Access Bank accelerates retail operations after Diamond Bank merger

Now with 29 million customers, it's a totally different ballgame for Access Bank, says CEO Herbert Wigwe

October 10, 2019

Access Bank is now the largest bank in Nigeria by customer base, following its April 2019 merger with Diamond Bank. Herbert Wigwe is Access Bank’s group managing director and CEO; he discusses what the different brands brought to the table, and how the bank is completely transforming its processes to provide the same high levels of service to its now more-than-doubled customer base. We have two more videos from this interview: about Access Bank’s sustainability projects, and its improved corporate governance practices.

World Finance: Access Bank is now the largest bank in Nigeria by customer base, following its April 2019 merger with Diamond Bank. Herbert Wigwe is Access Bank’s group managing director and CEO; Herbert, why the merger? What strengths do the different brands bring to the table?

Herbert Wigwe: First of all, the idea was for us to show the world that coming out of Africa we can create truly global institutions that are digitally led, that are basically reaching out to the bottom of the pyramid.

In terms of the strengths that the different institutions brought, Access Bank on its own had built a strong wholesale business. It had also built a very strong treasury business and was known for strong risk management.

Now Diamond Bank catered for a different end of the market. The micro-SMEs, individuals; it was a very strong digital institution that had about 17 million customers.

What did that do for us? It created an institution where we could serve the large corporates and, using technology, basically ensure transfer of goods and services all the way to the last mile.

But I think the most important for me is the fact that this merger, it would help ensure greater financial inclusion, greater financial deepening, and ensure that in the 200 million -strong people in Nigeria we can basically start to have about 100 million that are financially included.

World Finance: So, how many customers does Access Bank have now, and how is that changing the way you’re having to provide services?

Herbert Wigwe: We have 29 million customers. It’s a totally different ballgame!

So we’ve had to change from being a wholesale bank that would have just put up the large corporates, or the middle corporates; to ask ourselves, ‘What do we need to do, to make sure that payments happen seamlessly?’

Digital is the way to go to reach the bottom of the pyramid. So in the last corporate strategic plan, we said we wanted to become a large, diversified bank. And that was when we started creating a digital banking division. And the whole essence was to use digital means to start to expand our retail proposition. And it was successful.

But in the one that just started, in 2018, retail is much more important. Because we need to address some of the liquidity and funding pressures that we may face as we grow. We need to start creating a global institution in terms of scale; we need to create one that is digitally led, because that is the only way for it to happen. We need to make sure we’ve created one that is scalable, one that is also founded on very strong risk management and other governance frameworks.

World Finance: Give me some examples of the kinds of technologies and innovations that you’re bringing to market.

Herbert Wigwe: One is Access Africa. Access Africa enables us to do a couple of things. First of all, it enables diaspora flows to come into the continent much more easily. The second is that Access Africa enables us to help in settling intra-African trade – and it’s encouraging it. So whether it’s trade between Nigeria and Ghana, Nigeria and Benin, Nigeria and Togo: people can do those things instantaneously. Third, it enables us to basically do some of the things with respect to supporting international trade. This used to be the terrain of the large international banks that left the continent.

We have something called QuickBucks, which enables people to access funding instantaneously. And I’m not talking of 10 minutes, I mean on the minute. And we’re creating those algorithms that allow SMEs and micro-SMEs to be able to borrow instantly – again, of course, taking risk into consideration.

We also have what we call Tamada, which is our own chatbot. And enables people to transact and do whatever they do, through this chatbot. And this is being resolved as if it is a real-life person.

These are some of the things that we’ve brought to the market. And I’m not just talking about Nigeria here – it is happening in every country in which we have a presence. So, those are the big things we’re doing from a technology standpoint.