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Why SunTrust Bank Was Bound To Penetrate Nigeria’s Saturated Financial Sector

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Jonathan Eze writes that Sun Trust Bank is making progress under the leadership of Halima Buba

When SunTrust Bank dived into the Nigerian banking industry five years ago, many pundits had expressed fear that the bank would not survive the already saturated space. As a matter of fact, over the past 15 years alone, since the then governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria, Charles Soludo, had increased commercial banks’ threshold to N25 billion, quite a number of banks had either been forced to merge with bigger and more viable banks, or have been taken over by the Asset Management Corporation of Nigeria (AMCON) due to insolvency.

But SunTrust now under the leadership of a brilliant and versatile banker, Halima Buba was bound to succeed because the bank’s raison d’etre is Nigeria’s huge potential in her vastly untapped small and medium scale enterprises (SMEs).

One of SunTrust’s unique selling points is its target market. The bank’s philosophy is, for any people to grow or develop, they need to have access to finance, and the engine room to the growth of each and every economy is the small and medium enterprises.

SunTrust contends that that segment of the Nigerian population is mostly starved of investment finance.  It is in that quest to establish an institution that would adequately provide the funding and support of small and medium enterprises that the bank was founded. As a matter of fact, that had always been the passion of the bank’s founder and first CEO, Muhammad Jibrin Barde, believing that this would propel the economic growth of Nigeria.

That bespeaks wisdom. Nigeria’s current population has been estimated by various authorities at 206 million. But there are approximately less than 35 million bank accounts registered, which leaves out approximately 180 million people without bank accounts.

Although a large percentage of Nigeria’s 180 million unbanked population comprises the underaged, there can be no gainsaying the fact that tens of millions of Nigerians deserving financial services are denied same.  Even a fifth of Nigeria’s 180 million unbanked population would amount to nearly 40 million people. That is the category of Nigerians Sun Trust is targeting to bring into its fold through the concept of financial technology or electronic banking.

With that concept, it’s as if the brain behind the founding of the bank is a professional at financial archery and this is evident from the recent posting of the bank.

In its commitment to make the growth of the small and medium scale enterprises (SMEs), its primary focus, SunTrust Bank gave out a whopping N23.96 billion as loans and advances to the Real sector in 2019. This information was contained in the bank’s annual report, made available recently.

The chairman, Olanrewaju Shittu, while addressing the shareholders at the bank’s fourth annual general meeting, held in Lagos, noted that despite the challenges of the year under review, SunTrust Bank was still able to increase its balance sheet by 24.61 per cent from N43.97 billion to N54.79 billion.

The Managing Director and Chief Executive of the bank, Halima Buba, reiterated the commitment of the bank to the growth of the nation’s economy through effective funding of the real sector.

According to her: “We are committed to the growth and development of our economy and this can only be done through effective funding of the real sector. As you can see, we increased our loans and advances by 185.41 per cent from N8.4 billion to N23.96 billion and I am assuring you that we will surely do more because we are committed to the growth of the real sector, knowing fully well that, that is the only means to ensure effective growth and development of our nation’s economy.”

 

She further said: “In line with our strategy, we are going to aggressively drive SMEs transactions … and part of our strategy is retail banking, we want to create a retail bank of choice and certainly SMEs is the engine room for the growth of any economy and to provide financing services, to support the SMEs will be the only way, we can support the growth of the economy and particularly in line with the vision of the CBN and the current administration”

Delighted that customers have significantly increase their deposit to the bank to the tune of N25.7 billion, an increase of 38.03 per cent, Halima Buba assured that as the bank grows, more funds will be set aside for corporate social responsibility as SunTrust Bank is poised to make people and communities thrive.

She also said: “The bank increased the headcount to ensure increased business growth higher than previous year, this amongst other caused increase in customer deposits compared with previous year by 38.03 per cent, from N18.64 billion to N25.73 billion and a growth in the bank’s total assets from N43.97 billion to N54.79 billion”

Sounding very optimistic about the future of the bank, Halima Buba Said: “Despite the threats to growth, the Bank will take advantage of opportunities presented in the coming financial year to improve earnings, profitability and asset quality with a view to delivering value to our esteemed shareholders.”

