Meeting Customers' Needs Innovatively; the Secret Of Wema Bank's Longevity- Ademola Adebise


Saturday, May 22  2021/ 9.00AM / Wema Bank/Header Image Credit: Wema Bank


Wema Bank one of Nigeria's oldest financial institutions recently marked its 76th anniversary as an entity. As part of efforts to mark the event the Managing Director/Chief Executive Officer Mr. Ademola Adebise engaged in a Q&A session on the journey of the banking group and the strategies ahead.


According to him meeting customers' needs in innovative, compelling ways has been the secret of the bank's longevity.

Here are the full excerpts of the session;


Q1This year marks Wema Bank's 76th anniversary, what is the force guiding this longevity as a brand?


ANS: As Nigeria's oldest indigenous commercial bank, we have consistently maintained a hyper-focus on meeting the needs of our customers in innovative and compelling ways. This, if anything, is the force behind our longevity. Consumers gravitate towards value, so they will continue to patronize brands and institutions that serve them and provide some kind of needed value at the right time, and it stands to reason that as a supplier of value, our customers' patronage has kept us going for 76 years, and will keep us going as we head into the future.


Q2: It's been 3 years since you became the CEO, what was your vision for the brand at the time, and what informed that direction?


ANS: My vision at that time was to see the bank grow rapidly. We had just come out of the successful launch of ALAT, and there was this sense of pressure as stakeholders and the market at large were keeping an eye out for the next thing out of Wema. I knew that we had to take advantage of the improved customer perception and grow in all the right ways.


This was the seed of what became the bank's Double-in-Two strategic vision, in which we were to work to double our performance across all metrics in two years.


Thankfully, we were able to achieve this, and we have now moved on to our Digital Dominance in 3 strategic vision, which will cover the three years spanning 2021 to 2023.


Q3: Can you share with us some of the challenges and successes you have recorded so far?


ANS: I think the most notable challenge thus far has been COVID-19 and the year 2020. Every other thing pales into insignificance when placed side by side with the pandemic and the uncertainty of last year, as so many changes occurred in a short period and one was constantly on his toes trying to plan, analyze and react to some equally pressing concerns.


As for successes, I will list the awards for customer satisfaction and digital platform performance, as well as the successful deployment of ALAT 4.0, which is a major step on our journey to digital dominance and the attainment of our strategic goals.


Additionally, the bank paid out dividends to its shareholders for the third consecutive year in 2020; this is a notable success, as it is in line with our aspirations of continuously providing value for our stakeholders.


Q4: How do WEMA Bank's short-term ambitions fit into its long-term vision? And how does it connect to the Bank's brand purpose of 'Making Life and Lifestyles Easier for Stakeholders".


ANS: Wema Bank's long-term vision is to be the financial institution of choice in service delivery and financial returns. Our short-term ambition is to be the dominant digital banking platform in the country; this fits in perfectly with the long-term vision, first because to be the dominant banking platform means that individuals (Wema Bank customers and non-customers alike) consider Wema Bank as the de-facto first choice at every instance where they try to access financial services.


Furthermore, attaining this magnitude of scale (in terms of customer numbers) will allow us to harness economies of scale and reduce the per-unit cost to serve, which will, in turn, allow us to offer the best possible rates and returns to our customers.


Q5: In 2020, WEMA Bank won the BusinessDay Award for the Best SME Bank of the Year, and emerged second in the recently published KPMG Customer Experience Survey, evidence of significant growth in the retail category. How do you feel about these successes?


ANS: I think it's safe to say that I feel proud and highly satisfied by these awards, as they serve as very public recognition and affirmation of the efforts, we, in the Bank have put in over the years to serve our customers better. There is also a heightened sense of pressure.


There is no value to be gained from being a "one-hit wonder", so we all have to work that much harder to not only maintain the high standards which we have set for ourselves (and which our customers now expect from us) but to exceed them in a highly competitive market.


