Access Bank Repositions Digital Payment to Reap African Continental Free Trade Agreement Gains

Herbert Wigwe

Herbert Wigwe-Group Managing Director Access Bank

Access Banks planned expansion to eight African countries will come with huge gains from the 1.3 billion people targeted in the African Continental Free Trade Agreement (AfCFTA) deal. The banks strong digital banking platforms will play well in enabling electronic payments across countries of operation and beyond. The lender is not only focusing on key markets to support regional trade and targeting new opportunity markets but positioning its operations as a trade and payments gateway to the world, writes COLLINS NWEZE.

Access Bank will be leveraging on its spread across the African continent and deep investment in technology to reap gains coming from the African Continental Free Trade Agreement (AfCTA).The AfCTA trade bloc offers a potential market of over 1.3 billion people and a Gross Domestic Product size of over $3 trillion. According to The United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), there is the potential for intra-African trade to rise to 15.5 per cent as a share of total African trade by 2022 compared with 10.2 per cent from 2010.For many businesses, securing a seat at the stable ensures that Nigerians can influence negotiations and protect national interests.

While the agreement is not a silver bullet, due to structural barriers to trade, Group Managing Director, Access Bank Plc, Herbert Wigwe, said he saw many benefits to his bank and the various African economies within the AfCTA deal.In a report titled: Realigning for Growth released by the bank, Wigwe said Access Bank would be optimizing and taking maximum gain of the trade agreement by repositioning its operations and payment platforms to serve more customers across the continent.

He said Access Bank Group has consistently delivered growth and created value over time and has the largest customer base in Africa, with a significant share of digitally active clients. The bank is also becoming an aggregator in Africa by building a global payments gateway, offering holistic trade finance support and offering correspondent banking services.It is also focusing on key markets to support regional trade by targeting new opportunity markets and positioning the bank as a trade and payments gateway to the world.He identified eight African countries for a potential expansion as it seeks to benefit from the opportunities presented by the AfCFTA.

The bank already operates in 12 countries following a series of acquisitions spanning from Kenya to Nigeria. The markets of interest are Morocco, Algeria, Egypt, Ivory Coast, Senegal, Angola, Namibia and Ethiopia, according to an online presentation emailed by the Lagos-based lender.It will also use its London-based unit as an anchor for growth to expand representative offices in countries such as India, Lebanon and China, Wigwe disclosed. The African trade pact aims to bolster intra-regional commerce by lowering or eliminating cross-border tariffs, facilitating the movement of capital and people, promoting investment and paving the way for the establishment of a continental-wide customs union.Access Bank plans to eventually expand into 22 African countries to cushion challenges in some markets, diversify earnings and take advantage of growth opportunities in the region.

The lender, which is looking to transition to a holding company this year, plans to open subsidiaries in insurance brokerage, consumer lending and agency banking as well as payments to boost revenue, Wigwe added. The bank is equally transforming payments and remittances using cheap forex from international remittances to feed trade, leveraging AccessAfrica connections to wallets and payment platforms.It is also building on partnerships with financial investors, Development Finance Institutions, among others and providing strategic support to protect and grow partners value.Continuing, he said the bank has continued to deliver strong results and is focused on generating sustainable revenue across all income lines.

The banks gross revenue grew 26 per cent to N592.8 billion (from nine-months 2018 to nine-months 2020 with steady growth across all income lines. Strong and diversified revenue growth has been driven by expansive retail banking growth and increased velocity of transactions, optimising value chain of wholesale banking customers, credit growth engine, prioritizing margin growth through efficiencies and delighting customers at every digital payment touchpoint, Wigwe said. The bank chief explained that with the growth of its operations, the lender has maintained a focus on efficiency in the last three quarters through sustainable cost to income ratio of 50 to 55 per cent given investments in digital and growth over the next two years.Access Bank is driving Group revenue growth through retail expansion with the banks retail banking business grown consistently across all income lines, driven by strong focus on consumer lending, payments and remittances, digitization of customer journeys, and customer acquisition at scale.

We have maintained strong capital levels despite investments for growth, accumulating capital over time. Opportunities for growth will be supported by a digital strategy that will set us apart as a clear-cut digital leader. Our Africa expansion strategy is deliberate and disciplined, with a targeted focus and approach, supported by key enablers, Wigwe added.

The tier-1 bank is also taking advantage of the expansion strategy to diversify its earnings and risk. It said Nigeria will remain its largest market countries of presence targeting an impactful presence, reaping economies of scale, and leveraging digital and access to cheap funding sources.Across Africa, there is an opportunity for Access bank to expand to high-potential markets.Its Holding Company (HoldCo) will consist of four subsidiaries which include the Access Bank Group, Payments business, consumer lending and agency banking as well as insurance brokerage.We will therefore reorganise to capture these opportunities by transitioning to a HoldCo structure. Through this reorganisation, we will create new product revenues without taking additional risk for the enterprise, ensure diversification of earnings, and support outside of Africa expansion, he said.

Access Bank Group will consist of Nigeria, Africa and International subsidiaries while the Payments subsidiary will leverage the strong suite of the Banks assets. The Consumer Lending business has seen greater than 60 per cent growth in digital lending volume and value while the Insurance subsidiary will adopt a dynamic and creative approach to deliver value-added services focused to meet customer insurance needs, he stated.For instance, Access Bank is in partnership with Coronation Insurance to offer insurance products to the Banks customers. Access Bank-Coronation Insurance bancassurance is already available in Nigeria and Ghana.

Access Insurance Brokerage would adopt a dynamic and creative approach to provide a value- added insurance broking services focused to meeting customers insurance protection needs. The bank says it recognises its unique role in preserving the environment in which we operate as well as positively impacting the society through responsible investing. The AfCFTA plans to ease non-tariff barriers to trade on the continent, such as the reduction of red tape (which improves the time to export and import), removal of quotas and licenses, and easing of rules of origin, among others. Also, it is expected that the agreement would lead to cheaper consumer goods prices which will drive improved wellbeing and promote access to cheaper intermediate goods for the industrial sector. There is also the case for economies of scale as firms try to sell to the bigger African market, leading to increased efficiency. The last benefit is that countries would be more committed to industrialisation to really benefit from the bigger African market as exports in much of Africa is currently primary commodities.

 

 


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