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UBA: Bringing Innovation to Banking.

Raheem Akingbolu reviews the UBA brand and links its cutting-edge advantage in recent time to the strategies being deplored by the promoters of the brand.
Despite the high mortality rate in Nigeria’s market, some brands have conquered the early death syndrome that has continued to frustrate African brands.

From Insurance to the newspaper industry, banking to manufacturing, Nigerians, from time to time, witness the birth of new organisations. While some live to tell the story, some die at infant and some as stillborn, making many analysts to conclude that Africans are not gifted in the art of brand management.

However, many brands are indeed making Africa proud in almost all the sectors as a result of their doggedness and global best practice approach to business. United Bank of Africa, First Bank, Globacom, Dangote, THISDAY Newspapers and a few other brands fall in this category.

For 70 years, UBA has navigated Nigeria’s banking landscape, supporting businesses and building other brands. Though, its origin could be traced to 1949, when the British and French Bank launched its first branch in Lagos, the success of today’s UBA is obviously as a result of a smart move by Tony Elumelu’s STB, which gave birth to an amalgamation of the defunct STB and UBA in 2005, which has since been described as a fusion of legacy and dynamism by many commentators.

The new United Bank for Africa Plc took off on 1 August 2005 as Nigeria’s first megabank. With a network of over 425 business offices across the country, a balance-sheet size of over N600 billion, and an active customer base of over 2 million, United Bank for Africa Plc ranks as the biggest online, real-time bank in Nigeria and indeed sub-Saharan Africa.

From then, UBA commenced its pan-African expansion strategy, which has led to its presence in Republique du Benin, Burkina Faso, Cameroun, Congo Brazzaville, Congo DRC, Cote d’Ivoire, Gabon, Ghana, Guinea, Kenya, Liberia, Mali, Mozambique, Nigeria, Senegal, Sierra Leone, Tanzania, Chad, Uganda and Zambia.

Bringing innovation to Banking
Since 2005, perhaps as a result of the dynamism of the old STB, innovation has remained a niche strategy for UBA. Just recently, the bank unveiled a new product, UBA Connect, which aims to enable its customers to conduct traditional banking transactions at any UBA branch in the 20 African countries where the bank operates.

In upholding the bank’s drive towards financial inclusion for the underserved, the management of the bank indicated that the service would be available to both customers and non-customers equally, encouraging intra-African trade. According to the promoters of the brand, the move would make the Nigerian-based bank a preferred choice for non-customers traveling to African countries where the bank is the domicile for easy access to funds.

According to the Chief Executive Officer of UBA Africa, Oliver Alawuba, “Africa stands to benefit substantially from intra-Africa trade, which is facilitated by the easy flow of capital within the continent.”
He said because the bank is committed to creating superior value for its stakeholders, it is focused on ensuring that it continues “to contribute significantly to the development of Africa by improving accessibility and trade with UBA Connect, among other innovative services.”

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This product is expected to trigger growth for the bank, as the unbanked in sub-Saharan Africa – developing countries like Nigeria, Kenya, Zimbabwe and Tanzania – are a significant number of the roughly 1.7 billion “unbanked” individuals around the world.
The bank services over 19 million customers across Africa. But with this new product, that number  may double if the public is educated on how to use this product.

The CEO further explained that the new offering allows easy transfers to UBA accounts across African countries as well as cash deposits into UBA account at any of the bank’s locations in Africa, adding that the cash will be dispensed to customers in local currencies at competitive exchange rates.

UBA Bumper Account
The huge investment in marketing and advertising notwithstanding, business owners are always eager to take it up a notch through innovative relationship strategies with consumers of their brands. For players in the FMCG, the last quarter of the year is always a rewarding moment for consumers but for banking operators and their patrons, every day is important. In UBA, a reward system is key and it has remained a reoccurring decimal in the company’s strategic plans for decades.

The latest was the launch of the trending ‘UBA Bumper Account’, a hybrid account, targeted at transforming the lives of its customers. The new account was said to be in line with the bank’s mission of creating superior value for its stakeholders while encouraging saving cultures among Nigerians.

The account, carefully crafted to improve the lives of the UBA customers offers account holders an opportunity to win cash prizes of up to N2 million.
Speaking during the launch and monthly draw which was held at the UBA Head Office recently, the Group Head, Retail Banking, Jude Anele said, the New ‘UBA Bumper Account’ was created with the customer in mind.

Anele said, “We have in recent times deepened our focus on the most important aspect of our business – the customers we serve. Hence, our huge investment in technology to make banking easier and seamless, even as we introduce new offerings such as this Bumper Account, that will deliver improved value to stakeholders.”

He explained that new and existing customers of the bank need to ensure they have a minimum deposit of N5,000 in their UBA Bumper Account to qualify for draws. According to him, current UBA customers are to dial  *919*20*1# to migrate to the UBA Bumper Account whilst potential customers  should dial *919*20# if interested in opening a UBA Bumper Account.

