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Opinion / Editorial

Why Nigerians should ignore fraudulent claims about FCMB’s financial distress By Muktar Lamido

FCMB
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The lingering economic crisis in Nigeria has continued to take a painful toll on the nation’s once vibrant sectors like manufacturing and services, with many firms succumbing to the tough situation.

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Since the crisis began, a few banks have been acquired by stronger players in the industry; while some others were forced to concede their entities to Assets Management Company of Nigeria, AMCON. Those who have not been acquired are either in the takeover process or closing down altogether.

Against this backdrop, very few banks have been able to sufficiently weather the storm due to their efficient management personnel. One of those companies is First City Monument Bank, Nigeria’s largest retail lender.

In 2015 alone, FCMB granted over 240,000 loans to Nigerian retailers in order to help shore up the country’s moribund retail economy, even as most other Nigerian banks remained notorious for their contempt for small business owners.

Similarly, FCMB is amongst the few banks certified by the Central Bank of Nigeria to help disburse the N220billion Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises, MSMEs, fund.

Unfortunately, all these strong indications have done little to dissuade some misguided elements within the banking industry from making false claims against this vibrant institution.They have been making concerted efforts to create chaos and set the public against one of Nigeria’s most innovative banks.

The latest of such fraudulent claims is contained in an story that has been circulating across the Nigerian blogosphere which purportedly claimed to have it on good authority that the bank is laying off staff and shutting down ‘all its 35 branches’ in the country. This is blatantly false as the bank has more than 200 branches. While the bank is closing some branches due to overlap and the need to move more customers to alternate channels, the affected branches are less than 10 percent of its branch network.

On the flip-side, the bank is also proceeding with its expansion drive in areas where it has low visibility. This year, there are plans by FCMB to open new branches in Gbagada, Kingsway Road, Oyingbo, Oniru, (all in Lagos) and Karu in Abuja. The bank has already received CBN approval for some of these and is actively seeking approval for others.

The distress story cannot be further from the truth. The institution remains committed to its strategy to build a retail led commercial bank and has only found it necessary to consolidate its branch network to drive efficiency and further boost productivity.

On product offering, FCMB has an array of innovative products that cuts across socio-economic and demographic segments. These products (current and savings accounts), which are easy to open and affordable to operate, include nairawise, kids account, Flexx account, (a youth product that meets the needs of this very important segment of the population) as well as the e-savings account.

In the area of electronic payment, FCMB has consistently proved its mettle as a financial institution with robust platforms that ensure secure, convenient and seamless solutions that have been deployed to drive its retail, corporate and commercial banking businesses.

Its alternate channels, such as ATMs, Point of Sales (PoS) terminal, internet banking, mobile banking and telephone banking, enhance customer experience across all touch points. The Bank equally has a suite of card products designed to meet the lifestyles of a wide spectrum of users.

FCMB’s Debit Cards for example have a competitive edge from a service delivery perspective. These cards are issued instantly at all the Bank’s branches nationwide on the MasterCard, Verve and Visa platforms.

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There are also, foreign currency (USD and GBP) denominated varieties. Apart from the enhanced security features of FCMB cards such as chip and pin, passport photograph and global SMS alert service, customers are offered 24/7 access to their funds anywhere in the world.

FCMB card holders are welcome to the world of exquisite privileges through the Priority Pass Card which gives cardholders access to over 700 lounges, all at various airports across the world. The pre-paid card serves account holders and non-account holders who are new to the bank and would like to have the cards without necessarily opening accounts.

FCMB’s SME product, known as FCMB Business Account has been described as one of the best in the industry. This product comes with affordable account opening balance, with minimum opening balance of only N5,000 and there are no limits to the frequency or number of times withdrawal can be made, apart from other very friendly features. There is also the FCMB Personal Business Account, which is a current account designed for traders and merchants with reduced cost of banking and protection against the unexpected, arising from disasters such as fire or flood. In addition to reduced banking charges, there is a free cover for loss of stock up to the tune of N1million in case of fire or flood incidents.

And as part of efforts towards encouraging Nigerians to key into the banking system, FCMB initiated a microfinance arm to provide financial services to the unbanked and under-banked low income segment, especially women in the rural parts of the country. Designed as a group lending programme, the aim is to create financial awareness and funding for traders through micro-credit schemes to grow their respective businesses. The pilot in Oyo state had within 5 months provided loans to almost 5,000 women.

To ensure that customers have more opportunities to enjoy financial services without having to visit a conventional banking facility, FCMB also operates an agent banking scheme. Under the scheme, customers may visit non-bank retail outlets (such as supermarkets, gas stations, Pharmacy and stores) all within their communities to perform banking transactions. These non-bank retail outlets are equipped with Points of Sale (PoS) machines that are connected to FCMB’s core banking system. At the moment, the Bank has several agent banking outlets in Lagos with plans to deepen the reach nationwide before the end of this year, 2016.

Also, the Bank recently emerged as the 4th most customer-focused bank in Small and Medium Enterprises (SME), and 5th in retail banking based on the outcome of the 2015 Banking Industry Customer Satisfaction Survey (BICSS) carried out by KPMG, a leading international consulting firm.

Finally and most importantly, FCMB is amongst the few Nigerian banks that enjoy Standard and Poor’s B+/B topnotch rating.

Therefore, this campaign of calumny arose from the figment of the imagination of those who continue to peddle it. Appropriate authorities should take immediate action and fish out all those responsible for the insane dissemination of falsehood against a company of repute in line with President Muhammadu Buhari’s efforts to stop the ongoing hermorrhage of the country’s economy.


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