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First Bank’s awards in 2021 reflect triple values of innovation, financial inclusion, CSR

First Bank says awards in 2021 reflect triple values

How long do you reckon it could take diligent explorers looking for the company that best models the triple values of innovation, financial inclusion and corporate social responsibility (CSR) in Nigeria’s financial landscape to find that corporate institution?

Assume that the explorers will conduct their onerous search beginning from the youngest company to the longest-surviving company. That is, from the most recently established to the most distant in terms of time (the past).

It is only logical to begin the search from the most recently founded and youngest companies given their strident claims to being innovative companies, even if innovation is no more than a marketing buzzword they have latched onto for self-promotion. Their general reasoning is that they are innovative companies because they were founded in an age of innovation.

However, the argument is akin to saying that all corporate institutions that share Marina Road in Lagos with the head office of First Bank of Nigeria Limited have been around for as long as and are as vastly experienced as FirstBank. Nothing could be as way off the mark as this argument, which also highlights the vacuity in any such innovation argument by younger companies.

Because, if innovation were a person, it would be found not with younger companies who employ it merely as a marketing catchword, but firmly rooted in the core of longstanding companies that have continued to evolve with the times and adapt to remain relevant through all ages and in the face of rapidly changing technologies. That such companies have continued to thrive even with the relentless competition from innovation-claiming younger players in their industry, is ample proof that they have innovation in their DNA, and not just as a marketing buzzword.

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Or how else does one explain FirstBank’s indisputable role as pioneer of cutting-edge technologies and services in Nigeria’s financial services industry? Whether it is the introduction of the automated teller machine (ATM) and the bank’s continuous leadership in that space with the largest ATM network across Nigeria or the unrivaled drive for financial inclusion through Firstmonie, FirstBank continues to set the pace and point the industry in the direction of the next service to onboard to further enrich the experience of banking customers in Nigeria.

And those who encourage progress and growth in the industry by annually recognising and awarding excellence where they see it in the industry, have been cataloging FirstBank’s many efforts for use in their award citations. It is to their credit that the banking public, and not just diligent explorers, now know innovation to be FirstBank’s middle name.

In 2021 alone, various awards organisations within Nigeria and globally recognised FirstBank’s drive for innovation in multiple areas. Due to space constraint, only six of such innovation-linked awards will be highlighted in this piece. First up is “Most Innovative Banking Product 2021” award presented to FirstBank by the International Finance Awards. The award was for the bank’s “introduction of the fast-track contactless ATMs during the COVID-19 lockdown”.

The introduction of the fast-track contactless ATMs was one of FirstBank’s many thoughtful and innovative ways of reducing the risk of ATMs becoming COVID-19 spreaders instead of solely spreaders of customer satisfaction through access to one’s cash or as means of transfer of funds to loved ones and others or for bills payment. It was a loud message to the industry from its leader that banks should spare no effort in ensuring that people’s lives are not put at risk because they want to perform perfectly legitimate banking transactions.

Next were two awards that recognised the incredible efforts FirstBank was investing into migrating customers from its bricks-and-mortar channels to alternative channels. In 2020, over 85 percent of all “customer-induced transactions were performed on (FirstBank’s) self-service channels”. This figure shows FirstBank’s efforts in customer migration to alternative channels.

Global Finance recognised these efforts by awarding FirstBank “Best Consumer Digital Bank 2021” for “promoting and accelerating customer adoption of digital platforms”. BusinessDay, Nigeria’s leading business newspaper, also acknowledged the efforts and presented FirstBank with the award of “Alternative Delivery Channel of 2021” for “promoting various transaction delivery channels to its customers”.

For its relentless drive to ensure its customers are served using the best core banking platform wherever and whenever it is available in the world, FirstBank also got international recognition. The Asian Banker Awards recognised FirstBank and Infosys (global consulting and IT services company that is FirstBank’s strategic IT partner) with ”Best Core Banking Implementation in Africa 2021” award for “constantly upgrading its technology to serve the needs of its customers”.

FirstBank’s innovative efforts in the domain of corporate banking also received global recognition. The recognition came by way of no less an awards programme than The Global Economics Awards, which, according to the organisers – UK-based The Global Economics publication, “serves as the epitome of the perseverance and credibility of its recipients”. The Global Economics Awards presented FirstBank with the “Most Innovative Corporate Banking Solutions Provider in Nigeria 2021” award.

In terms of innovation, the high point was the International Banker Awards’ recognition that straddled both innovation and financial inclusion. International Banker Awards presented FirstBank with “Best Innovation in Retail Banking Nigeria 2021” award in recognition of “the impact the bank has made in bridging the financial exclusion gap in the country”.