 In the first draw which was held live during the official launch in Lagos,  a total of 100 customers emerged winners as the  Bumper to Bumper Crooner, Wande Coal   serenaded guests with his famous hit songs to the delight of all present.

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“A total of 100 customers emerged winners at the live draws which took place here today, and as you have seen, some of our customers here present were part of the lucky ones who won N100,000 each. From here on, lucky customers will win from N10,000 to N2 million each in the monthly, quarterly and targeted draws,” Anele stated.

 He added that a monthly shopping allowance of N100,000 for a year is also up for grabs. “No fewer than 50 account holders will get a whopping N2 million each across all participating regions. This account is open to both existing and new customers of the bank who save a minimum of N5,000,” Anele noted.
Amos Wisdom, one of the winners, who was present, could not hide his joy: “I am still very amazed. Before I came here, I had the conviction that I would win. All my life, I have never won anything like this, and I am very happy that I won this time.”

Another winner, Ohagbelum Peace, who could not believe it when her name was announced said if she wasn’t present herself, she would not have believed in promos like the UBA Bumper Account. “I am very grateful. This is a new experience for me and I am now a number one fan of UBA. This has re-enforced my belief for this bank.”

Human capital

Beyond innovation and promotion, one major thing that is working for the bank is in the area of human resources. Towards the end of last year, the bank indicated its decision to refresh its workforce. Few weeks after, over 5,000 staff of the bank started the new year with a lot of cheer as it announced its promotion to new grades as well as salary upgrades with immediate effect in January.
Those who were beneficiaries of this exercise were said to have received up to 170 per cent increase in their salaries and benefits, whilst a good number were moved to higher grade levels.
In a carefully planned restructuring embarked upon by the bank in the last quarter of 2019, UBA has transformed its grading system and processes to become one of the most competitive within the industry. The bank crashed its grade levels to 12 levels from entry-level to the top of the pyramid where previously it had been 16 levels. This means that staff now find it much easier to attain top leadership management positions at UBA as their careers progress much faster.
Again, in a massive recruitment drive, over 4000 new staff members resumed in the last week of December 2019 in Nigeria alone at the bank. Based on the report, UBA currently stands as the highest employer of labour amongst Nigerian banks with a staff strength of close to 20,000.

UBA’s Group Managing Director/Chief Executive Officer, Kennedy Uzoka, who announced the bank’s new staff improvement initiatives to the excited employees noted that UBA is continually seeking new ways to improve the fortunes of its staff as they are the backbone of the organisation.
Uzoka who spoke to the staff in a bank-wide live broadcast said, “As a leading financial institution, we do not take issues relating to our staff lightly.  We take great pride in being a listening bank that has the ears of our employees as they turn the wheels which make the organisation successful for our customers and shareholders. UBA recruits highly talented staff who perform at the best standards and deserve to be remunerated accordingly.”
In a related development, the bank has, early this year, announced that Oliver Alawuba has been appointed as CEO of UBA Africa, overseeing the bank’s 20 African country operations, ex-Nigeria.  He succeeds Victor Osadolor, who retires from the Group Board, after 9 years of service working at UBA.  UBA Africa serves over 19 million customers across the African continent, providing retail, commercial and institutional banking services, leading financial inclusion and implementing cutting edge products including the first ever banking chatbot in Africa, LEO.

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Laurels all the way
Meanwhile, for the bank and its promoters, all these achievements weren’t going unnoticed. Within and outside Nigeria, UBA and its top executives have been winning awards and getting recognition for their contribution to the global economy and promotion of global best practice. For instance, on two consecutive times, the UBA Group, has emerged African Bank of the Year, while its subsidiaries have won Best Bank in Benin, Chad, Cote D’Ivoire, Gabon, Congo, Sierra Leone at The Bankers Awards.
This is the second time UBA has clinched the prestigious award, having been named Best African Bank of 2017 by The Banker magazine. Last year, UBA also won best bank category in 6 of its subsidiaries: UBA Benin, UBA Chad, UBA Gabon, UBA Congo, UBA Cote D’Ivoire and UBA Sierra Leone.
The unprecedented win marks the first time ever in the history of the banker awards, that anyone bank will be given as many as six wins including the grand regional award. The awards ceremony took place at the Sheraton Grand, Park Lane in London where UBA was represented by its CEO, UBA Africa, Mr. Victor Osadolor who received all seven awards on behalf of the bank.
John Everington, Middle East and Africa Editor for The Banker, said the aim of the award “is to highlight industry wide excellence within the global banking community. The winner is selected from participating banks in each of the countries from which entries are received for the competition.”
Also, the bank had towards the end of last year emerged the Bank of the year 2019 while its Group Managing Director/Chief Executive Officer, Mr. Kennedy Uzoka, also emerged CEO of the year at the Business Hallmark Newspaper Awards, held in Lagos.

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