Access Bank PLC

Access Corporation: Leapfrogging The Banking Ecosystem

First Bank Nigeria

With her banking subsidiary as Nigeria’s largest commercial bank by assets and Africa’s largest in terms of customer base, Access Corporation’s transition into a full financial services holding company promises delivery of unique globally connected financial services across customers’ needs, Louis Achi writes

As the world and Africa stand on the brink of significant disruption – and of substantial opportunity – as new business models challenge traditional templates, Access Holdings Plc, trading as Access Corporation in March announced its start of operations, with initial portfolio companies and its future strategy.

The Corporation which sustains Access Bank’s scale and ethical standards will have portfolio companies with significant complementarities,

This will allow the now enlarged ecosystem player to walk with customers across their life cycle while delivering value to stakeholders and offering a new globally connected set of services.

This ecosystem offers specialised services at the same time as a seamless integrated experience to improve both relevance and convenience.

With brick and mortar structures of traditional banking practically going extinct and giving way to electronic service delivery, more Nigerian lenders have in last few years been pressing to break the glass ceiling where competition is intercontinental. But Access Corporation’s sheer pace-setting boldness takes the cake.

The completion of its transition into a holding company structure led to the delisting of its entire 35.5 billion outstanding shares from the daily official list of the Nigerian Exchange. But it was obvious to most market analysts that the behemoth must have discerned great opportunity somewhere and this needed to be urgently exploited in a rapidly evolving global financial market.

The company now trading under a new parent company known as Access Holdings Plc (Access Corporation) has since been relisted to reflect current realities of the market.

Access Corporation now oversees a group of portfolio companies that will drive more value for customers and stakeholders. In Access Bank Group, although banking remains its core mandate, it has now been equipped to provide best-in-class, seamless and consistent customer experience, and service delivery in its operations in Nigeria, and across its 14 subsidiaries in Africa, Europe and Asia.

The new Corporation comprises verticals cutting across banking, payments, consumer lending, insurance brokerage and asset management. Access Bank Group will continue to operate in Nigeria and through its subsidiaries and business offices in Africa, Europe, and Asia.

These businesses have positioned Access Corporation to provide banking services, including intra-and inter-Africa trade, consumer lending, payments services, and insurance services to their customers, thereby improving wealth diversification and preservation.

Speaking on the Corporation’s debut, an upbeat Mr. Herbert Wigwe, who is the Group CEO of Access Corporation said: “Many of you would have heard us talk about Access Corporation earlier this year. This natural evolution of our company will ensure that we continue to use digital tools and our partnership with Fintechs to support our customers’ lifestyles outside of the banking system.

“We have set our sights on and delivered ambitious plans to transform the African financial services sector over the last 20 years. Until now, we have concentrated on banking, with the goal of becoming the World’s Most Respected African Bank.

“Our banking subsidiary is now Nigeria’s largest bank by assets and Africa’s largest in terms of customer base. It is now time for us to take the next transformative step, where we provide our customers with beyond banking services delivering new interconnected financial services across customers’ needs.”

For the Lending Company, the focus is now largely on consumer lending company, serving individuals and SMEs. Products on offer include buy-now-pay-later loans, car loans, small mortgages, salary-based loans, working capital loans, durable goods loans, point of sale loans and much more. This is a digital business, focused on speed, convenience and value.

On the other hand, the Group’s Payment Company, will drive payments locally and across the African continent and beyond. Primarily a business services company, the Payco will make payments simpler, faster and more efficiently. The focus will be on; Switching, Card Processing, New and Emerging Payments. There is more.

An Access HoldCo structure, for the nimble Wigwe, means they now have the leeway to branch out into other financial services outside its core banking operations to recompense for a largely depressed earnings capacity of commercial banking in consonance with the sector’s growing propensity to diversify income streams of operators in an enlarged entity.

Effectively, the HoldCo franchise allows a parent company to hold controlling stakes in all the subsidiaries under its purview without interference in their everyday functioning, while freeing each of the companies in the group from the liability or debt settlement obligations of another company in the event of insolvency.

A crucial arena the Access HoldCo seems very focused in its quest for offering of trade facilitation services to its African business community is the use of an efficient payment and settlement design currently being developed to power transactions in the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) which commenced last year with about 52 countries already aboard.

The emerging consensus is that Africa still trails Europe, Asia and the United States of America among other regions in its continental trade currently below 10 per cent of global trade.

For example, over the past 50 years, records show that while trade with the West comes with very few or zero bottlenecks, intra-African trade are usually mitigated by so much tariff and non-tariff barriers including payment challenges which an Access HoldCo can leverage to extend its reach across Africa and beyond in the years ahead.

According to the African Development Bank (AfDB), intra-Africa exports amount to only 16.6 per cent of total trade in the continent.

But the signing of the landmark trade agreement in the African Continental Free Trade Area Agreement (AfCFTA), in 2018 which commits countries to remove tariffs on 90 percent of goods, progressively liberalise trade in services and address a host of other non-tariff barriers opened a new vista for Nigerian and other lenders in Africa to become more competitive.

Though much work still needs to be done, the agreement created a single African market of over a billion consumers with a total GDP of over $3 trillion which would make Africa the largest free trade area in the world. Fundamentally, this means that any lender with relevant structures can leverage payment and settlement opportunities in the continental space to make more impact.

Perhaps not surprising Access Holdings’ exploited its Afrocentric leaning and opened up branches in major financial centres of the world to enable it focus more on improving trade on the continent and earn more revenue for its shareholders.

An alert, sure-footed leader, Wigwe noted that, “We recognise and embrace the change that is currently happening and, as we have previously demonstrated, we will lead. Access Corporation will be a driving force in the ongoing digital revolution to the benefit of our stakeholders.

“This transition will allow us to offer more career development opportunities across portfolio companies for our employees, allowing us to attract and retain the best talent in an increasingly global marketplace. We will unlock more value for our customers by focusing on distinct business opportunities with high growth rates globally, such as payments and consumer lending.”

It is a given that a powerful vision pulls in ideas, people and other resources. It creates the momentum and will to make change happen. It inspires individuals, complementary organisations and institutions to commit, to persist and to give their best.

Enlisting this enduring philosophy, unassuming Wigwe has also deployed impeccable professionalism, discipline and persistence to lead the change in the traditional narrative of the banking sector in Nigeria and the continent.

And this is Wigwe’s forte.

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