Being the first may not necessarily be a virtue, but knowing how to set good pace for others to follow is a trait that can only be found in exceptional leaders. And that is exactly what FirstBank Nigeria Plc has done in the last 125 years: Setting the pace for robust, customer-centric and top-notch banking services that have kept other banks in the country on their toes.

These quintessential leadership traits have kept FirstBank going stronger and getting better by the day. With that, it is not surprising that the Bank is celebrating 125 years of constant unbroken business operations this year. Since 1894 when it opened its doors, FirstBank has stood and built with Africa, especially its home country, Nigeria through ground breaking historical events such as Nigeria’s amalgamation in 1914, to her independence in 1960 and several other key periods in the nation’s history. FirstBank, the premier Bank in West Africa is not only leading the banking services revolution in Nigeria, it is the largest bank by total assets and gross earnings.

Typical of most successful businesses, FirstBank began as a small bank with a paid-up capital of £12,000 in Lagos, Nigeria. It started trading under the name of Bank of British West Africa (BBWA) in the Elder Dempster building; a building which still stands tall today in the heart of Lagos commercial centre, Marina.

The Bank is the precursor of its mother company, FBN Holdings Plc which now operates three financial services groups; Commercial Banking, Investment and Asset management, and Insurance. The bank’s excellent financial services and bespoke banking products, coupled with support for national development, education, economic empowerment, arts, sports, SMEs, through sustainable partnerships, have contributed immensely to their growth and community impact in the last 125 years.

Giant strides

With over 16 million customer accounts spread across Nigeria, UK and sub-Saharan Africa, the Bank has over 750 branches worldwide providing a comprehensive range of retail and corporate financial services. The Bank’s international footprints cut across the United Kingdom with FBN Bank (UK) Limited in London and Paris, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Ghana, The Gambia, Guinea, Sierra-Leone, and Senegal under the FBNBank brand name; and in Beijing, China through the FirstBank Representative Office in Beijing.

Since 1894, FirstBank has consistently built relationships with customers, focusing on the fundamentals of good corporate governance, strong liquidity, excellent risk management and exemplary leadership. Over the years, the Bank has led the financing of private investment in infrastructure development in the Nigerian economy having played key roles in the Federal and State Governments various growth and development agendas over the ages. With its global reach, FirstBank provides prospective investors wishing to explore the vast business opportunities available in Nigeria, an internationally competitive world-class brand and a credible financial partner.

FirstBank’s brand purpose is to always put its stakeholders, customers and partners first and at the heart of its business, even as the Bank has standardised unique customer experiences and excellence in financial solutions across sub – Saharan Africa, in consonance with its brand vision: “To be the partner of first choice in building your future”. Its brand promise to stakeholders is to always deliver the ultimate “gold standard” of value and excellence. This commitment is anchored on the bank’s inherent values of passion, partnership and people to position customers first in every respect. The bank’s focus on customers has brought it this far and is guaranteed to take it to the next 125 years and beyond.

Brief history

What becomes the leading and strongest financial institution in Nigeria today was founded by Sir Alfred Jones, a shipping magnate from Liverpool, England. With its head office originally in Liverpool, the Bank commenced business on a modest scale in Lagos, Nigeria under the name, Bank of British West Africa (BBWA).

In 1912, the Bank acquired its first competitor, the Bank of Nigeria (previously called Anglo-African Bank) which was established in 1899 by the Royal Niger Company. In 1957, the Bank changed its name from Bank of British West Africa (BBWA) to Bank of West Africa (BWA). In 1966, following its merger with Standard Bank, UK, and the Bank adopted the name Standard Bank of West Africa Limited and in 1969 it was incorporated locally as the Standard Bank of Nigeria Limited in line with the Companies Decree of 1968.

