How can you describe the identity of Ecobank in the banking industry?
We are a pan-African bank. We were established from day one as a pan-African entity with shareholding from different countries. Within our first year of operation, we became established in five countries, namely Nigeria, Republic of Benin, Togo, Ghana and Cote d’Ivoire and that was in 1989 and so next year, we would be 30 years in business as a pan-African entity.
Because of our vision across Africa, we started out from our day one model as a global financial institution. We are multilingual, we started as bilingual. Now we operate in four languages – English, French, Spanish and Portuguese. We are present in 36 countries in Africa, four counties outside Africa: France, the UK, the UAE and China, essentially to provide a linkage to global trade and to facilitate financial transactions of our customers.
In Africa, within the 36 country network, we have full banking operations in 33 of the countries.
The other three countries where we don’t have full banking operations are Ethiopia, Angola and South Africa where we have rep offices. But when you look from Senegal, to Rwanda, to Kenya in the east to Cameroon to a bit south down to Zimbabwe, you have Ecobank in every country.
From the west of Africa, east of Africa, north below the Maghreb and south above South Africa, Ecobank is present in every country in that geographical space. It’s a unique footprint in order that we deliver the mandate of our shareholders which essentially is to provide world class financial services to every African and the economic development of Africa. And we’ve done this now for 29 years effectively.
We’ve built a customer base in an excess of 20 million as a group. We provide full banking services right from the wholesale businesses to the small and medium scale businesses and to individuals.
And in order to do this, we’ve built technology platforms that ensure that we are able to deliver our services in a convenient, accessible, fast, affordable and reliable manner for our customers and in a manner that is sustainable to provide returns for shareholders.
What is your financial position as at date?
For us as a bank, we’ve done well financially. We have demonstrated the ability, firstly to be a true intermediator because the role of a bank is mobilizing funds from the surplus part of the economy and funding areas where there are shortfalls and need for capital and support to grow economic activities.
We have played that role significantly whether as a group or Ecobank in Nigeria. And as in Nigeria, we have a balance sheet in the region of N2 trillion and that shows that we have demonstrated the ability to be a reliable keeper of customers’ funds and a reliable supporter of people who wish to borrow money in order to grow their businesses or do their activities.
We have continued to grow the net value of the company; our shareholders have confidence in us to continue to invest adequately in order that we carry out our business. We’ve seen various rounds of capitalization in Nigeria. Ecobank has always come through it strongly. We’ve demonstrated that as a bank, with prudent management of customers and shareholders’ funds very seriously, we have a very strong code of corporate governance and ethics that guide our operations in dealing with our international activities, in dealing with our relationship with customers, and in dealing with our regulators.
It is true that in terms of a long term vision, the way you rate a bank that has the mandate that Ecobank has might be exactly the same way you rate a one-man owned entity. We are a global player; we are Pan-African and we have a long term vision. If you look at things that I’ve explained, we have to build those realms in order to move to the next level of realizing.
So, we are doing well. We need to do better. We can never get complacent.
There are challenges to growing a business in Africa, not just in Nigeria because we do not operate in a vacuum, we operate within the economy, within the society. But what we have proven is that as long as the society is carrying out economic activities, there’s is a positive role for Ecobank to play. And so, we’re present in all these countries and because of our diversification in different regions, in different levels of economic growth, in different levels of economic environment – in some countries, interest rates are going down; in some, interest rates are going up; while in some countries, currency is strengthening; in some other countries, currency is devaluing.
That diversification that we have achieved through our geographical footprint and through the vertical integration between the multinationals, SMEs, medium scale companies, individuals and households, has really helped us to continue to improve from one year to the other. But there is much more work to do. We would like to bring banking services to every household. We would like to build the platform of choice to every business in Nigeria and in Africa. There’s still much work to do but we are on the right path.
What should be the focus and outlook of the economy in 2019?
For us, as I have explained, we look at the fundamentals. We look at Nigeria, the population is there; you look at the demography of the population. Over 50 percent are less than 30 years old and that speaks to growth potentials. Though, it does have its challenges but in terms of economic activities, it demonstrates a huge viable market with growth potentials.
