BY EMEKA EJERE

Heritage Bank is once again on the rough road of having to go extra miles in efforts to convince the banking public that it is still a safe place to keep their hard-earned money.

This follows an alleged recent clampdown on the bank by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), over alleged shady dealings by Mike Danneil, the Principal Officer of the bank’s FINCON arm.

Rumour making the rounds has it that the bank is on the brink of collapse as EFCC swooped on it after discovering that the said Mike had failed to remit monies belonging to the Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA) into the federation account. This has reportedly led to a bad debt situation and has driven the bank towards bankruptcy given its persistent failure to meet up with the financial obligation.

There are unconfirmed reports that panic withdrawals have hit the bank fuelling speculations that the lender is facing imminent distress. Depositors and other costumers are said to have resorted to moving their money from the financial institution to other ones that are believed to be on secured ground for fear of losing their personal heritage.

“The hand writing on the wall of the bank has suggested imminent natural death, no wise man having anything to do with the bank will still remain there and that is why I have moved my money,” a customer reportedly told a publication, pleading anonymity.

Another report quoted another depositor, who also does not want his name on print, as saying that what is alarming in the case of the bank is that, the efforts of the EFCC at sanitising the institution by arresting the erring staff, who are seen as being perpetrators of the evil deeds in the bank are being shielded by some vested interests within the bank, who go about securing bail for the suspected culprits through the back door.

However, depositors who were conversant with events of 2016 may not fully share the sentiments of those who see the bank’s imminent collapse.

Despite assurances from the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) on the financial stability of Heritage Bank at the time, members of the public, and its customers in particular, remained worried over the state of the commercial bank.

The bank was alleged to have been undergoing what an insider described as undue pressure from its customers for cash withdrawals. Its crisis had started after the rumour mill went to town, via the social media, that its inability to successfully close its books after its acquisition of former Enterprise Bank in 2015 was a sign that all was not well.

Other source of concern for the public was the bank’s irregular appearance in the various interbank business transactions, including participating in treasury bill business and overnight cash bidding for some time.

There was also the issue of the bank’s alleged partnership deals with some corporate organizations, which were not yielding the projected returns, because of cashflow squeeze on most outfits in Nigeria since the recession.

But the then CBN Head, Corporate Communications, Mr. Isaac Okorafor, issued a statement which read: “The attention of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) has been drawn to false and malicious stories on the social media insinuating that Heritage Bank is under financial distress and therefore unable to discharge its obligations to its depositors.

“We wish to state that Heritage Bank is not in distress and as such its depositors should go about their transactions without fear.”

However, this CBN assurance was seen by industry watchers as a statutory statement, which it also issued for Skye Bank in 2015 only to later grant a bailout fund to it and also mandated AMCON, in August 2016, to absorb the bank’s bad debts, while looking for its buyers.

But to reduce the frequency of cash withdrawal on the bank, Heritage Banks’ Divisional Head, Corporate Communications, Mrs. OlusolaLonge-Okenimkpe, stated that there was a calculated attempt by some unnamed interest groups to mount negative campaign against the bank.

“Heritage Bank wishes to categorically refute this false information being circulated about the institution with a misdirected intent to derail and misinform the banking public on its financial state,” she had stated.

The CBN and the management of the bank were later vindicated when the financial institution did not collapse as feared.

Observers are once again waiting to see what becomes of the bank as events unfold.

 

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