By AYOOLA OLAOLUWA
For the management of Wema Bank Plc., one of Nigeria’s leading banks, passion, innovation, perseverance and equanimity best describe its resolve to proceed with ‘ALAT’, despite initial doubts and scepticism from naysayers.
Financial Technology firms (fintechs) had in the early 2000 invaded the nation’s banking space with the technology and innovation that takes banking services directly to customers in the comfort of their homes and offices.
The rampaging fintechs had developed innovative and value propositions like quick loans and flexible savings and investments across the financial services value chain, using smartphones.
Totally unprepared and unable to offer any tangible resistance, the DMBs, who only a few years back believed they had competitive advantage with their physical branches scattered across the country, began to reel under the impact of the fintechs “creative destruction”.
“Just a few years ago, banks were citing their many physical branches as a competitive advantage over fintechs, which did not have the possibility of close contact with customers”, noted Jide Ojo, a retired AGM who served with one of the big banks.
“Today, the success of fintechs has shifted the paradigm in which traditional banks operate. The complaint of traditional banks today is that they are bearing higher costs than fintechs by maintaining physical branches.
“Unable to compete, most banks, apart from fully embracing online banking, have also embarked on widespread closure of offices in order to cut down cost,” Ojo added.
For many years, DMBs businesses, particularly retail banking, suffered tremendously until they decided to fight back.
Suprisingly, the much expected counter offensive did not come from expected quaters. Many financial analysts and experts had predicted that leading first-tier banks like the United Bank for Africa (UBA), Zenith Bank, Guarantee Trust Bank (GTB) and First Bank Plc would lead the war to reclaim lost market.
Rather, the pushback was led by Wema Bank which in May 2017, launched ALAT, Nigeria’s first fully digital bank, with its promoters unafraid of venturing into an uncharted territory.
According to the bank’s former Managing Director, Segun Oloketuyi, who spoke during the launch, ALAT was introduced to provide a branchless customer experience.
“There is a reason banks are closing branches. Apart from the difficult economic environment, customers are increasingly adopting digital options for their banking needs, hence a reduction in the number of people that visit physical branches.
“The pace at which things are changing in the digital world is rapid. Therefore, every forward-thinking brand is always looking to improve on their digital offerings. With ALAT, Wema Bank has offered Nigerians everywhere in the world a bank that is designed to meet their needs.
“ALAT gives customers access to all banking services anywhere they can access the internet. With the app, a customer can open an account and manage his or her money without ever going to a branch.
“Customers of the bank can open a savings account, automate their savings, schedule bill payments, transfer funds from local and international accounts, make payments as well as use it to get a free ATM card”, Oloketuyi had stated.
Business Hallmark findings revealed that the ingenuity with ALAT has helped in changing the fortunes of the bank in just a period of five years. The bank had last week celebrated the opening of one million new accounts in a 24-hour period, an achievement never recorded before by any bank in the world.
Our correspondent gathered that the feat, expected to put Nigeria in the Guinness Book of World Records for another first in the financial services sector, was helped by the bank’s ‘#BeAudacious’ campaign launched recently as part of activities commemorating ALAT’s 5th anniversary.
According to the bank, the #BeAudacious campaign, led by its Brand Ambassador and one of Africa’s leading music icons, Davido, saw ALAT target the opening of one million new accounts in a 24-hour period.
Speaking on the campaign, the Chief Digital Officer of Wema Bank, Segun Adeniyi, said it was to deepen its affinity with customers and reward their loyalty.
“We are thankful to our customers for this milestone. We appreciate their belief and the unprecedented acceptance of ALAT, our flagship digital bank that improves lives and enhances lifestyles away from the in-branch banking experience.
“Unknowing to the public, the #BeAudacious campaign had started on April 29 when mysterious Red Boxes with visible QR Codes sprang up in different parts of the country, with an invitation to the public to take the bold step and scan the QR codes with the #SpotTheRedBoxes and win delightful freebies.