You look at the intellectual capacity within the economy, this is an aspirational economy; an economy where the average participant believes strongly that he or she can do better. And therefore for us, the focus in Nigeria should remain the fundamentals. One of which is infrastructure, there is also power and rail, in order to harness the significant potential in the country.
How do you think the government can do this?
Growth of the intellectual economy is important. I’ve commented about this and I’ll still reiterate it.
Nigerians are very resourceful people. Participation in services where you have to use your intellectual capacity leveraging on the internet, leveraging on the digital access available globally, Nigeria should focus on becoming a top player globally.
It is not by accident that the Facebook proprietor came to Nigeria. Also, it is not by accident that the telcos have grown exponentially in Nigeria. It is not by accident that internet and broadband growths are such at a high pace in Nigeria. We need to focus. It is not by accident that our Nollywood products really dominate, not just in the continent, but also becoming globally accepted.
It is true we have oil but the oil should not be our base. We should focus on various areas where we have comparable advantage and go ahead to realize our potentials as a country.
Even in fashion, Nigeria sets the standard taking into consideration the kit won by our footballers at the world cup. You find the willingness of people to pay for something created by Nigerians. In art and culture area, we are naturally leaders and we should exploit that significantly.
Kenya is exploring tourism. Ghana is exploring tourism. Togo has focused on being the relevant port for commerce within West Africa. We have so much potential in Nigeria.
So, Nigerians should begin to focus on discussing more of the opportunity that we have and really highlighting where we have comparable advantage and doing it to scale.
If you pick any country that we referred to as doing well, what they have done is concentrating their energy on their area of advantage and making sure that everywhere in the world, you refer to them, and that is their own way of attracting foreign direct investment, creating employment and making sure that the future is bright within their country.
So, for us in Nigeria, the discourse should be around the fact that we have opportunities in these areas. Because we have a young demography, a demography that reflects youth, education and health and anything around basic food, basic nutrition is an area of growth. In various ways, there has been effort; the effort focused on agriculture, the ability to feed ourselves and reduce the amount of import of rice, amount of import of various drinks because not too long ago, bottle water had to be imported into Nigeria.
But there are lots of Nigerian entrepreneurs today doing it locally at good health level now. So, we can scale any of these areas. And we should focus on our areas of comparable advantage; competitive advantage and use the scale of production to bring down inflation; bring down cost of doing business; bring down interest rates. This is because in the long run, for the productive sector of the economy to be funded; the cost of being funded needs to be affordable. And given the ability of Nigerians to communicate, my own opinion is that we should focus on our areas of strength and keep discussing it until it becomes a global reference.
Few months ago, the CBN came out to introduce guidelines for payment service banks (PSBs). The banks threatened that these PSBs that will see a lot of telcos play. They will come and take up some of your businesses as they are coming to compete in the same market that other banks are trying to capture?
The development of payment service banks is so important to us in Ecobank.
We collaborate with fintech and participants in the economy. It is true that it could be viewed as increased competition but competition in itself is not negative. It actually reduces the overall cost of participation because more capital is being put into the sector and the scalability of the sector is still there.
We have less than 60 percent of the population fully banked. If you actually talk of active financial participation, the percentage will be less than 30 percent. By the time you add the under-banked and the unbanked together, it would be close to 70 percent. So, the opportunity is there for more scale participation.
We have demonstrated in various countries: in Ghana, in Côte d’Ivoire, Togo, Liberia, in Kenya, Uganda, in Rwanda, in Cameroon that we have the ability of collaborating well with telcos that have participated in this space.
In Ghana, we partnered with MTN to even provide treasury bills, investment opportunities for individuals straight from the mobile phone. At the end of the day, participants need a strong bank as the final repository.
We look forward to collaborating with participants in this space. We have the ability to work on our own. Also, we understand the value of collaborations and we’ll embrace collaborations in the evolving market space that we are looking forward to in Nigeria.
