Through its aggressive expansion drive, Access Bank Plc has grown from humble beginnings to become one of the biggest banks in Africa. It has secured a broad geographic footprint across the continent and is spreading its tentacles to the rest of the world, with superior customer experience and improved efficiency as its hallmarks, writes Chima Obinna
The COVID-19 pandemic is expected to fundamentally change the face of banking globally. As a result of this, forward-thinking financial institutions are already taking steps to position themselves to deliver superior customer experience and improve their efficiency, attributes Access Bank has in its DNA.
According to a recent report by one of the leading global professional services firms, PwC, as the economic fallout of the virus spreads, banks now find themselves juggling some big priorities that require concrete steps to reposition now while also recalibrating for the future. PwC noted that innovative financial institutions are already working to keep their distribution channels open, despite social distancing advice and supervisory and compliance functions that were never designed for remote work.
“They’re trying to manage revenue and customer expectations and they need to keep an eye on strategy and brand issues that will define their future, as market forces and customer behaviour potentially change coming out of this crisis,” it added.
All these have been the focus of Access Bank Plc, which last year successfully consummated a merger between the now defunct Diamond Bank and emerged as the largest bank in the country, in terms of customer base and an extensive retail footprint.
Access Bank is a full service commercial bank operating through a network of more than 600 branches and service outlets, spanning three continents, 12 countries and 29 million customers. Due to the merger, the bank employs 28,000 thousand people in its operations in Nigeria, Sub Saharan Africa and the United Kingdom, with representative offices in China, Lebanon, India and the UAE.
Clearly, one thing the ravaging pandemic has revealed, according to Barclays boss, Jes Staley, is the fact that having thousands of bank workers in big, expensive city offices, “may be a thing of the past.”
Staley, pointed out that about 70,000 of Barclays’ staff worldwide are presently working from home due to coronavirus lockdown measures, leading the bank to rethink its long term strategy.
This was exactly what Access Bank Chief Executive Officer, Mr. Herbert Wigwe, was trying to communicate to staff during a recent Employee Town Hall Meeting via Microsoft Teams. Unfortunately, the video which went viral was misinterpreted that the bank was planning to sack 75 per cent of its workforce as well as close over 300 branches. This is not accurate, and since the bank finalised its merger process, it has deliberately avoided to rationalise its staff and branches, even in places where it has branches that are closely located.
The bank has since clarified its position on the matter. According to its Company Secretary, Mr. Sunday Ekwochi, the closure of a bank branch is an action that requires the approval of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN). According to the bank, it has not applied for nor obtained the approval of CBN for the closure of its branches as widely speculated.
“The bank has only suspended operations in some branches following the directive by the CBN. At the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic lockdown, we suspended in-branch operations at different locations as directed by the CBN and in line with business continuity plans at vulnerable spots, while we continued to provide services through our alternative digital platforms.
“In line with the phased re-opening of the economy effective May 4, following the Presidential directives, we will be resuming in-branch services in some of our affected branches in a programmed manner to ensure the health and safety of our employees and customers.
“This is also necessary to provide relevant contingency should there be any incident arising from the pandemic.
“We deny in its entirety the baseless and twisted speculation that the bank is sacking 75 per cent of its workforce,” he explained in a notice to the Nigerian Stock Exchange.
The bank noted that based on the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, not all its branches would be fully open for in-branch services until later in the year.
“This has made it impossible for many of our outsourced workers to perform duties as usual. We have commenced engagement with various stakeholders with a view to ensuring that they provide the relevant services and optimum manpower as may be required by the bank on an on-going basis,” it added.
Industry sources also said the fact that Wigwe, who also announced a 40 per cent pay cut for himself could convene a meeting with staff on the matter showed his level of transparency.