Changes in the name of the Bank also occurred in 1979 and 1991 to FirstBank of Nigeria Limited and FirstBank of Nigeria Plc, respectively. In 2012, the Bank changed its name again to FirstBank of Nigeria Limited as part of a restructuring resulting in FBN Holdings Plc (“FBN Holdings”), having detached its commercial business from other businesses in the FirstBank Group, in compliance with a new regulation by the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN). As at 2012, before being transferred to FBNHoldings, FirstBank had over 1.3 million shareholders globally; was quoted on The Nigerian Stock Exchange (NSE), where it was one of the most capitalised companies and also had an unlisted Global Depository Receipt (GDR) programme.

Widest reach

Like a colossus, FirstBank bestrode Nigeria’s financial industry with its tentacles spread far and wide. The Bank is a well-diversified banking services group and indeed the largest private sector banking services provider in sub-Saharan Africa (ex-South Africa). The Bank maintains a leading position in many of the markets in which it operates, market leading distribution capability and a well-recognised brand with a large customer base.

The Bank has over 750 business locations in Nigeria, all on-line and real time, one of the largest domestic sales networks in the country. As a market leader in the banking sector, FirstBank pioneered initiatives like international money transfer and electronic banking in the country and is currently serving more than 16 million customers.

FirstBank’s strategy has been focused on restructuring the business to take advantage of growth opportunities within the industry, pursuing business line expansion across strategic business units, continuously implementing a systematic international expansion plan, sequencing its growth initiatives across defined metrics, as well as building synergies and cross-selling across the FirstBank Group. This strategy supports its vision of being the leading sub-Sahara African banking services group. The continued implementation of this strategy will produce long-term profitable growth, build great franchises and deliver value to all stakeholders.

Human capital

As a leading private sector employer of graduate-level personnel in Nigeria, FirstBank’s human capital development policy recognises the invaluable contribution that human resources makes to the growth and development of institutions and nations. Consequently, its human capital management initiatives are geared towards providing the necessary support to staff; departments and the various business drivers to enable the Bank achieve its goals and objectives.

As it strengthens its footprint locally and internationally, contributing positively to customers’ value chains, it onboards talents with the unique skill sets needed to fully leverage its operations whilst creating opportunities for them to achieve their aspirations. The Bank’s succession planning framework ensures its workforce remains highly engaged through career development and diverse business exposure to drive sustainable business continuity.

FirstBank boasts of a rich pool of resourceful industry experts who contribute significantly to national development through ongoing secondment to different tiers of government and institutions across Nigeria. The Bank’s alumni are highly sought after in both public and private sectors. The Bank believes strongly that by ensuring a robust employee value proposition that attracts and retains top performers; it will continue to develop high performing teams who will deliver outstanding performance during and after their service to the financial institution.

Innovatively the best

In terms of innovation, technology and services FirstBank has over the years reinvented itself into one of the most customer friendly financial institutions in Nigeria, having made banking more convenient to customers through service improvement and channels optimization. It has also attained over 100 million e-banking transactions, a first by any financial institution in Nigeria.

According to its records, FirstBank is the first to launch Finacle 10 banking software, FirstMobile, mobile banking app, FirstOnline, internet banking, Firstmonie, mobile payment platform, WhatsApp Chat Banking, Digital Lab to incubate innovation and creativity in financial services delivery among others.

President Muhammdu Buhari also attested to the bank’s innovative prowess when he said in his congratulatory message to the Bank: “I am pleased to felicitate with you for a royal milestone in our country. This is a landmark in our country from the colonial era till now. I commend you for providing financial service to the country. Your bank deserves commendation for innovation and regeneration.”

Recognitions and awards

Like a golden fish that has no hidden place in the ocean, FirstBank’s sterling performance and groundbreaking records over the years have never gone unnoticed. First listed on The Nigeria Stock Exchange (NSE) in March 1971, FirstBank has won the NSE’s Annual President’s Merit Award for the Best Financial Report in the Nigerian Banking industry a record thirteen times.

