Chioma Afe is the Group Head, Group Retail Marketing and Analytics, Access Bank Plc. In this interview with Deputy Group Business Editor, Taofik Salako, Afe speaks on banking, economic development, financial inclusion and empowerment, among others
One of the major gains envisaged from the merger of Access Bank and Diamond Bank was to create Africa’s largest retail bank. Are you there in facts?
We are definitely moving in the right direction to achieve this ambition. By customer and asset base, we are the largest retail bank in Nigeria and with our expanding presence across the continent- present in 11 African countries; we intend to achieve our vision of being top-five bank in Africa and the world’s most respected African bank.
How strategic is retail banking to the bank’s vision of being the gateway to the African financial markets?
Without a doubt, retail is the future, whether you are dealing in consumer goods or providing financial services to micro, small and medium enterprises (MSMEs) and individuals. At Access Bank we recognise the importance of retail and it is at the core of our business strategy, and so we intend to focus our strengths on engaging the individual mass market with products, services and solutions that will stimulate and drive the economy from the bottom of the pyramid.
How important is retail banking to Nigeria’s drive for financial inclusion?
Financial inclusion is at the heart of retail banking and we at Access Bank are at the forefront of this drive in the banking sector. With over 30,000 agents situated across the nation, and more being added daily, and signed up to Access Closa, our agency banking programme, we are driving hundreds of thousands of transactions daily, bringing banking closer to the customer. This means we are able to offer safe and secure transactions to thousands of rural and semi-urban dwelling customers, ensuring that the under-served and un-banked in society are identified, engaged and empowered to carry out financial transactions and do business at the most basic level. Retail banking as we now see it takes banking beyond savings and withdrawals to creating life-enrichments and empowerments across many value chains.
You talked about banking beyond deposits and withdrawals. Can you be specific about how you add values to customers?
Our retail business at Access Bank is not limited to deposits and withdrawals. Our promise is to deliver more than banking services to our over 45 million customers nationwide and this is driven largely through our digital platforms- Access More Mobile App and 901 USSD code which enable transactions that range from instant account opening, instant loans, to lifestyle services like visa and airline ticket purchase and bills payments among others. We have capacity building programmes targeted at MSMEs and small and medium enterprises (SMEs) through our SME Zone platform and bespoke loan products targeted at women in business and running families. We pride ourselves on our state of constant innovation, as we realise the importance of technology and leveraging digital innovation to efficiently and effectively reach and engage the mass market.
Your savings promos have been reputed as largest and creating more millionaires. How do you do this and how sustainable are these?
When we commenced the integration between the two banks – Access Bank and Diamond Bank – at the start of 2019, a critical success factor for us was taking the “best of both worlds” as it were, and ensuring continuity on our big ticket products and services such that our customers are not disconcerted by any “changes” to their experience. DiamondXtra is one of these products that customers are passionate about and a key driver of brand love, equity and liability growth for the bank. With this product, we constantly seek and receive feedback from customers on what changes can be made, what rewards are truly impactful and beneficial to them and this keeps the product and rewards relevant and sustainable. We have taken it a step further to engage customers in daily and hourly draws as they transact with us, maintain their deposits and fund their accounts-this campaign is tagged XtraWins and so far in the past two months we have rewarded over 8,300 winners with instant cash prizes and we intend to continue this to the end of the year.
What are the competitive advantages of retail banking with Access Bank?
Our brand promise – more than banking – best summarises what we stand for and what we offer our customers; it simply connotes our intent to serve our customers by positively impacting their lives and enabling them to grow as individuals, entrepreneurs and large business operators. Our edge over other financial service businesses is that we continue to leverage our global reach, with presence in Africa, Europe and Asia, strong digital capability, excellent and diverse human resource and broad experience to service our customers daily. Our clear understanding of the dynamism of the retail market and the need to stay relevant and accessible to our target audience, especially in recent times with the COVID-19 pandemic lockdown is evidenced by our deployment of varied digital solutions to alleviate the challenges of the mass consumer. These digital platforms and increased consumer touchpoints, especially over the last three months include the addition of over 6,000 new agent locations in semi urban and rural areas across the country, thereby broadening our reach, over 370 bank branches fully operational post relaxed COVID-19 lockdown restriction, over 40,000 point of sales (POS) machines in the hands of SMEs and MSME businesses as well as over 3,000 automated teller machines (ATMs), are proof of our ability and readiness to meet the needs of our existing and prospective retail customer base.
Retail banking is dynamic, changes with lifestyles and technologies. How prepared are you for these?
I spoke earlier around our state of continued innovation; this is further buttressed by our investment in Africa Fintech Foundry- a tech and innovation hub, where ideation, digital innovation and co-creation with budding inventors and digital enthusiasts ensure we stay on top of trends and solutions that will impact positively on both our individual and business customers.This is just one partnership within our growing network, we have also fostered successful partnerships with telco and fintech businesses to ensure we reach the farthest customer and offer both lifestyle and business focused solutions geared at improving lives.
What are the bank’s medium to long-term targets in retail banking?
The beauty of the combination between both banks is that the new expanded entity features the best of both worlds- a strong wholesale corporate and commercial business and an agile retail organisation leveraging digital technology to serve customers efficiently and effectively.This remains our focus in 2020 and beyond, as we continue to research, develop and launch innovative products and solutions that impact the daily lives of our customers, driving financial inclusion and democratising payments and transactions for our customers.
A good example is our USSD *901 platform and AccessMore mobile App, which have evolved to include instant account opening capability, instant and pay day loans access as well as regular services like bills payment, transfers and airtime purchase. In the short term, we intend to grow our retail customer base to over 50 million customers by 2021 and in the long term, we intend to serve one in every two Nigerians through our varied customer touchpoints, including physical branches, agent network and digital platforms.
You have worked in varied roles and industries in your over 21-year career so far and now you find yourself in the banking sector. How have your previous experiences helped you in your current role and what are your future plans?
I started out as a public relations executive, moved onto business services at the former Andersen and then began my journey as a brand manager in international fast- moving consumer goods (FMCG) businesses like BAT, Coca-Cola and Cadbury Mondeleez and at each point in my career, my focus was always on achieving excellence as a marketing communications professional, while understanding the business of retail and impact of branding and marketing on meeting sales and profit objectives.
As the Group Head, Group Retail Marketing and Analytics in Access Bank, these experiences and understanding garnered as a brand and marketing manager form the foundation of my role here. Ultimately, my job is centred around the individual customer; understanding their needs, how best to engage them, where to find them and what best to offer them to ensure they continue to transact and do business with us. A huge part of my role involves digital marketing and using analytics to segment and serve the customer uniquely and I see this as being a key focus area for me into the future. As more and more businesses are thriving on digital platforms and as consumers’ touchpoints become more mobile and digitally driven, understanding how to engage, serve customers and grow businesses through these platforms is an area I intend to focus more on and expand my career experience into.