Financial Inclusion Is Our Goal – Ade Ayeyemi, Group Chief Executive Officer, Eco Bank,
What is Ecobank’s overall vision and new strategy to increase its customer base?
Our goal is to create an Ecobank that serves as a leader not only in the market but a leader that solves problems that face our customers, ensures financial inclusion and serves the community in which we operate and create value to every stakeholder. Because we are present in 36 markets in Africa, we believe we are ready to solve the challenges facing the continent. Last year, we put our strategies together and try to see how we can execute them. We rapidly grew from six countries to 36, and now is the time to consolidate where we can bring the platforms together and leverage. Some said we are going to launch an App; we don’t just launch an App in one country, we are launching in 33 countries. That is very important because if anybody in the continent tries to think about a financial problem that needs to be solved, we have a channel for it. Financial inclusion on the continent from our point of view is not just trying to do Good Samaritan for people, it is trying to encourage as many people as possible. That way, it becomes commercially viable. If it is commercially viable then it can be sustainable. We are making it a business model to include as many people as possible. We currently have more than 10 million customers, and by 2020, we want to have 100 million customers. That is not something we talk about easily, we know it is going to be difficult and challenging, but the problem that exists is the problem that needs to be solved, and whoever solves it becomes a great player by the end of the day.
How do you hope to achieve 100 million customers and how widespread what is your operation?
When you hear Ecobank, you will hear ECOWAS bank. That is true because that is how we were formed. But today, that is not who we have become. We have become a bank that is Pan Africa. When you take the 54 countries in Africa, and I say we are in 36, the easiest way to count is where we are not, and not where we are. We are not in South Africa. When you take the North Africa, we are not in the Maghreb region. But the rest of the places we are. Where are in the whole of East Africa; we are in the most of the Southern Africa; we are in all the Central Africa, and we are in all the West Africa countries that make up ECOWAS. Where we operate, we will be about a billion people in Africa by 2020. And we understand that for us to have a credible proposition, we have to find a way to that market. That is not just using bricks and mortars, it is not just building branches, it is all about connecting to people at their point of needs and that is why we want to use devices to connect with people. As we go into the future, we are not just going to have devices, but internet of things. But as we look into the future, we believe that mobility is the best way to connect to people and you see why we are launching our Mobile App. It gives a sense of what we are in for tomorrow and gets to the 100 million people.
How is the bank working with the public sector and government in the countries it operates to fast-track development?
When people have the ability to save, buy things, set up businesses and they get supported by the banking system, then those countries grow and that is what we do. Remember, we are in so many countries where others are afraid to go. Today, we bank in Burundi, Central Africa Republic, South Sudan; we provide financial services in places you will not even visit because we believe in the future of those countries. We work with governments; there are so many things we do in the countries where we are present that enable the economies of those countries to grow.
What is unique about Ecobank’s Mobile App?
We will be the only one launching in 33 countries in one day. Yesterday, (last week), I was able to transfer money to Cameroon, though I don’t have any account there. We would be able to deliver to 33 markets.
There was a directive recently that one can no longer use the Naira debit cards outside the country, how do you address this issue?
The policy responses of government to temporary problems will always be there, but they cannot define what our future should be. If you think about this five years ago, Nigeria was not in the same position. Five years ago, Nigeria was not saying people cannot use their cards everywhere. Today, this is a temporary problem and we cannot because of a temporary problem withdraw from our imagination. We cannot operate outside the law; we have to operate within the law. I am sure the government of Nigeria will soon figure out the best way out. Our customers operate within the ambit of the law, just as we operate within the law. What we need to talk about is how to work with the government to solve problems so that they don’t make policies that may harm the economy. We don’t go to the rooftop and begin to talk about what government is doing because we can see the problem. There will be issues that government needs to solve, but we will work with the government in that aspect, and connecting ECOWAS people is a priority for us. There is a problem of FX shortage in Nigeria. Every other thing is just reaction because oil use to be sold for $100 and now $50 and the production capacity has dropped. That is the fundamental problem that we need to deal with. All of the rest are consequences of that. But let us not use that as a case to remove the fundamental development in the banking system.
What is Ecobank’s unique selling point?
Our unique selling point is that we belong to a continent; we have been on this continent for a very long time, we are in multiple locations and we want to use technology to solve problems.
What are the challenges Ecobank has faced over the year?
It is like the challenges all the banks and institutions in the country are facing. We are trying to deliver a world class service in a third world country, where infrastructure is a key challenge. We are trying to do that within the little infrastructure and all of those things create challenges. It is, however, important to look beyond the problem.
How does the downturn in the economy affect the bank?
Anything that affects our customers affects us, therefore, we need to figure out how to work with our customers to solve problems.