THE Fidelity Bank Plc. is targeting retail clients using low-cost electronic channels to boost profits after a recession in Africa’s biggest economy forced the mid-tier lender to slow loan growth. Gbolahan Joshua, chief operations and information officer, Fidelity Bank, said electronic banking had become a growth area as lenders enable customers to make payments such as phone top-ups and airline tickets for a fee via the internet without taking credit risk after the crisis at home forced them to curb loans.
The bank’s instant transfer platform, which had almost no customer three years ago, had about one million customers at the end of 2016. “Total bank account holders hit 3.5 million last year. Electronic banking is where we see income growth,” he said in Lagos.
“We are capturing customers with mobile phones. Normalised profit for Fidelity in the past two years was around 15 billion naira, Joshua said, adding that earnings could rise further as the economy recovered. The bank’s pre-tax profit in the nine months to September 2016 was 9.83 billion naira. Fidelity’s shares were down 1.12 percent on Tuesday at 0.88 naira, having gained six percent so far this year. Shares fell 44 percent in 2016,” he said.
Industry data showed that instant transfers hit 38 trillion naira ($121 billion) last year. Nigerian banks had a total of 65 million accounts last year, up from 23 million eight years ago.
Fidelity would not need to raise equity or debt to finance growth this year, Joshua said, as electronic banking was not capital intensive and the bank’s capital ratio was well above the regulatory minimum of 16 percent.
But a further 50 percent devaluation of the naira could knock off 1-2 percent from industry capital levels which would trigger widespread capital raising for weaker rivals, Joshua said. Loans grew around 25 percent last year largely due to the sharp depreciation in the naira, which lost a third of its official value in 2016. He said loans grew around 4.5 percent without the currency effect.
The bank expects loans to grow under 10 percent this year as the bank targets firms that produce goods locally or export-led ventures. “We have aligned our trades to the sectors that are getting dollars from the central bank. We are funding less import dependent customers and a lot of focus is on companies that are focusing on exports,” he said.
Several Nigerian lenders have adapted their business models after low crude prices put pressure on the once lucrative oil and gas loan book. Nigeria faces its worst recession in 25 years, brought on by the fall in oil prices.
— Feb 20, 2017 @ 01:00 GMT