One thing cannot be ruled out, First Bank of Nigeria has really shown that it is the first by its name and it has shown that class over the years; since its inception 125 years ago in the banking institution, not only in Nigeria but in the whole of West and Central Africa.
So, celebrating its 125 years of providing banking service to Nigeria and Nigerians, it has really shown great impact in her economy in whatever perspective one looks at this unique brand. It has played a principal role in building and financing most capital intensive businesses and huge infrastructures across the country in such sectors like agriculture, mining, financial economy, keepers of treasure private or public. No wonder, the bank can boast of the largest number of shareholders in Nigeria with over 16 million customers, a feat no other brand in the banking institution ever comes close to matching.
Apart from being the oldest financial institution in Nigeria, it has remained in the financial institution rendering one form of assistance to her clients or the other, whether at the private or public level, right from the day it was established in the 19th century. This per se was the submission of Chairman of First Bank Plc, Oba Otudeko while narrating the bank’s mission. He said” the bank is out to create the notion that Nigeria has produced one of the best and biggest banks in the African continent”
In the early 20th century, formerly known as the Bank of British West Africa, it began expanding aggressively across the regions, with branches opened in Calabar, Zaria, Accra, Kano, Sierra Leone, and many more. When the Kano bank was opened in 1914, an illustrious merchant showed up with three camels saddled with twenty bags of money, deposited that day and this step has further energized its role as treasure safety with greater trust that has put the bank ahead among other competitors.
However, the bank has over 82,000 locations spread across all 774 local government areas of the 923, 763 square kilometers called Nigeria. This means that it is everywhere.
The bank has begun to support Nigerians even during the colonial era when Nigerians were agitating for better living standards. The bank was later renamed First Bank and ever since the rebranding, First Bank has always been in the fore front of supporting Nigerians in all ramifications of life, a project the bank has embarked upon since its foundation.
According to the Managing Director of First Bank, Mr. Patrick Akinwuntan, profitability is important but economic growth is also very important because of the bank’s history which is woven into the economy and the society.
First Bank has always been supporting the Nigerian government in many landmark projects, which include roads, housing, bridges and many others. The bank has always been there for the people, projecting a brighter future and better standard of living.
The bank has spent over N200 Billion on agriculture. And was there too at the privatization of the power sector in 2014 and also played significant role financing the the rail project, a project that will move millions of people from its various locations in the country to another. The Niger bridge project is an example of many of the major bank achievements.
Today, First Bank is a reference point for banking globally and the bank has recorded tremendous growth and inspiring financial stability over the years
Speaking about the greatness of the First Bank, its chairman, Ibukun Awosika, stated that one will have to have an insider point of view to fully and truly have a grasp of what a great institution it is, “when I say “institution”, I meant that; an INSTITUTION. Think of how many different ‘future’ First Bank has gone through. Imagine, when it was ten years old, the environment that it was in 1894, by 1904, what these regions looked like. By the time you got to the Amalgamation in 1914, you could only anticipate what was going to happen next. Walk through all of those seasons into the season of independence of the country, think of the season when we had a lot of cash crops and everything and the kind of development and the nature of the country and the region, and the emergence of the petro-dollar and the different political systems, whether military or whatever we had overtime. And think of an institution that has continuously re-engineered itself effectively for each future that it had to encounter and successfully do it”.
For a bank that is 125 years old, she is ‘not competing’ with its new generation counterparts, but, has remained tremendously relevant, outstanding, and consistently at the forefront over the years, with its capacity and ability to invent and reinvent itself. This has strategically positioned the bank to remain as the dominant financial institution, not just in Nigeria, but in the West and Central part of Africa, where it currently plays.
Segun Agbaje, the Managing Director of Guaranty Trust Bank, who also happens to be the son of J.K. Agbaje, the first appointed African branch manager of First Bank could not hide his respect for the giant bank; “There are very few banks truthfully that I have a lot of respect for because I don’t think that a lot of banks are necessarily doing banking the way I would like it to be done and that probably one of the four or five banks that I think are doing banking properly in Nigeria is definitely First Bank and that if a Guaranty Trust was able to have the staying power and the strength, and the brand and the trust that obviously First Bank has, then I think it would have done very well”.
Agbaje also reveals his latest competition with First Bank, “[It’s] over NIP volumes. I think that last year we controlled about twenty-five percentage of NIP and First Bank was about eighteen percent. Today, they have used their retail base to go up to about 22.9% of NIP, I think we are 20.9%”.
Some of the big features that stand First Bank out as a financial institution is its financial security, customer support, investment. By far, First Bank has the largest asset base; N5.3 trillion. This gives the customer peace of mind knowing his money is always safe. For over a century, Fist bank has been providing support for so many businesses of different sizes that form the engine of the economy. First Bank has been partners with thousands of both large conglomerates and small businesses.
In the 1920s when Nigerians were beginning to clamor against the unfair taxes by their colonial masters, First bank was there to provide heavy supports for the ordinary Nigerians, in all forms of agriculture, trade, and services. At this time, the bank had become the treasury for the governor and the Central bank of Nigeria, CBN, with a customer base of hundreds of thousands.
The bank has also played a major role in the development of Nigeria, talk of providing financial support from the days of cash crops in the 1930’s, power lines and first railway cities across Nigeria, linking the two ends and the Niger bridge linking the Eastern, Western and Northern Nigeria. Not resting on its oars, the flying elephant has continued to carry the modern agricultural developments, privatization of the power sector, and some of the country’s largest infrastructural projects, both public and private.
Another of its feature to enhance the economy is the introduction of cashless society with the introduction of Automated Teller Machine, ATM, and Western Money Transfer to help foreign business activities. This pioneering bank has continued to evolve and deliver values to generations of Nigeria.
First Bank has also touched lives of individuals in different diverse of human endeavours such as health, education, welfare, and other areas. Through one of such initiatives is SPARK, Start Performing Acts of Random Kindness. With this initiative, it has restored visible hope in the family of Kate Ogbonnaya, a recipient whose daughter, Ijeoma Gold Ogbonnaya had a hole in her heart. She had a successful surgery. So many others have benefited from this tremendous initiative. Many students have seen their education dreams fulfilled, schools have received buses to help the transportation of students to and fro the school premises.