Following last week’s lifting of the COVID-19 lockdown in Abuja, Lagos, and Ogun states, one of the first things most Nigerians did was to rush down to the banks. As Nairametrics had reported, it was quite dramatic, as long queues formed in front of different banks in Lagos and Abuja.
In line with safety guidelines, the bank customers were prevented from entering the banking halls all at once. Instead, the banks ensured that only a limited number of people were allowed inside at the same time. As a result, the crowd outside the banks kept increasing. This was the case throughout much of last week.
The reason those bank customers risked being infected by the Coronavirus as they violated social distancing whilst standing in those queues, is as sad as it is disturbing. During the month-long lockdown, many of them experienced various types of failed online banking transactions. This is why they stormed the banks in large numbers as soon as they could move freely again.
Remote working made it impossible to assist customers
According to Mr. Mbanefo, a relationship manager in a bank (name withheld), working from home during the lockdown made it impossible to adequately assist customers who were having challenges. This is because many bank workers did not have access to some of the vital tools they would normally need to attend to such customers. He explained:
“One of the challenges of working from home as a banker is that there are lots of software that we use that cannot be accessible from home because of security reasons; not because they cannot be made available to us at home. For example, you cannot check people’s account balance from your house. So, even though the software to do that can be made available for us at home, it can’t.
“Also, having access to files that are saved in your work computer is key when you are working. But when you work from home as a banker, you cannot access such files. You also cannot use USB and other devices to copy them to your laptop. So, that’s another challenge.
“Note that all these are rules that can be relaxed if the society needs them to be. It’s just that banks are very paranoid about security because we are handling money.”
But the main problem is all about technological inadequacy
Speaking to Nairametrics, a US-based Nigerian HR professional, Ikechukwu Ossi, explained that last week’s bank rush was indicative of the adverse effects of banks’ lack of technological preparedness. According to him, the Nigerian banking industry is comprised mainly of “face-to-face financial services providers who treat online/technology services as novel products designed for the elite or educated class of the society.”
He also faulted the fact that Nigerian banks typically work 9-5, even as the skills required of most bankers are “basic” and focused mainly on banking.
Nigeria’s banking industry needs drastic adjustments in a post-COVID-19 era
- The need for increased usage of technology to add value to banking and the banking process. Therefore, Nigerian banks “will need to go aggressively digital overnight. Unfortunately, banks that are not prepared (or lack the platform to make this aggressive transition) will lose business to not only other big banks but to smaller niche banks who may be a tard more nimble!”
- Big bank brands will need to re-earn their customer loyalty via their ability to adapt quickly. This is especially important, considering the fact that good customer service provision is expected to fall to an all-time low as businesses struggle to adapt to the changes wrought by COVID-19.
- In terms of the future of work/how work is conducted for the bank employees, Ikechukwu Ossi noted that there will be a change in the required skill and competency requirements for talent within the industry.
“To illustrate my points, here are a few questions that Bank CEOs and CBN governor need to answer for themselves and maybe to shareholders – Why would a financial services institution in 2020 require a customer to visit a bank branch to complete an account opening or a loan application form? Why do we need this many employees (with all the inefficiencies) to handle a single banking transaction? Why have we not automated a majority of the banking transaction to improve efficiencies? Why do we need so many highly skilled banking employees and why do they need to work so many hours per week? In post COVID19, why do we need a 50-storey headquarter building?”
Without a doubt, nobody could have envisaged with much certainty that the Coronavirus pandemic would have this much impact on the Nigerian economy and specifically, the banking industry. But one thing is clear now, and that is the fact that the future. And like Ossi noted in his concluding remarks, we do not need a crystal ball to tell us some of the inevitabilities, including those listed below:
- Banks will be forced to operate highly efficient, highly automated/online and realtime banking operations
- Efficiency requirements, Capialism and shareholder returns will cause a downward review of costs (employee costs being the top expense figure)
- Lay-off though inevitable will probably not affect the highly skilled and multi-faceted banking talent. Also, the skill requirements to hire a talent will be different.
