Ecobank Group launched a mobile App last week, the bank’s chief executive officer, Ade Ayeyemo tells MetroBusinessdaynews of the bank’s 100 million customer target by 2020 and the role the App will play. Excerpts.
What is the new strategy for Ecobank?
When we were being formed, one of the bank’s founding fathers said he wanted us to be thebridge between the ambition of people on the African continent and realising those ambitions using financial services as the medium.
That has been our driving vision since then. From time to time, every period, people are called to answer what is required of their own people to drive this vision.
In this instance, ours is to create an Ecobank that is not only a leader in the market but also a leader that ensures financial participation and inclusion. A leader that serves the community in which we operate in a way that actually creates value to all the stakeholders, whether it’s our shareholders or customers and our staff.
When we talk about leadership, we use the word in all these ramifications. And because we are present in 33 markets in Africa, we have 33 banking licenses and we have three other markets where we have representative offices. As a result, we believe we are best suited to solve the challenges on the continent.
We rapidly grew from six countries to 33 countries, and we think now is the time to consolidate and make sure we can actually bring all those platforms together in a way we can serve better.
Somebody said we were launching an app in Nigeria, but we don’t just launch an app in one country, we are launching in 33 countries and that is very important for the continent. Therefore, when anybody in the continent tries to think about problems that are easily solved by financial services, we are the ones to call on.
This is because when we create a window, that window leads into all the countries where we are operational. So when we take a problem on and we put the whole force of the institution behind solving it, we think we have a reasonable chance of solving it.
Financial inclusion in the continent from our point of view is not just about being a ‘good Samaritan’ for people, it is trying to encourage and include as many people as possible and that way it becomes commercially viable.
If it is commercially viable, then it can be sustainable. We are making it a business model to include as many people as possible.
From all I have said, you can get a sense of what we are about. We currently have more than 10 million customers and we have said we want to have more than 100 million customers by 2020. Now that is not something we just talk about easily, we know it is difficult but it remains a problem that needs to be solved and we believe whoever solves it properly will become a profitable player. When people see challenges, we see opportunities.
What is your roadmap for achieving the 100 million customers you spoke about?
First of all, the population of the continent is about a billion, that means where we operate would have over a billion people by 2020. We understand that to have a credible proposition, we must find a way to go to that market.
Reaching that market does not have to be by brick and mortal or by building more branches, rather it is being able to connect with people at their point of need through a means that is convenient.
And that’s why we said we are going to use devices to connect with people, whether it is through their phone or any other internet enabled device.
As we go into the future we will start having Internet of Things (IoT) not just a mobile device. As we look into the future, we believe that mobile connectivity is the best way to deliver service to people.
The decision to launch a mobile app today, should give you a sense of direction of how we want to get to those 100 million customers.
The question of who we are is defined by history and the question of who we want to become is determined by our vision and our readiness to move towards that vision.
The number of branches we are in is historical. The question now is how to make Ecobank a platform that has many people participating in it.
For instance, we have many people using Whatsapp in Africa, yet whatsapp has no physical offices in Africa. This tells you that the emphasis on physical buildings will fade eventually.
It will be by internet distribution rather than physical distribution. This way, more people can participate and value can be created using the technology. A lot of people here use Paypal to make payments but Paypal has no office in the continent.
Let us not think about why it cannot be done because there is sufficient technology to solve whatever challenges.
We are not opening more branches because we achieve our target with the help of technology.
Let me give another example, by market capitalisation, one of the largest hotels in the world is Air BnB and they do not have a room. Uber also has no taxi. If these companies can solve problems without physical presence, then let us not limit our vision because of physical constraints. Let us solve it with technology bearing in mind that our ability to solve them can only be limited by our imagination.
Nigeria’s financial inclusion strategy targets 80 percent inclusion by 2020, how will the Ecobank App fast track this timeline?
What we are trying to do is increase the utility of the phones in the hands of people. If we say, put your money in the phone, the first question you will ask is if you want to buy something, how do you buy? The essence of partnering with other people is to expand the point of acceptance to the ubiquitous around the continent.
When you want to pay for goods and services, we want you to be able to do that using your mobile device, whether it is with our visa platform or the Masterpass. We want to expand our point of acceptance and that is why we have partnered with Visa and MasterCard. That way, we can reach out to more people. We want to be the platform, and by this, other players can come into participation.
What is unique about the Ecobank mobile app?
We will be the only one launching in 33 countries at a go. Yesterday, I was in Kenya and a friend of mine needed me to pay money into Cameroon. I do not have an account in Cameroon; I have in Togo and Nigeria. Yet I was able to transfer the money and it was done. Not many people can say that it could be more convenient to use Ecobank. We are able to deliver in seconds to all these African countries.
Some banks have suspended international card services, where does Ecobank stand?
The temporary responses of government to short-term problems will always be there, but we won’t let that define what our future should be. Five years ago, Nigeria was not in the same position it is now and five years from now, it won’t be where it is today.
Nigeria allowed people use their cards anywhere then. Today, to the best of my understanding, there is a temporary problem with FX and they are trying to sort it out. We won’t withdraw from our imagination of connecting every African to trade with one another because of a temporary problem now.
The country used to produce 2.2 million barrels per day but now it produces less than 1.5 mbpd.
But as Ecobank, we will work with government and our fundamental objective remains connecting people to trade around Africa.