Q6: WEMA Bank fully transited into the digital age with the widely acclaimed ALAT. For a Bank that has chosen to compete using technology, how do you plan on making this a sustainable strategy and consolidate on the positioning going forward?


ANS: The bank has outlined a comprehensive strategy that details the ways and means of how we intend to attain this vision. Eight pillars are underpinning our strategy:


i.We intend to work aggressively to improve our efficiency and optimize our balance sheet by improving deposits and increasing capital


ii. We will strive to increase our active customer base and review our value propositions to attract new customers and re-attract dormant ones


iii. We will position ourselves as the bank of choice for fintech and tech start-ups and develop an ecosystem through mutually rewarding partnerships


iv. We will continue to transform the experiences of our customers across all our channels and products


v.We will design and deploy the right architecture and infrastructure that will allow us to judiciously harness the insights gained from data to serve our customers better. We will also push the right skills and grow the necessary in-house culture which will ensure that our staff are properly positioned and inclined to allow for the attainment of this vision


vii. We will build a world-class, highly engaged workforce which will, in turn, drive strategy execution and the desired culture change


viii. We will digitize or back and middle office processes and work to ensure platform stability and reliability across all channels, increase efficiency, and reduce associated costs


ix. Lastly, we will actively seek out opportunities for growth through inorganic means, which will allow us to achieve the required scale in a shorter period


Q7: Recent statistics showed that Nigerian women are still among the most financially excluded, what is WEMA Bank doing about financial inclusion to bridge this gap?


ANS: To begin with, we have an in-house proposition called SARA by Wema, which offers some services that are available to women of all ages across all works of life. Furthermore, in the deployment of our services such as agency banking, we strive to ensure the equitable inclusion of women, as they are a major, and sometimes under-recognized, driver of the nation's economy.


Our CSR initiatives, SME clinics, and other customer engagement initiatives are also structured in such a way as to drive the adoption of financial services by women.


Q8:As the current BusinessDay SME Bank of the year, what are the Bank's offerings and initiatives for SMEs that earned Wema that recognition?


ANS: Aside from value adds like excellent customer service and business advisory offerings, we have two custom accounts for business owners: My Business Account and My Business Plus account. We also offer business support in the form of structured and uniquely tailored loans which are targeted at meeting the unique needs of customers in various industries and business sectors.


And as the "icing on the cake", customers can make use of any of our digital channels, most especially the ALAT 4 Business app, to carry out some transactions and business activities entirely online, either via a mobile app or laptop. It is this suite of offerings that earned us recognition from BusinessDay and the appreciation of our customers.


Q9:COVID-19 affected all sectors of the Nigerian economy, including banking. How exactly did WEMA weather the storm and return impressive financial results in the year ended 2020 financial reports?


ANS: We were able to weather the storm of COVID-19 by first, harnessing an agile mindset that allowed us to pivot our operations and services very quickly in response to the realities of the new normal of remote working.


Secondly, we applied a vigorous cost-savings regimen to ensure that our income lines, which were, like the income lines of banks and businesses all over the country and the globe, hit by some shocks. This allowed us to see some gains, as our operating expenses dropped by 3.19% year-on-year.


All these occurred while we continued to aggressively push for increases in customer deposits, loan disbursals, and other income lines. This double-pronged approach led to positive results for last year.


Q10:WEMA Bank turned 76 this month of May, if you were asked to rate the journey, what would be your assessment? And what do you say to Nigerians about the future?


ANS: I will not judge the journey personally. I will leave it to other folks to do that. I believe there is still some considerable room for growth, despite the gains we have witnessed over the last few years. It has certainly been an exciting and invigorating stint for me and my talented team and I look forward to furthering developments during my stay here.


To Nigerians, I will say: "Watch out." They should expect to see a Wema Bank that will continue to thrill them and exceed their expectations even as we continue to meet their every need, every step of the way.


They should expect to see a digital-first organization with a range of easily accessible channels and solutions that will allow them to carry out any transactions seamlessly and conveniently.

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