BusinessDay
NigeriaDecides2023

Transition in sustainable finance will be shaped by local realities – Lone

SARMAD LONE, Standard Chartered’s head of Corporate, Commercial and Institutional Banking for Africa & the Middle East (AME) region, in this interview with BUNMI BAILEY, explores opportunities for economic growth in Nigeria, the Bank’s position as an innovative leader within the banking sector, its impact on its key stakeholders and its strategies towards integrating digital banking.

You have over 30 years of banking experience across Africa & the Middle East. Can you tell us about your journey into the Banking sector?

My career has been split between Corporate and Investment Banking. It has been heavily skewed towards Africa and the Middle East. Africa is the new addition to my portfolio, Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA), to be precise. I have worked on projects based in Northern Africa for about 27 years, so I have the experience and flavour of Africa. But moving into SSA is a brilliant experience, and I’m delighted to learn and collaborate with my colleagues.

How has Standard Chartered bank achieved its net-Zero journey as a sustainable organisation?

We are very focused on the sustainability objective that we have. We understand and respect that the transition in sustainable finance will not be a linear journey across the world in every city and industry. We know that transition is a journey that local realities will inform.

For example, a company based in Stanford, America, will experience a different transition into sustainable finance than one in Nigeria. We are fully committed to this, and we are looking to internally achieve our objectives as a bank to be fully sustainable by 2030.

How does Standard Chartered Bank apply international policies to address each market’s unique and individual needs as a global bank?

We fully understand that every market, economy, country or client is unique. And when we have our core values, principles and guidelines, we need to work alongside them and adapt to, fuse and incorporate them with the local ones.

The rule book is global, with limited guidelines, principles, and rules. However, they are being heavily punctuated based on the country in which you are operating. For example, when you are in Nigeria, the laws and regulations are 40 percent similar or 50 percent identical to some markets like Singapore or Germany.

But then there will be a set of guidelines that will be heavily punctuated for local requirements, local regulatory needs and local government protocols. And that is our business model.

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How would Standard Chartered Bank meet customers’ needs better than its competitors in a dynamic financial market?

We have our core values, principles, and guidelines, as I said earlier. But then, where we think we excel is that we adapt. We hear our customers, serve them and adjust to their needs, requirements and demands.

Also, our robust networks differentiate us. So, if you do a transaction here and require termination in Germany, you will use Standard Chartered throughout the network. You are not using a third party bank or an intermediary. Whether Asia, Latin America etc., it will be Standard Chartered all the way. So we are fully differentiated in that respect.

Hardly would you have a transaction in any part of the world where we cannot originate and terminate that transaction.

The Bank has supported the government’s infrastructural development within the volatile Nigerian market. How has this venture helped the banks and their stakeholders?

The beauty of an international bank is that whatever is done elsewhere, we can replicate it here. So, we have teams called project finance and project export finance and these teams specifically look at projects specifically in Nigeria.

One of the Federal Government agencies is also looking to move its power facilities to make it more sustainable. So, we just got a mandate to provide solutions for power for that agency, a few megawatts but not using fossil fuels. So, that speaks to infrastructure and sustainability both at the same time.

Secondly, we are interested in the road value-added concessions, which the Nigerian Federal Ministry of Works is also exploring. We have partners for 12 major entities that have been shortlisted, and we are looking to offer solutions to them to make successes, as we have moved out of toll roads in the past, and now we are moving back to it. And so, in this case, it has to be successful via a public-private partnership arrangement.

We are also working with partners to offer solutions to rail projects that are going on nationwide. Very soon, you will hear about specific mandates that we have for extensions to the current rail network that the country has.

What is the Bank’s plan for financial inclusion?

I think the whole world knows that Brick and Mortar will not provide financial inclusion, so digital plays into our strength. So, one of our new pillars is the mass markets.

In Nigeria, for example, we had a few tens of thousands of retail banking clients. Once we moved on to a digital app and focused more on digital solutions, we got about 500,000 clients from urban areas and even rural ones who are now brought into the financial system within a few months.

So, as we advance, we plan to bring in millions more in mass markets and personal banking and Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs) using our digital offerings. And you are going to see a lot more soon. Don’t forget that the Bank Verification Number (BVN) makes it easier to identify a person, get the address, and ensure that you are a certified bank customer. With that on the digital platform, you are already on board as a client within two to three days.

Digital banking is fast becoming the new norm, and Standard Chartered Bank is taking the lead. How is it addressing the perception of its customers given the closure of half of its branches?

The fundamental strategy of the Bank is to digitise the entire platform across the retail, corporate and commercial institutions. Our clients want a fully digital platform that is swift, capable and less stressful. They don’t want to leave their homes or offices or leave whatever they are doing in life to come to a branch to complete their transaction. So, the question is not branch closure but branch closure as an outcome.