By Yusuf Mohammed

 

The world is in a spin and more so the youthful continent, Africa. To thrive, businesses now have to go beyond thinking out of the box: they literally have to break the box and come out unhinged to meet the new people that their sustenance depends on, in their own turfs and on their own terms also.

The banking sector is fully caught up in this whirlwind. And by the day, the reality is that Nigerian banks are falling over themselves, literally, to attract this expanding demography.

One of such events, in this regard, was organized by the United Bank for Africa and took place in July 2019 at the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja. Dubbed the UBA Marketplace, it was projected by the bank as being Africa’s largest entrepreneurial fair and witnessed a potpourri of youth-friendly offerings ranging from games to fashion, gadgets, entertainment, design, food, beauty, arts, and home/interior.

Indeed, some would say that this is unsurprising given that UBA had grown its track record in this regard under the auspices of, and in partnership with the Tony Elumelu Foundation, TEF which has continued to carve out a niche for itself in the arena of African youth entrepreneurship forays.

Speaking at TEF’s 2019 Entrepreneurship Forum, a trustee of the foundation, Dr Awele Elumelu, affirmed that it simply made every sense now to support young entrepreneurs given that they invariably held the key to unlocking the potential of the African continent.

“Our young African entrepreneurs must be prioritized if we must develop our continent. They must not only prevail, they must strive to be successful. Those ideas and innovations that came as a dream must be realised as a business that will transform the continent.

“The youths are the backbone upon which the future lies. Therefore, the government and private actors must support them.

“It is not always easy to be an entrepreneur. You need to raise the capital, have the nice people around you, and navigate all the obstacles among other things.”

“When young men and women do well, they lift their families out of poverty. With the right push, the right resources, our entrepreneurs will compete on the world stage. Young Africans, there is excellence in you. The world awaits you.”

The exhibition, an entrepreneurial fair, which held at the UBA Pavilion inside the prestigious Transcorp Hilton Hotel, Abuja, was organised by the bank to boost the growth and development of Small and Medium Scale Enterprises (SME’s) in Africa.

Featuring over 5,000 exhibitors from over 20 African countries and welcoming over 250,000 visitors from several countries, it was made up of entrepreneurs who had won free retail stalls at the event, and others who were beneficiaries of the Tony Elumelu Foundation’s support grants initiative.

Another strong vote for the entrepreneurial capacity of African youth came from the Group Managing Director, UBA, Mr. Kennedy Uzoka, who said that the bank was driving to create Africa’s version of Alibaba and e-bay through supporting the entrepreneurial potential of African youths.

He said Africa’s youths were full of ideas that could change the standard of living and reduce poverty on the continent and that was why the bank was passionate about supporting Small and Medium Scale Enterprises (SMEs).

Putting the lid on things, UBA Chairman, Tony Elumelu, told the youthful audience that the future of Africa is indeed in their hands. “The journey has indeed begun. You are more educated, you are more exposed, and you are more socially connected.”

He, however, said that for the youths to take that step, they must be supported. “Let our presidents who are here know what you need as African entrepreneurs to survive.

“I believe that if our leaders understand the rationale for you to succeed, they will do everything within their power.”

And underscoring the demographic leaning of the event, the final activity at the 2019 edition of the UBA Marketplace was a musical show, tagged: Party Like Never Before” and which featured popular youthful musicians like Wizkid, DJ Cuppy, Niniola, DJ Neptune and Shody.

UBA is not the only Nigerian bank that is fiercely leveraging everything it can find to tap the burgeoning youth demographics.

Another top Nigerian bank, GTBank is similarly engaged as its now recurrent fashion extravaganza underscores.

The GTBank Fashion show which is now into its fourth edition, brings participants from all over the world to converge in Lagos, and it held this year at the GTCentre, Plot 1, Water Corporation drive, Oniru, Victoria-Island, Lagos between November 8 and 9.

The exhibition featured hundreds of fashion designers spread across the 2,400m2 of exhibition space, free attendance and free Wi-Fi. And as soon as you can guess, the youth definitely loved it.

In addition to the exhibition and sales opportunities at the event, there were also opportunities for networking and connecting various businesses involved in the production and sale of clothing items. In addition, the 2019 edition of the GTBank Fashion weekend also featured master classes, runway shows, dye presentations and popup shops even as it connected small businesses to a wider audience of consumers as well as their peers at home and abroad whilst providing learning opportunities for business owners and consumers.

The designers that displayed their designs on the runway included three ASFOUR, Odio Mimonet, Mantsho, Haus of Stone, Style Temple, Nkwo, Tzar Studios, Thula Sindi and Lezanne Viviers. Others were Huishan Zhang, Imane Ayissi, Ituen Basi, Sukeina, Fruche, Mafi Mafi, Studio 189, Lanre DaSilva Ajayi, and LaQuan Smith. The consumer-focused

Africa’s richest man, Alhaji Aliko Dangote, Managing Director, GTBank, Mr. Segun Agbaje; Publisher, ThisDay Newspaper, Mr. Nduka Obaigbena; Business woman and fashion enthusiast, Bola Shagaya were among the dignitaries that graced the event.

Underscoring its commitment to tapping on the delights of the youth demography, GTBank also has another Food and Drinks Festival event that it equally hosts annually.

Entertainment focus

But even more invigorating is the attention being paid by the nation’s top banks to the nation’s entertainment industry

With the industry in a thriving mode as evidenced by the continental and global exploits that continue to be recorded in Nollywood and the music scene, like bees follow nectar, several banks are presently latching onto it.

And clearly a significant part of both the practitioners and the audience are youth. Indeed, entertainment has become big business for the youth in Nigeria and in almost every part of Lagos for example, there are fun spots to cater for fun seekers. Everyone wants to be entertained one way or the other after the day’s hustle and bustle. While some people choose to watch movies, others listen to music.