For six consecutive years (2011 – 2016) FirstBank was named “Most Valuable Bank Brand in Nigeria” by the globally renowned The Banker Magazine of the Financial Times Group and “Best Retail Bank in Nigeria” seven times in a row, 2011 – 2017, by the Asian Banker International Excellence in Retail Financial Services Awards. The Bank was also awarded “Most Innovative Bank – Nigeria 2017” by International Finance Magazine, “Best FraudDesk in the Industry” and “Most Cooperative FraudDesk” both by Central Bank of Nigeria.

In February 2018, the Bank was named “Best Bank in Nigeria” for the fifteenth time by Global Finance magazine. In the same year, the Bank also clinched the “Best Private Bank, Nigeria” award by both the Global Finance and World Finance magazines.

FirstBank has taken giant strides in the area of Information Technology. The most profitable digital banking business in the industry, the Bank has over six (6) million digital banking users (the best mobile banking penetration across Africa). It is the second bank in Africa to issue 10 million cards and has over 80% of its customer-initiated transactions done on self-service channels. In 2017, the Bank was awarded ‘Best Digital Bank in Africa’ in the Asian Banker International Excellence in Retail Financial Services Awards.

All these accolades and achievements attest to the Bank’s exceptional commitments to promoting national, regional and global economic growth and development through constructive engagements with the public and private sectors of various economies across the globe.

125 years of selfless responsibilities

Despite its huge success story, the management of the FirstBank has never allowed complacency to set in for a day. Beyond basic banking activities that have created a niche for the brand in the market place, sustaining the leadership position of the First Bank brand has also come with frequent reviews of strategies, sponsorship and commitment to its corporate social responsibility philosophy.

The bank’s Chief Executive Officer, Adesola Adeduntan, captured it well on the occasion of the 125th anniversary celebration when he said: “We are celebrating 125 years of long term value to all stakeholders”. Indeed, FirstBank has consistently delivered values to all stakeholders through its unwavering support for sports, education, and healthcare development among several others in the country.

For 100 years, FirstBank has been sponsoring sports development in Nigeria beginning with the century-old Georgian Cup of the Kaduna International Polo Tournament, the oldest sports trophy in Nigeria and perhaps the longest consecutive sports sponsorship in the world.

The Bank has also over 55 years supported the Lagos Amateur Open Golf Tournament; for 33 years FirstBank has sponsored Dala Hard Court Tennis Championship in Kano; for 25 years FirstBank has partnered with the Nigerian Economic Summit and FirstBank supports education through Professorial Endowments in 10 federal universities, and also the bank is at the forefront of championing financial literacy among others.

To take its message to the youths, First Bank, had few years ago threw its weight behind Notting hill Carnival. This was seen by analysts as a fresh journey towards creating a new appeal among future banking audience. Then came the sponsorship of ‘Before 30’, a TV drama series, which tend to address the issue of late marriage among city ladies, which was also powered by the management of the First Bank Nigeria Plc, in Lagos.

Its recognition of the environmental and social impacts of its operations has made it adopt policies and procedures that minimise negative environmental and social impacts. The bank therefore puts in place an Environmental, Social, and Governance Management System (ESGMS) to help it integrate environmental social and governance considerations into its decision-making processes. It pays attention to its host communities by engaging in community support initiatives to enhance a long term mutually beneficial relationship.

Again, few years ago and in what looked like a rare positioning move, handlers of the brand had come out with a new innovation; ‘First Premium Lounge’, which was conceptualised to give patrons a better banking experience. According to the management, it was aimed at providing unimaginable comfort for loyal customers of the brand, who determined to have long-term relationship with the bank.

Brighter future

Achievements of the past years attested to one thing: That Nigeria’s oldest remains the best and the strongest of all financial institutions in the country. Yet, it remains a bank for the future as it continues to blend with technological evolutions to offer its customers the best and unrivalled services in the banking industry. With FirstBank, there is assurance and guarantee that banking can only get better in Nigeria.