Without doubt, the award would not have come as a surprise to observers of the nation’s financial services landscape. These observers have over the years commented freely and extensively on FirstBank’s expansive network of over 750 branches and more than 100,000 Firstmonie agents (making Firstmonie the largest bank-led network anywhere in Africa), which have consistently put the bank in pole position to serve different people and groups in all the nooks and crannies of the country.

No other bank has been able to match FirstBank’s robust retail banking framework and infrastructure. The infrastructure also includes digital banking services and innovative products such as FirstMobile (mobile banking), USSD, FirstOnline (internet banking), amongst others.

The same International Banker Awards, “established to recognise top-ranking individuals and organisations setting new benchmarks for performance and pushing the boundaries within the financial industry”, also presented FirstBank with “Best Customer Service Provider of the Year (2021)” award. It was in recognition of FirstBank’s “excellent service delivery to customers, its dedication and commitment towards meeting the expectations of the bank, whilst providing state-of-the-art financial services to its customers, irrespective of where they are in the country”.

Like the other credible awards organisations, the International Banker Awards employs a laser-focused approach in its bid to provide recognition where the organisation considers it due. The organisation relies on nominations received from readers of International Banker to locate the worthiest financial institutions around the world. It considers these to be “the banks that are not just doing their jobs well but exceptionally well (and) that are in effect operating on the cutting edge of the industry and setting new levels of performance to which others in the field will aspire.”

The Asian Banker Awards also gave FirstBank another recognition. This time it was for the bank’s “Mask Up, Stay Safe” campaign. The social media campaign engaged the bank’s audiences to create on Instagram, make use of and share via various social media channels a customised face-mask filter, with Christmas effects on it, to generate awareness on the importance of using a face mask to stay safe during the pandemic. For the effort, the Asian Banker Awards presented the bank with the “Best Social Media Engagement in Africa 2021” award.

By now it would have been clear to readers that the operating model of FirstBank is definitely a study not only in innovation and financial inclusion but also corporate social responsibility (CSR). But just to underscore the bank’s efforts in the latter, an award specifically in that regard will be highlighted.

“Best CSR Practices Bank in Nigeria 2021” award by The Global Economics Awards is one among several CSR-linked awards. The award was presented to FirstBank in recognition of the bank’s efforts in the goal to migrate one million students in Nigeria to e-Learning during the COVID-19 pandemic. This was at a time when schools were shut across the country and around the world, and children were forced to stay at home for months.

There was also “Best Private Bank in Nigeria”, an award that has become synonymous with FirstBank. The award by Global Finance magazine, which organises it annually “to identify the banks around the world that have excelled across…corporate governance, sustainability and innovation, and…played a key role in the industry’s growth”, was also won by FirstBank in 2017, 2018 and 2019.

Global Finance named FirstBank “Best Private Bank in Nigeria 2021”, recognising FirstBank’s Private Banking division as “providing full-fledged private banking services covering traditional banking services, lending, wealth management and asset management solutions and lifestyle solutions.” Each year, through the award, Global Finance selects the best financial institutions around the globe in line with what it calls “the recognised and trusted standards of excellence”.

“Treasury and Global Markets Brand of 2021” award was yet another recognition FirstBank received. BusinessDay, the awarding organisation, could not identify a more worthy recipient than the premier bank in West Africa and the leading financial inclusion services provider in Nigeria for over 127 years.

Last but not least, is the recognition given FirstBank by the Global Banking and Finance Awards as a “Next 100 Global Brand” as part of the Awards’ “Next 100 Global Companies 2021”. The recognition was for FirstBank’s “expansion and growth globally”. The Awards, according to the Global Banking and Finance Review publication that organises them, “reflect[s] the innovation, achievement, strategy, progressive and inspirational changes taking place within the global financial community.”

With all these awards (and many more that are not indicated in this piece) coming to FirstBank in 2021 alone, it seems reasonable to suggest that one year or less is long enough for diligent explorers to locate the company in Nigeria’s financial services industry that best models the triple values of innovation, financial inclusion and CSR. And the explorers have credible local and global awards organisations to thank for making the task a lot easier.

Now they can name FirstBank as the company of choice without any difficulty. All the nominations for these awards (and the others not indicated here), undoubtedly, reflect growing global recognition of the longstanding institution’s innovative drive and the sustainability of its operating model. It also reflects the bank’s status as one of the continent’s foremost financial inclusion services providers, and its unmatched efforts to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 while promoting the safety of its customers and the general public.