I think it’s a bold step by the CBN. It’s a commitment to bring financial services to every household. And because that aligns with our commitment at Ecobank, we will participate positively in furthering that agenda.
Globally, banking industry is changing as technology continues to disrupt the space. How do you see Nigerian banks faring in the future in this fast changing operating environment?
Famously, I think it’s now well known that banking is not where you go but what you do. In the past, when you say I want to do any banking service, it was synonymous to travelling to one location to do banking. But now, banking has come to your finger tips and that we believe that increasingly, banking itself would become more affordable, more available; but the differentiator would increasingly be the effectiveness of the customer service that the bank brings to bear in adding value to the financial transactions being carried out by customers.
First, the definition of who is your customer is being expanded from the person that has an account in your bank to the person that uses your financial services platforms.
So, if you look at ATMs, ATMs are interoperable. If you have an account in X bank, and you come to use Ecobank ATM, you are also my customer because you’re using my service; and if you are happy with the service on my Ecobank ATM, not minding which other bank you brought your ATM from, it reflects positively in your confidence in the Ecobank brand.
Therefore, the concept of who is your customer is being expanded significantly. And that’s why the steps taken by Nigeria Interbank Settlement System (NIBSS), the Central Bank in the establishment of BVN is really forward thinking and should be supported by every Nigerian. What that does, is create an identity that enables banks to really relate to customers in a non-restrictive manner because you know that this is a participant in the economy and you provide the services.
Therefore, customers would have more choices. The ease of access has improved. The transparency requirements are at the height because people can compare. And therefore, it creates growth. You will find that in the level of instant payments today.
When I started my career in banking, if you want to make a payment from Lagos to somebody in Kano, you write a cheque and the person in Kano takes it to the bank in Kano. It takes 21 days to get value. But today, it’s at the speed seconds to do your transactions.
So, banking is one of the industries that have leveraged the development of technology to leapfrog the challenges of infrastructure in Nigeria. Hence, it makes services affordable at a more reliable level for every individual. It is a highly dynamic industry. It is an exciting industry for young people to bring to bear innovation. And that’s why for us at Ecobank, we embrace innovation. We want to always be in the vanguard to do things better such that more people get better value for their activities.
Spirit Of Enterprise
The Business Side Of Fashion: Creating a Niche in the Bespoke Tailoring Space – Ugo Monye
The Fidelity SME Forum is a weekly radio programme organized by Fidelity Bank Plc to educate, inform, advise and inspire budding entrepreneurs in Nigeria with knowledge and expertise that will enable them build sustainable and successful businesses. The interactive radio programme features subject matter experts and model entrepreneurs as guests on a weekly basis to share their insight and unique success stories. In this interview, Ugo Monye gives valuable insights on “The Business Side Of Fashion: Creating a Niche in the Bespoke Tailoring Space”.
Q: Tell us your story, how did you get into the fashion space?
Monye: I used to be an artist when I was a lot younger. And my mum had a fashion business so at that time she wanted me to study Fine Arts in the UK. But I wanted to be a businessman like my father because he was doing very well. When I got into the university, I studied Business Administration and that was supposed to be my core. But I looked at the way people dress and I started criticizing what they were wearing and I started trying it out.
Q: You’ve evolved, how many years has it been since you started this business and how have you evolved overtime?
Monye: I started professionally 2008 but I’ve been doing it since 2002.
Q: What was your breakthrough moment?
Monye: Very frankly, I don’t have a breakthrough moment, it hasn’t happened yet.
Q: But I saw you being recognized at the stock exchange, they were calling you to come and list?
Monye: The thing about it is that I thank God for where I am now, but what I saw when I was starting this business is not what I’m seeing right now.
Q:What is your Vision?
Monye: I’ve not seen any fashion brand in Nigeria that can compete globally, so that is what we are trying to do.
Q: Tell us the Experience of Ebuka wearing your Brand and how it catapulted you into the Spotlight?
