James Ume

The story of the spirit of Heritage Bank varies in a positive way just as the conclusion by a vast majority of its customers and those in the financial and business sector is one that not only keeps evolving but is getting better and more pragmatic.
Two years on, the words at the maiden edition of the Investors Forum in Lagos, still rings rich and deep: “We have a story, how we started and where we are going. All that defines us! Whatever our purpose, we all desire to succeed; we all desire to leave a legacy of success. Welcome to history in the making.”

When Heritage Bank Ltd took over the ownership of Enterprise Bank from the Asset Management Corporation of Nigeria, AMCON, in 2014 it was a strategic move embedded in the bank’s policy of broadening its base to bring in more Nigerians to benefit from its pool of exciting services.

In two years and despite the harsh economic environment, the bank has continued to stay the course due, mainly, to the managerial direction of the Managing Director/ Chief Executive Officer, Mr Ifie Sekibo, and the management team. If anyone were to be in doubt as to the long term objective of Heritage Bank, those fears were doused when he was named as Banker of the Year for 2015 by Nigeria’s longest running newspaper, Daily Times.

Explaining the award to Sekibo, Daily Times said, He is a tenacious entrepreneur, passionate game changer and a result-oriented professional with a proven track record in turn-around management. These attributes consistently drive his vision to lead tenacious teams which mobilize strategic investments and capital injection to resuscitate and restructure moribund companies to the path of sustained profitability.”

When Heritage Bank emerged from the ashes of Societe Generale Bank of Nigeria Plc, SGBN, to acquire 100 percent shareholding of Enterprise Bank Limited, only a few gave it any chance. But the situation on ground shows that it inherited over 160 branches of its new acquisition nationwide. It is heart-warming to note that in taking over Enterprise Bank, Heritage had to pay N56.1 billion to the Assets Management Company of Nigeria (AMCON). It is a given that anybody that is ready to muscle out such a princely sum must know his onions and what is required to turn the bank around for profitability, and that is exactly the Heritage story.

It is to the credit and guidance of the chairman of the bank, Akinsola Akinfemiwa, and Sekibo, that the bank has been able to successfully return 100 percent of existing SGBN account holders’ funds to their owners as well as fulfilling and exceeding all required criteria for operations.

Today, the bank is living up to its moniker of preserving a heritage of consistency by creating, preserving and transferring wealth across generations through exciting products.

One of such products is the bank’s Youth Entrepreneurship Development Programme, YEDP, in collaboration with the National Youth Service Corps, NYSC. As a bank that knows that the empowerment of the youths holds great potential for growth and development, the synergy with the NYSC led to the empowering of 310 young entrepreneurs with N93 million in October this year.

The special grant which is backed by the Central Bank of Nigeria, CBN, is geared towards inspiring and harvesting the entrepreneurial abilities of young Nigerians toward creating over one million direct jobs by 2020. It is a given that one major hindrance to accessing loans and intervention schemes in the country is the issue of collateral. Aware of this challenge, all the beneficiaries need to do is to make available their academic and NYSC certificates as well as third party guarantees and movable assets and they are in. It is no wonder that the first disbursement was such a huge success with the 310 beneficiaries presented with a cheque of N3million each.

Speaking at the event, Sekibo, urged the CBN to expand the programme to accommodate more qualified youth entrepreneurs and pointed out that the bank has over 7,000 business proposals which needs to be funded.
As a corporate, socially responsible enterprise, the bank keeps investing in the future of young Nigerians so as to inspire them to become responsible citizens and contribute their quota to the nation’s growth and development. It is this spirit that informed its Skoolympics project, which was promptly endorsed by the Lagos State government.
The Heritage Bank Skoolympics project is aimed at building champions through youth sports competition at the secondary school level.

At the endorsement of the project, the Special Adviser to the Lagos State Government on Sports, Mr Ayodeji Tinubu, said, “We are very excited at the project because it will help to develop youths in the state in a disciplined manner,” andadded, “we have mobilised and created awareness among students in the state for the project and they are looking forward to it.”

Tinubu described it as “very fantastic idea” and stressed that the state was interested in the “pre, during and post event activities because it intended to expose the beneficiary students to proper mentoring and counselling.”
Rewarding customers is part of the Heritage way. One of such experiences is the ‘Happy Days Promo’ aimed at empowering and rewarding its teeming loyal customers.

Besides the matrix of reward, it was also designed to encourage savings at a period of tight economic situation. A winner of the promo will become a proud owner of a brand new car while others are billed to become millionaires from across the country, with yet others on monthly basis, smiling home with exciting prizes.

The bank captured aptly when it stated: “The ‘Happy Days’ promo, underscores our determination to improve the standard of living and lifestyle of our customers who deserve the reward for their unflinching loyalty to the brand since the bank berthed three years ago.”

Fully aware that it needs to get the proper regulatory approval and ratings, it opened its books to world rating agency, Moody’s and Augusto, and the verdict was of good cheer.
The rating agency not only affirmed that Heritage Bank’s capitalisation remains sound in relation to its low asset risk model, but also said it has the capacity to generate income from its core business to settle its obligation as at when due.

According to Moody, under the new methodology, the bank’s credit metrics’ ratings remain consistent with an a3 Baseline Credit Assessment (BCA), when measured against Australia’s macro profile.

“The bank’s BCA, which encapsulates its stand-alone financial profile, and its adjusted BCA were also confirmed at a3. The outlook for all ratings is stable,” the agency stated.

“The international and local ratings investment metrics is a welcome development to the bank and, in light of this sterling achievement, we swiftly need to improve on our performances in order to boost our subsequent ratings,” a statement from the bank noted.

Moody’s and Augusto’s rating is in sync with the commendable results posted by the bank in the past financial year and the last three quarters of 2016, resulting in shareholder approvals to list its shares on the Nigerian Stock Exchange within one year of its business combination with the erstwhile Enterprise Bank Limited.

The phenomenal and steady growth of the bank can only be appreciated from the fact that from just 11 branches in 2013, it currently boasts of a physical network of over 160 experience centres (branches); 418 automated teller machines (ATMs) and over 1,630 points of sales (POS) devices all over the country.

It presently holds the enviable record of being the first bank in Nigeria to be ISO certified in less than two years of operation and holds the record of introducing ATM machines nationwide. The first also extends to it being one of the first financial institutions in the country to commence the SME Clinic initiative; and in the process has established itself as the bank of choice for its customers’ needs and prospects.

One cannot but agree with Seibo, who said: “We hold firmly to the belief that the capacity for immense wealth lies in you,” while stressing that, “the changing dynamics of banking across the globe had necessitated the need for the country to move along the direction of e-banking to bring about innovation in the banking sector.”

That pull of innovation has seen Heritage Bank continually pursuing distinctive innovations, which has seen it receive the Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard, PCI DSS certification, in addition to the ISO/IEC 27001:2013 award.

The certification was in recognition of the bank’s commitment to effective and secured financial system which has put the bank in the league of big players in the industry and confer internationally-recognised standard on its operations.

With these and many more of its work ethics of serving Nigerians and the sub-region, one can safely conclude that the legacy of Heritage Bank Ltd, is as enduring as the cultures of the different tribes and peoples it serves.
Ume is the Managing Consultant, Channelkoos Media Consult Ltd; james@channelkoos.com

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