstBank understands that change is constant, so anticipate the shifts and transformations, always innovating to keep its customers ahead of the curve. It employs market-leading digital platforms, solution driven products and services, varied experience and powerful networks to work for its customers to enable them overcome challenges and achieve their ambitions,” she stated.

As FirstBank rolls out the drums and unveil an array of engagements to commemorate the huge milestone, Nigerians can be more reassured of a responsible and customer centric banking culture engineered by global best practices and robust experience, and driven by technology, innovation, capacity and genuine care for customers and all stakeholders, to assist in meeting financial and lifestyle needs, in a most satisfactory manner.