Nigeria’s Firstbank celebrates 125 years of transformation and success

UK Eke discusses the evolution of Nigeria's largest bank

April 9, 2019

Firstbank, the largest bank in Nigeria, is celebrating 125 years of operation. UK Eke is Group Managing Director of FBN Holdings, the bank’s holding company. He discusses the bank’s origins as the British Bank of West Africa, the transformations that Firstbank has undergone through the years, and its vision for the future of banking. In the other half of this interview UK discusses the corporate restructuring that created FBN Holdings.

World Finance: UK, 125 years is a magnificent achievement; how does it feel?

UK Eke: Thank you very much Paul; for us, it’s been humbling.

In 125 years we’ve transformed. We started off as the British Bank for West Africa. But within a few years we became the monetary policy authority for not just Nigeria, but also the British West Africa. Becoming the foremost financial services institution in Nigeria, with strong presence in Africa, and also presence in Asia and Europe.

And so for us it’s been an amazing story. And we do feel proud of what we’ve achieved. This is a landmark celebration; it’s a heritage, it’s an iconic brand that everybody in Nigeria is proud to be associated with. So there’s a feeling of pride and accomplishment; and I daresay the future is even brighter than the past.

World Finance: Tell me more about the transformations that the bank has gone through; how has it changed, and what lessons are you taking forward to the future?

UK Eke: If you check what has happened in the last 125 years, we’ve gone through economic and market cycles. You can talk about the First World War, the Second World War, the Great Depression, even the Nigerian Civil War. And so we have gone through transformation over the period. But one thing that has endured is our full commitment to the nation. Supporting businesses, supporting societies. Not just in Nigeria, but also across West Africa and beyond.

What we have also done has been to deliberately make investments into our future. And that means technology has been at the forefront of delivering service.

Secondly, investment in people. Because the people make the difference. And we do believe that this is what has given us the edge. And so we do feel proud of what we have achieved.

From oil and gas to manufacturing; the retail sector to the government: we’ve supported business. So we are woven into the fabric of society. And that is why we believe that the future again, I repeat, is very bright for us.

World Finance: Tell me more about the investments you’re making in Firstbank’s future; what do you hope to achieve over the next 125 years?

UK Eke: Banking will continue to be relevant. What will change is the way banking services or products are delivered to the consuming public. So we are right now in the digital age, and we are prepared to ride that digital wave. We are building permanent system infrastructure. We are supporting financial inclusion. And we’re just redefining how banking is done.

So for us in Nigeria, and for us in Firstbank particularly, we see an opportunity to drive innovation. We are partnering with fintechs to create products for the future. And we believe that the investments we have made in the present will serve us into the future.

Just to give you a sense of how strong that investment is, today in Nigeria we are the only bank that has issued over 10 million cards. Today in Nigeria we have well over 15,000 agents that are helping us drive towards financial inclusion. And so today we are seeing a whole array of products internally, and then being deployed into the market. And acceptability has been very, very strong.

So our dominance will continue to be entrenched. We believe our relevance and our resilience will continue to endure, even into the future.

World Finance: UK, thank you very much.

UK Eke: It’s my pleasure.