- Also, the ways of working withing banking may likely improve; organizations have been forced to innovate and see the pros and cons of remote work. The expectations is for banks to improve on the efficiencies of remote working and reap the benefits therein.
- I suspect that super-sized banks will continue to exist beside micro-sized/micro-finance banks – these smaller banks have shown they are nimble and because their size is easily adaptable to a changing business environment – this will appeal to a niche customer base who will remain loyal for this reason.
Zenith Bank and GTBank are considering paying interim dividends despite COVID-19
Analysts earlier predicted that banks may hold off on dividend payments as a way of cutting down on costs in view of COVID-19.
Zenith Bank’s board of directors is set to meet on July 23rd, 2020 to consider the tier-1 bank’s audited financial statements for half-year 2020. The directors will also consider “the proposal for recommendation of interim dividend for shareholders,” said a notice that was sent by the company to the Nigerian Stock Exchange.
In a similar development, Guaranty Trust Bank Plc said in a statement to the NSE that “issues relating to half-year dividend may also be discussed” when its board of directors meet later this month.
Zenith Bank and GTBank, which are two of the most profitable banks in Nigeria, have always paid interim dividends to their shareholders. However, analysts earlier predicted that many banks may hold off on dividend payments as a way of cutting down on costs, in view of COVID-19 and its attendant economic implications. It is, therefore, fascinating to see that Zenith Bank and GTBank are considering interim dividends nonetheless.
Elsewhere, banks around the world have either been warned not to pay dividends at all or to be careful with dividend payouts. In April, The Economic Times reported that the Reserve Bank of India advised Indian banks to suspend dividend payments in order to conserve their capital amid the pandemic. In a similar development, regulators in Europe also banned European banks from paying any dividend in 2020. In Australia, banks were advised to slash their dividend payouts. Meanwhile, over in North America, the US Federal Reserve announced in late June that it will temporarily restrict dividend payouts by some of the country’s biggest banks, the New York Times reported.
As Nairametrics had repeatedly reported, the COVID-19 pandemic is expected to adversely impact different sectors of the Nigerian economy, including the financial institutions. An earlier report by Nairametrics quoted Augusto & Co to have predicted how the pandemic would weaken Nigerian banks’ assets. An April report by PwC also highlighted some of the ways COVID-19 could impact Nigerian banks.
In the meantime, the Banking Industry Risk Indicator (BIRI) in Nigeria stands at a score of 12.14 out of 100, according to a recent analysis by Fitch Solutions, as Nairametrics reported.
Do note that Zenith Bank Plc has declared a closed period for the trading in its stock starting from July 6th, 2020. The closed period will last until 24 hours after the company’s half-year 2020 financial report is released to the public. In the meantime, all persons with inside knowledge of Zenith Bank’s affairs shall be prohibited from buying and selling the company’s stock during the closed period.
GTBank declares closed period as directors meet July 22nd to consider H1 result
GTBank reported a net interest income of N64.28 billion in Q1 2020 as against N53.58 billion in Q1 2019.
Guaranty Trust Bank Plc (GTBank) has declared a closed period ahead of the release of its audited half-year 2020 financial statements.
A corporate disclosure that was signed by the Company Secretary (Erhi Obebeduo) and sent to the Nigerian Stock Exchange said the closed period commenced on July 3rd, 2020. In line with the listing rules of the NSE, the closed period is expected to last until twenty-four hours after the bank’s financial statements have been released to the public.
Note that the implication of the closed period is that all persons with insider knowledge of the company’s affairs are hereby prohibited from trading the company’s stock.
Meanwhile, members of GTBank’s board of directors are scheduled to meet on July 22nd to consider the audited HI 2020 financial statements. A separate notice that was sent to the NSE said:
“Pursuant to the post-listing requirements of the Nigerian Stock Exchange for quoted companies, Guaranty Trust Bank Plc hereby informs you that the board of directors of our bank is scheduled to meet on Wednesday, July 22, 2020, to consider the audited financial statement for the half-year ended June 30, 2020. Issues relating to half-year dividend may also be discussed at the meeting.”