Monye: It was really a very interesting experience. But before I talk about that, I went for an event on Friday. It was one of these end of the year parties. Amazingly, when I got there, they recognized that I came. I was like wow! So when that whole thing happened, I was surprised. This is because I’m not used to the whole media, social media. I have never been used to it, it has never been my thing. The experience has been a very mixed feeling.
Q: So a night before the traditional wedding, how many followers did you have?
Monye: I think I had about 6300 followers or so. But today I have over 60,000 followers.
Q: And because you wear your designs and your friends do as well, so you continually innovate. What about colors and patterns how do you manage that?
Monye: I watch TV. I go online and check what other people are doing because I’m really not very good with colours. So it is based on what I see other people do that I try to work with colors. I’m better with my designs than colors.
Q: And then how do you manage staff, because that is one huge challenge in a bespoke space?
Monye: I think I have the highest turnaround that I know. Now let me talk about tailors. My own selling point is that, before everyone knew that Ugo is a fantastic designer, his designs were nice. I said to myself that ”you need to go from that phase of being fantastic. And let’s focus on the quality”. Because you don’t want hey! That design is nice when I get close to it. It is fine from far but is far from fine when you look at the little details. So we are trying to see how we can focus more on the quality of stitching. Because if we compare our design as a Nigerian with the quality of work that we do here in Nigeria and what people celebrate in Nigeria, I’m not really happy about it.
Q: It seems like it has been smooth sailing from 2002 till today. What has been the biggest challenge or your frustration with the sector?
Monye: Tailors have been my major issue, then infrastructure, light. There was a time that one of my landlords assumed I was doing so well and because of that, he increased the rent automatically.
Q: How have you been able to meet the need of the lower traders that can’t afford 200k or more?
Monye: I saw that flying around but that wasn’t me. So I design clothes for everybody, if you come to the store you will be shocked to see the price range of things that we have, so it’s not for only “The Big Boys.”
Q: But you have designed for other famous people like politicians, business executives, what was so special about Ebuka’s break through moment?
Monye: This outfit when we were making it, was just like every normal outfit, there was nothing special to it, but I think the four things I could identify was the outfit, it was a great picture, it was the event and it was the person who wore it. The person pulled it off very well so those four things came together to create that whole thing.
Q:When you think about the international landscape who do you admire? Like who do you say that’s what I want to be in ten years?
Monye: You look at people like Ozwald Boateng, I like everything about him. I like the fact that he is African. I like the fact that he is making Africa proud. I’d like to be bigger.
Q: How do you intend to break into the international space?
Monye: Right now we’ve been making clothes for a couple of people home and abroad and a couple of celebrities even abroad. So we are trying to see how we can leverage our contacts to get us out there. Recently we did a private viewing in the US. It was very successful and that has led to many other opportunities in the US.
Q: How are you engaging with international media to ensure that the GQ, the Vogues get to notice you?
Monye: This is new for me so right now. I’ve been getting a lot of emails from different magazines abroad. And we have been trying also to be selective about what we are doing.
Q: What do we expect in the Nigerian scheme? Are you going to have a website where people can order your clothes? Will you walk us through the scheme plan for expansion?
Monye: So now of course there is plan to expand. We want a situation whereby, we have a website but we want a situation whereby you can have bespoke clothes done by yourself from our website. We intend to have more locations where we have our outlets
Q: You make men get into fashion, do you educate the customers you have on fashion?
Monye: Yes you have to. Like if I meet someone for the first time I would ask him a couple of question before I start making clothes. Lawyers are very conservative, so you will now know how to approach them. Most times when you deal with conservative people, they don’t want to go outside the box. However, you just make them understand that this is not going too far but you can just change or tweak it a bit.
Q: How do you sustain your relationship with your customers?
Monye: Service is key. Respect is key. Like I always tell, respect is the most important thing, from the material to the client. Like if I have a piece of fabric, and I take it to the factory. And then my tailor just drops it anyhow, you can bet that I would be very upset. So we respect that whole process to the customers. And I make sure the customer always feels good about his cloth.
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