Access Bank: Scaling up sustainable development in Africa

The doctrine of sustainability has become more and more important to individuals and corporations everywhere. The welfare of people, companies, and societies are today more closely entwined; and nowhere is this more apparent than in Africa

December 21, 2011

The continent is facing the task of controlling the effects of some of the globe’s harshest social, ecological and economic conditions. But in spite of that – or perhaps because of it – companies in Africa want to become acknowledged as equal partners in the world of global finance.

Access Bank has achieved exactly that. It has proactively looked for responsible business opportunities and incorporated good governance considerations into its daily operations. By doing so, it has significantly raised its profile internationally.

Access Bank believes that a country’s local environment cannot be isolated when addressing issues of sustainability. Factors including government policy, the socio-economic environment and a nation’s political landscape all play a significant role in sustainable development. The bank, which has branches throughout Ivory Coast, DR Congo, Nigeria, Rwanda, Sierra Leone and Zambia, has taken on the role of signatory to numerous international sustainability initiatives. Some of the most widely regarded have included raising finance for renewable energy projects, schemes to encourage female entrepreneurs, and the organisation of events to inspire other Nigerian financial organisations.

Sustainable development first
As an indigenous African company, Access Bank faces unusual tests within its local operating environment. Regardless of these trials, its approach to sustainability has remained versatile and progressive. Access Bank has learned to deal with issues arising out of its locality by balancing economic growth, social development, and environmental protection. Integrating ecological, communal and corporate governance considerations into its investment management and lending activities has impacted positively on the bank’s overall performance.

Sustainable finance underpins Access Bank’s well-planned strategy. The bank recognises its responsibility to drive the operational and economic performance of the company in a manner that values its clients and employees, upholds the financial system, and delivers long-term benefits to its host communities.

It also strives to address the challenge of sustainability so as to ensure that future generations are not compromised by actions taken today. The bank does this by continually reviewing its policies, which allows it to accommodate environmental and geographical realities into its business strategy, while adhering to global best practices.

In developing this plan, the bank has given consideration to a range of principles, including the UN’s Environment Programme Finance Initiative, the UN’s Principles for Responsible Investment, and the Global Reporting Initiative. Access Bank’s policy regarding these principles is also in line with its key strategic objectives, and is consistent with its enterprise risk management framework, which promotes a moderate and guarded risk attitude to guarantee sustainable growth in shareholder value and reputation. This includes positioning itself as a top three financial services group in Nigeria, becoming the employer of choice in Africa, and attaining an Augusto AAA and a Fitch A+ credit rating by the end of 2012.

Setting an example
In order to manage environmental and social risk and improve performance – in spite of how they affect the jurisdiction – Access Bank has introduced organisational learning, and has adopted a comprehensive environmental and social risk management policy. The bank has been in the spotlight for a few years now for contributing to its local communities. Award titles such as Most Socially Responsible Bank, Sustainable Bank of the Year, and Best ESG Asset Manager are just a few of the company’s recent accolades.

The bank and its employees have worked vigorously, and always alongside its clients, to understand what customers require. It has then systematically incorporated this knowledge into the way it conducts its business.
Access Bank is driving the development of a set of Nigerian sustainable banking principles to address environmental, development and social issues. The bank’s policy on sustainability has been very successful: so much so that it has significantly influenced the way other African companies conduct their business in the region.

CSR at the heart of Access Bank
Africa’s health concerns are also taken extremely seriously at Access Bank. The continent is one of the regions most heavily affected by HIV, Aids, TB and malaria. These illnesses are one of the main factors responsible for a decline in productivity, reduced profits and increased business expenditure for small enterprises in the region. The bank has been at the forefront of the private sector response to fight against these diseases in sub-Saharan Africa, and has helped to build and rehabilitate Africa’s health infrastructure.

The group’s CEO, Aigboje Aig-Imoukhuede, has demonstrated the bank’s pledge on different occasions and is widely recognised as a proponent of CSR in the African business community. With his guidance the bank has signed agreements and created close associations with the most essential national and international health organisations in Africa, including GBC Health Initiative.

Additionally, the lender has joined forces with a range of other multinational companies, including Friends of the Global Fund Africa, to help initiate measures for the prevention and treatment of illnesses affecting the continent.

Access Bank achieved this through workplace policy workshops for 2,000 SMEs throughout Ghana, Zambia, Nigeria and Rwanda. The workshops focused on training companies on the development and implementation of workplace policies for the most serious illnesses. The plan also benefited employees and their dependants, who were trained on making informed behavioural and medical choices to help decrease and prevent further spread.

Access Bank’s policy provisions also targeted care and support for workers and their families, and the protection of the rights of those affected by HIV/Aids. The group will continue to be an ardent advocate of responsible business practice, and has become a role-model for other banks to follow.