A further attraction to SunTrust is the fact that the bank is technology driven, which aligns with the next generation and ensures ease of banking, as opposed to practices of traditional banking strewn across the length and breadth of Nigeria.

It is fair to say that SunTrust is part of the tectonic movement in banking, a financial technology-based bank with minimum branches. This is a regional financial technology-based bank with a clear-cut strategy, not increasing capital that will not increase returns. By implication, SunTrust remains a regional bank for now and, what that means is that it cannot physically be in the other regions. However, physical limitation will not mean service delivery limitation because technology is not limited by physicality.  Therefore, wherever a customer is in Nigeria, SunTrust’s services can easily reach them.

The more modern the technology, the better security for customers and the institution in which they keep their assets. With SunTrust, the need for physical appearance is limited. The future of banking is very clear. Even though physical presence of banks and scanty behind the counter activities will continue in the foreseeable future, since nobody wants to deal exclusively with robots, with constant education of the customer on the science and art of electronic banking, banking will become real fun in the future, a phenomenon that the next generation eagerly anticipates.

A staggering ninety percent of transactions today are executed electronically. Hence, there is a declining need to have counter or teller, cashier cubicles in this bank because there is no need for it. Any institution that believes that physical branches are at the core of its brand is not prepared for the customer of tomorrow who neither wants to go to the physical branch nor wants to go and carry out a transaction over the counter either in cash or cheque; most customers today would rather execute their transactions electronically. At the minimum if they need cash, they will go to an ATM.

By adopting a branchless strategy, SunTrust will save the N100m-N120M required to build a modern branch and the about N2.5m it costs to run the generators at a typical bank branch each day.

Moreover, customers of SunTrust are encouraged to use any bank ATM because the bank will not be charging them the fee charged by other banks for using ATM machines belonging to other banks.

According to the bank’s founding CEO, “we will not be emphasising physical security as we are making serious investment in cyber security instead.”

“Even our data centre is outsourced, this way we will not have the overbearing requirement to put on the generator at our locations,” Barde said. He explained that SunTrust Bank customers will be encouraged to use any bank ATM because the bank will not be charging them the fee charged by other banks for using ATM machines belonging to other banks.

At the heart of SunTrust’s strategy therefore, the bank would be known as a financial technology bank, driving and delivering banking services using technology, which is the future of banking.

With such a different, futuristic approach to banking, and SunTrust’s unique customer target base, the future can only get brighter for the bank. It is like being the bellwether of a unique model of banking. Especially is the fact that SMEs and the country’s enterprising youth population remain the future of Nigeria.

But, arguably, one of the most assuring promises of SunTrust is the quality of its leadership. Saddled with driving the future of the bank is a young technocrat, Halima Buba.

Buba’s appointment was premised on her years of experience as a financial expert and a seasoned banker with over 20 years of experience in both the private and public sector with recognizable and impressive strides.

Buba, who hails from Adamawa is a co-founder of TAJ consortium, a group of young dynamic technocrats.

She is currently sitting on the board of Nigerian Sovereign Investment Authority (NSIA) as a non-executive director and participates amongst other key stakeholders in making critical decisions to ensure that the nation’s wealth is being channeled to optimum use for the future generations of Nigerian.

The new CEO of SunTrust Bank rose to the rank of deputy general manager in Ecobank Nigeria, in charge of FCT and the North, where she demonstrated exceptional leadership qualities in building cross-functional teams and focused on business development and market expansion.

That Buba says it’s humbling to be appointed to such trust is a clear sign that she’s prepared to roll up her sleeves and bring her wealth of experience to bear to drive the bank, whose very name connotes rising to the sun with assurance of yielding fruits by the end of the day, to live its dream of making Nigeria a better place for future generations.

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