“The disruptive initiative quickly went viral and had the global audience shaken as financial analysts, marketers, brand specialists, social and lifestyle influencers across social media platforms engaged in various discussions regarding the unprecedented move that was executed with Guinness World Record officials as observers.
“Apart from the attempt at the world record, the #BeAudacious campaign was also a reward scheme to appreciate customers and Nigerians for their unwavering loyalty and brand affinity to ALAT by Wema in the five years of its existence. Thus, participants in the bold 24-hour move got rewarded with amazing prizes, including data and airtime.
“It is our special way of giving back to our customers nationwide and celebrating youthfulness, innovation, and evolution of the ALAT By Wema brand, which has played a starring role in Nigeria’s digital banking ecosystem,” Adeniyi stated.
The bank’s chief digital officer added that the successes of ALAT in the past five years is a win for Nigerians as it reaffirms its audacity, limitlessness, timelessness, and innovation and that comfort and accessibility for customers will remain the core of its operations.
By the time the dreaded Covid19 virus birthed in the country in February 2020, Wema Bank was more than prepared to face the disruptions occassioned by the restrictions and lockdowns imposed by the federal and states governments.
With the needed technology and infrastructure already on ground, Wema Bank encouraged many of its unwilling customers as well as those who were unable to embrace it to join.
Expectedly, the pace of growth of the bank’s digital banking increased as a result of its resilience and innovations. For instance, the bank’s Profit Before Tax (PBT), according to its unaudited FY 2021 financial results released in April, recorded an increase of 108.3% to close 2021 at N12.38 billion, while total assets is now above N1trillion.
This, the bank claimed, was driven by a Year-on-Year growth of 15.35% in gross earnings to ₦92.14billion in FY 2021 from ₦79.88billion in FY 2020.
“I am delighted to announce our performance for the year ended 31st December 2021. The Bank’s FY 2021 results shows robust growth in all key financial metrics despite the challenging macro-economic environment.
“Our year end numbers highlight the strong growth trajectory of the financial institution. We comfortably crossed the N1trillion mark in total assets, with a share of approximately 3% of industry deposits,” declared the bank’s aging Director, Mr. Ademola Adebise.
Also speaking, the bank’s Chief Finance Officer, Mr. Tunde Mabawonku, said: “A key measure of success for us is a consistent growth in our balance sheet and customer base – and we are glad that we are reporting healthy growth in all these areas.
“Looking forward, we expect that the strong growth will be sustained despite the tough business climate as we execute our customer experience improvement initiatives built around a digital first banking strategy and become first in class in that sphere.
“The bank will also continue to focus on our digital business, which is a key boost for customer acquisition, consumer lending and transaction volumes while not neglecting our corporate and commercial play.
“On our commercial business, we will continue our aggressive strategy to improve our lending business alongside trade and other revenue lines.
“We have also unveiled our new Mission and Vision statements which underpins our corporate strategy. We want to be the dominant digital platform in Africa delivering seamless financial services”, Mabawonku assured.
Launched in May 2017, the ALAT app is very easy to use and convenient. All a customer has to do is download the app on his phone and start banking. It takes just a few minutes to create an ALAT account with customers needing only their BVN, valid phone number, a selfie and signature.
For very busy customers who needed to make transfers and pay bills, they have the option of scheduling the payments on the app. Another remarkable advantage of the initiative is that a customer can pick any one of three ATM designs on offer and have it delivered to him for free anywhere in the country.
ALAT also has security features that grant customers the power to activate, lock and unlock their ATM cards anywhere they are from their phones. In the event of a theft or an unauthorized use of their ATMs, they can easily lock it from their phones.
Also, at each login, the user is sent an email that shows login details including a device used to login and location. The app also logs off the user if left idle for a while.
Meanwhile, ALAT has won several awards, including the ‘Best mobile Banking App’ and ‘Best Digital Bank for 2017’ at the World Finance Digital Banking Awards 2017 and the ‘Most Outstanding Digital Bank Brand of the Year Award’ at the 2021 Brandcom Awards, amongst many others.