Tony Elumelu, Chairman, UBA

By ADEBAYO OBAJEMU

United Bank for Africa is 70! This platinum anniversary of its seven decades in existence last week attracted crème de la creme of high society  in Lagos. Some of the guests present were the Ooni of Ife, Oba Adeyeye Ogunwusi; the Emir of Kano represented by the Sarkin Shanun of Kano, Alhaji Shehu Mohammed; Former and present Governors of Cross River State, Donald Duke and Prof. Ben Ayade; Governors-elect of Lagos, Ogun and Kwara States, Babajide Sanwo-olu, Dapo Abiodun and AbdulRahman AbdulRazak.

At the occasion, the Chairman, UBA Plc, Mr. Tony Elumelu, noted that the bank remained a leading financial institution on the continent and hitting the 70th year mark was a laudable achievement worth celebrating.

He said, “It is a time to celebrate UBA’s rich heritage and legacy over 70 years and to tell everyone who has contributed to what UBA is today, that we appreciate all they have been doing and how they have ensured that the investment put into the bank over the past decades have paid off.”

He invited all past chairmen, Board members, Management as well as past and present senior staff on stage.

“These are cherished moments for us, and we would like to thank all of you who have made it possible for us to be where we are today. Thank you to everyone, our customers, stakeholders and those who have passed through UBA and worked hard to lay a solid foundation for creating a foremost institution. It is an evening worth celebrating for us all. 70 years is a huge number, a milestone achievement”.

How It All Began

The history of United Bank for Africa is intertwined deeply with socio-economic ferment across the globe immediately after the Second World War. The war altered the arithmetic and nuances of relations between the Western powers and their colonies across the world, including Africa.

It was to define and give new direction to the nexus between trade and colonialism that a banking licence was given in 1949 called Nigeria Banking Licence. Thus was born the British and French Bank (B&FB) but in 1961, there was a name change to the United Bank for Africa, UBA.

B&FB steadily gained recognition and acceptance, grew fast from the mustard seed of 1949. In no time, it attracted the interest of companies from various sectors of the economy

According to the bank’s business report for 1950 “the Lagos branch was already generating a ‘ considerable extra business’ in its first year of operation. In the following year, the B&FB network expanded to cover the different regions in the country, opening offices in Kano in 1953, Ebute Metta in 1955, Port Harcourt and Apapa in 1956,Ibadan in 1958, Kaduna in 1960 and Enugu in 1961.

UBA took over the assets and liabilities of B&FB in 1961, and was to have  incorporated as a limited liability company on 23 February 1961 under the Compliance Ordinance (Cap 37) 1922.

Through the four decades before its merger in 2005, the bank had succeeded as one of the big three banking giants in the country. But of the big three: First Bank, Union Bank and United Bank for Africa- the last had managed to register itself strongly in the popular culture, especially in the 70s and 80s through its strong but effective TV and radio commercials-with its signature rider: “Wise men bank with UBA, UBA! UBA!!

The commercial almost became anthem among public enthralled by its magic enchantment.

The Standard Trust Nexus

In 1997, a 34- year-old ambitious but visionary young man was looking for a plank and platform to realise his ambition of becoming rich by noble means. He happened upon an insolvent bank by name Crystal Bank. He quickly acquired it, in one of the most visionary decisions which later characterized his life.

The young man, Tony Elumelu, later rechristened the bank he acquired Standard Trust Bank (STB), thus becoming the youngest chief executive of a bank in the country. He was determined to turn around the fortune of the bank, and make it one of the top ten, and then top three in future.

To achieve this, he set about an ambitious innovation and strategy. He introduced the concept of ‘ debt for equity swap’, a new concept in the country. Elumelu was able to stabilize the floundering bank. A debit for equity swap, is said to be a refinancing deal in which a debt holder gets an equity position in exchange for cancellation of the debt.

By the end of 1997, seven months after taking over, STB team was able to turn around Crystal Bank’s position of N6.49 million to N473 million.

In 2003, the bank was listed on the Nigeria Stock Exchange, while the Initial Public Offer was oversubscribed by 156 percent, the largest subscription level  in the history of Nigeria at the time.

It was already the fifth largest bank in Nigeria at the time of banking consolidation in mid- 2004. The consolidation which required about 25 billion minimum capital base from original two billion presented an opportunity for mergers, and STB was among banks seeking mergers with one of the top three banks – First Bank, Union Bank and UBA.  It sought out and merged with the last; so today, UBA  is an amalgamation of STB and UBA.

The Merger

In 2005, it completed one of the biggest mergers in the history of Nigeria’s capital markets with the business combination with Standard Trust Bank (STB) Plc. From then, it continued to expand to Ghana, Benin Republic, Côte d’Ivoire, Burkina Faso, Guinea, Chad, Cameroon, Kenya, Gabon, Tanzania, Zambia, Uganda, Liberia, Sierra-Leone, Mozambique, Senegal, Congo DR, Congo Brazzaville and Mali.

In 2006, the bank pioneered the interconnection of its then 428 African branches making it the largest online real time branch network in Africa. Africans are able to withdraw or deposit money in any of these branches regardless of where their accounts are domiciled. Since then, the bank has remained in the forefront of technology innovation in the African banking space, launching the first artificial intelligence Virtual Banking Robot in the African market early 2018.

UBA’s achievements and history of firsts

The bank has made enormous contribution and has had impact on the financial services in the country and even beyond.

It was the first among international banks to be registered under Nigerian Law in 1961. More interesting is the fact that UBA is the only Sub-Saharan African bank, with a deposit taking license in the United States.

It is the only bank with headquarters in Nigeria  with footprints across all the sub-regions in Africa, and  is the first Nigerian-headquartered bank to offer an IPO following its listing on the Nigerian Stock Exchange in 1970.

It also has the singular honour of being the first Nigerian Bank to introduce a Cheque Guarantee Scheme – the first cheque guarantee card in the history of innovative banking services by any Bank in Nigeria, known as UBACARD in 1986.

The bank’s innovation and creativity was seen when it was the first Nigerian-headquartered bank to hit the NGN1 trillion balance sheet size (including contingents.

It is also on record that UBA is the first Nigerian bank to embark on a GDR programme in 1990, and is  the First bank in Nigeria to institute a foundation – UBA Foundation; the Corporate Social Responsibility arm of the UBA Group.

Other pioneering role was that UBA Introduced First Visa Dual Currency Debit Card in Nigeria.

Etched in popular imagination is the fact that  UBA and MoneyGram open first dedicated MoneyGram location in Nigeria, and undertook

successful underwriting of the first 100 percent local funding of an ExxonMobil/NNPC Joint Venture Project.

To many, the crowning achievement of its success was that UBA launched Nigeria’s First Cash Deposit ATMs, and  is the first Pan-African bank to launch an AI-led Virtual Banking Robot.

Today, United Bank for Africa (UBA) Plc is one of Africa’s largest financial institutions with operations in 20 African countries and 3 global financial centers: New York, London and Paris. UBA has more than 14 million customers and over 1,000 business offices and customer touch points globally.