With a population of about 200 million people, and with over 50 per cent of this number being in the youthful sage range, the prospects for doing business here are enormous.

In the area of mobile telephony for instance, Nigeria remains Africa’s largest mobile market, with about 162 million subscribers and a penetration rate of 84%.

This has come to be an associated boon for the entertainment industry as movies and music are now streamed and downloaded online. With this huge population of mobile phone-cladding social media users, it is not surprising that the entertainment industry in the country has continued to grow bigger and bigger. And it is one that the banking sector can simply not ignore.

Some statistics would help make the point. In the past, foreign music dominated the airwaves on TV and radio stations. In party houses, people preferred to listen to foreign music. That is not the case today as Nigerian music has literally taken over. And this is not just in Nigeria but almost all over Africa. The Nigeria-originating genre of music called Afro Pop is also being exported to the western world.

Nigerian movies are also doing well in the bigger cinema spaces these days. On cyber space for instance, it was recently reported that Nollywood legend Genevieve Nnaji was paid a hefty $3.5 million by Netflix to acquire her movie, Lionheart.

The Nigerian Film Industry, aka Nollywood is also globally recognized as the second largest national film production hub in the world after India’s Bollywood. The industry is a significant part of the Arts, Entertainment and Recreation Sector which contributed 2.3% to Nigeria’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) in 2016.

Additional data show that the Nigerian entertainment sector witnessed a 25.5 percent growth in the last year. This amounted to $3.8 billion with $605 million of the estimated $764 million rise said to be attributable to internet access, according to a report by PricewaterhouseCoopers Nigeria.

According to Moses Babatope, Group Executive Director of Filmhouse Cinemas, some 2019 box office kings have included Merry Men (N230 million), King of Boys (N100 million), The Ghost and the Tout (N80 million), Moms at War (N65 million) and Royal Hibiscus Hotel (N59 million).

Reality TV shows like Big Brother Naija are also a form of entertainment that catch the fancy of notably the Nigerian youth. The associated fashion industry is also doing well with Nigeria churning out models to the rest of the world.

Within this mix, some of the nation’s celebrities have become brand ambassadors due to the following they command in real life and on social media.

Given these realities, Nigerians banks are taking a lot of interest in the sector. Says Jide Akanni, a financial expert: “It is a win-win situation for the banks that bankroll entertainment projects. It is big business today. Ignore it at your own peril.”

Some of the banks playing in the space include the Bank of Industry, Heritage and GTBank.

Bank Of Industry (BOI)

In 2015, in continuation of Bank Of Industry’s support for the Nigerian Creative Industry, it developed a special product, “BOI NollyFun” through which leading movie producers received financial support to produce international quality films and screen them through various platforms of movie distribution available both within Nigeria and internationally.

To drive this, the Bank accredited distributors like G-Media, Filmone Distribution Company, Silverbird Distribution Company and Genesis Deluxe Distribution Company. It also signed on several studio operators, namely; Fans Connect Online Nigeria Limited (i.e. Afrinolly), Kingsley Ogoro Productions Limited and 4Screams International Nigeria Limited.

It would be recalled that the Bank of Industry had in the recent past also financed creative industry projects such as Half of A Yellow Sun and Flower Girl. They were also engaged in the digitization of Silverbird Cinemas, The Filmhouse, Viva Cinemas, Ozone Cinemas and G-media.

Even more recently, the Central Bank has added a somewhat more broader-defined Creative Industry Financing Initiative, CIFI to the mix.

Heritage Bank

The 2018 Big Brother Naija show, tagged Double Wahala, which was held in South Africa was sponsored by Heritage Bank. Business Hallmark gathered that sponsorship of big events or popular TV shows creates more awareness for the sponsors. Big Brother was the biggest entertainment show last year. Many young Nigerians were literally glued to their TV sets and also social media platforms for the duration of the show. Those who did not know of Heritage Bank before the show knew it during the show.

One of these young people, Abimbola Mustapha told Business Hallmark: “I didn’t know about Heritage Bank until Big Brother Naija.”

Speaking at the live streaming of the opening session in January 2018, Mr. Fela Ibidapo, Group Head, Corporate Communications of Heritage Bank testified as such: “When the last season (2017) of the reality show was about to start, some of us did know what we were getting into. We are back here again because last year was successful.”

Downside

This feverish activity by banks, coming out with all kinds of sassy products, marketplace, style, etc to attract the youth demographic ostensibly, is registering on its bottom-line but is it the way to go? Is there no fear that the frenzied levels of activity may over time snowball into a situation where the nation’s leading Deposit Money Banks, DMBs may soon be over-flogging the horse? Can they not be more creative in other respects and even more so in terms of their traditional banking packages?

Indeed, there are some analysts already expressing their worry that the banks may be losing it.

Says Henry Ezeh: ‘Banking is a “commodity”. The banking business is homogeneous and has little wiggle room for creative adventure, remember that banks are required to be conservative. The most ingenious end of the financing business is Fintech and Techinsure. A product differentiation strategy in conventional banking is a tall order. I personally think that banks should just concentrate on improved service delivery and when appropriate value-driven product addition.’

For the banks however, they insist on seeing their forays as going beyond the traditional understanding of Corporate Social Responsibility as corporate philanthropy to intervening in key economic sectors through non-profit consumer focused fairs and capacity building initiatives for small businesses operating in these sectors.

While they may have a point in what they are doing and are definitely getting some traction along the line, the concern of analysts about roles and specialization is not really one to be so casually brushed aside. But is it really easy to listen to what may be sound and mature counsel when the honey is dripping all over your lips?