The audited financial statements for half-year 2020 shall be sent to the Central Bank of Nigeria for approval prior to being made public through the Nigerian Stock Exchange.
Recall that GTBank reported a net interest income of N64.28 billion in Q1 2020 as against N53.58 billion in Q1 2019. In the same vein, the tier-1 bank’s profit before tax grew by 2.1% to N58.2 billion, up from N57 billion in Q1 2019. Profit after tax also grew from N49.3 billion in Q1 2019 to N50 billion in Q1 2020.
GTBank closed last week’s trading on the Nigerian Stock Exchange with a share price of N20.80, according to trading reports seen by Nairametrics. Year to date, the stock has lost by more than -19%.
CBN imposes fresh CRR debits on banks to the tune of N118 billion
These debits have inevitably tightened liquidity in the banking system and bankers are complaining.
On July 3rd, 2020, the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) once again debited many banks in Nigeria in line with its Cash Reserve Ratio (CRR) compliance requirement. This time around, about 14 banks were debited to the tune of N118 billion.
These banks are:
- Access Bank Plc: N3 billion
- Guaranty Trust Bank Plc: N15 billion
- First Bank of Nigeria Ltd: N12.4 billion
- Ecobank Nigeria: N7 billion
- Sterling Bank Plc: N5 billion
- Fidelity Bank Plc: N11 billion
- Union Bank of Nigeria Plc: N12.5 billion
- First City Monument Bank Ltd: N10 billion
- CitiBank Nigeria Ltd: N10.2 billion
- Stanbic IBTC Bank: N15 billion
- Zenith Bank Plc: N7 billion
- Wema Bank Plc: N3 billion
- Titan Trust Bank: N2.5 billion
- Rand Merchant Bank Nigeria Ltd: N4 billion
More details on these debits
These constant CRR debits, which typically herald the apex bank’s FX auctions as Nairametrics was made to understand, have served to significantly reduce liquidity in the system. An insider who informed Nairametrics about the latest debit said “the liquidity within the system is now very tight”. As a matter of fact, liquidity is now reportedly below N100 billion.
Apparently, the CBN is using these weekly CRR debits to mop up liquidity in the system. In other words, these debits help to prevent banks from coming to the FX auctions with lots of cash. Too much FX demands tend to put the apex bank under pressure.
Note that inasmuch as the CBN is trying hard to stabilise the FX markets, these constant debits have inevitably affected banks negatively by leaving them cash-strapped. Our source, who was quoted above, earlier complained about these ‘indiscriminate debits’ when he said:
“These are huge amounts that are leaving the banking sector. It’s a squeeze on the banks. A bank like First Bank, for instance, has about N1.4 trillion in CRR with the Central Bank. And there is Zenith Bank with equally as much as N1.5 trillion. These are monies that banks can potentially put in loans at 52% at 30%, or even put in money market instruments at maybe 10%. So, for a shareholder of these banks, this CRR debits are impairing the banks’ ability to increase their earnings because now are not able to use the funds that are legitimately theirs to create money for their shareholders. And the question is that under what framework is the Central Bank choosing to take people’s money?”
Banks’ stakeholders have also collectively complained
Meanwhile, bank stakeholders have also collectively complained about these incessant CRR debits by the Central Bank of Nigeria. As Nairametrics reported yesterday, the negative impacts of CBN’s constant CRR debits were among some of the issues raised by banks’ stakeholders during Standard Chartered Bank’s 2020 Africa Investor’s Conference.
It is important to point out that many banks in the country, including the likes of First Bank, now have billions of their customers’ debits sterilised for the sake of CRR compliance.
The cash reserve requirement is the minimum amount banks are expected to leave retained with the Central Bank of Nigeria from customer deposits. In January, the CRR was increased by 5% to 27.5% by the CBN Monetary Policy Committee (MPC) who explained that the decision was intended to address monetary-induced inflation whilst retaining the benefits from the CBN’s LDR policy.