Post-Covid-19: Banks in expansion frenzy

Posted by News Express | 28 November 2020 | 638 times

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Arising from the monetary policy committee (MPC) meeting penultimate Tuesday, it may have become inevitable for banks to up their game by following through with their expansionist drive in order to stay afloat.

With concerns still rife over the implications of the current recession on the economy, and by extension the financial health of banks, experts hold the view that such fears may be unfounded because certain measures, experts noted, may have helped to cushion the after effects of the current recession and could also aid the country’s quick exit from the prevailing credit crunch.

It may be recalled that the Finance Minister, Mrs. Zainab Ahmed had announced some measures including the Economic Sustainability Programme of the Federal Government and other CBN facilities targeted at households, small and medium enterprises (SMEs), youth empowerment, and reduction of unemployment.

After prioritising their core banking services for nearly a decade, some Nigerian banks are restructuring to diversify their revenue base and remain competitive with other financial services. With this drive, some banks are adopting the holding company structure.

Holding company (holdco) to the rescue

It is however instructive to note that holding companies are neither new nor rare among Nigerian banks. It dates back to 2011 when the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) forced banks to give up their non-banking businesses or restructure into a holding structure. The regulator, like its peers globally, believed that it was an important risk management strategy to separate lenders from entangling with other financial services like insurance or investments.

Under the current CBN governor, Godwin Emefiele several banks have towed the path of expansion via holdingco.

While attempting a prognosis of the banking industry in the last two years, Agusto & Co in its treatise observed that banks will need to recapitalise in the short to medium term. However, it was quick to add that this will be challenging considering the current environment and weak investor sentiments.

According to the observers, for banks that may be seeking to raise tier 1 capital, the weak valuations at this time – which has led to all the quoted banks trading at a discount to book values – may be a deterrent. The three most valuable banks are currently trading below book values with Guaranty Trust Bank Plc trading at 0.89x its book value, Zenith Bank Plc at half its book value and Stanbic IBTC Bank Plc (0.97x its book) as at 20 April 2020. Tier II capital will be raised to support Cash Adequacy Ratio up to the extent that it is permissible by the CBN and that market conditions are favourable.

Nigerian banks foraying into new markets across Africa or branching out into other financial services will be more protected from headwinds than they were in the heat of the 2007-2008 global financial meltdown, ratings agency Moody’s has said.

“Regulation this time will be tighter and regulators will ring-fence local depositors and senior creditors,” Moody’s said.

“In 2008 and 2009, Nigerian banks funded their non-banking activities using the deposits originated in their Nigerian operations.”

Ideally, Nigerian commercial banks undertake expansion into West Africa and Central Africa before venturing into East Africa.

“Some of the neighbouring countries have weaker operating conditions and regulations and therefore present risks.”

“However, due to the general low penetration and growing per-capita income, they also present long-term opportunities,” Moody’s added.

The New-York based firm foresaw that diversification would bring resilience to income generation and the quality of bank assets, noting that lenders in the country encountering hurdles in pursuing revenue growth on account of harsh operating ambience.

Indications are that heavyweight lenders like Guaranty Trust Bank (GTB) Access Bank and Sterling Bank are towing the path of FBN Holdings and Stanbic IBTC Bank to adopt a holdco structure that will offer their domestic banking assets substantial protection against other businesses.

While Access Bank has the aspiration to launch a payments operation and broaden its presence on the continent, GTB wants to set up asset management units.

Specifically, Access Bank Plc, currently Nigeria’s biggest lender, plans to more than double customer numbers over the next three years by expanding in the rest of Africa.

The Lagos-based lender is creating a holding company structure that will enable it to diversify into other financial services separately from the banking business. Access Bank, which has plans to be present in 22 African countries over the next five years, is seeking new growth avenues as the continent’s largest economy slumped into a recession during the second quarter.

 “The objective of the bank is to ensure that by the end of 2023 we have over a 100 million customers,” from about 37 million currently, Deputy Managing Director Roosevelt Ogbonna.

“We want to be present in 22 countries over the next five years,” Herbert Wigwe, Access Bank’s CEO told Bloomberg in March. “And the idea is to be present in the large trade corridors of the continent.”

Access Bank targets to list a financial-holding company on the Nigerian Stock Exchange in the first half of next year and delist Access Bank Plc.

For Sterling Bank, the HoldCo structure supports a different kind of ambition. Sterling Bank says the HoldCo route will help channel its focus on wealth creation and the use of technology to improve lending and investment opportunities for customers.

This emphasis on wealth creation and lending is not just a core focus on the bank in recent years, it was the focus on the Sterling Bank when it was founded 60 years ago.

Until the early 2010s, Sterling Bank had operated other financial services beyond core banking. It secured a Universal Banking licence in 2001, allowing it to operate four subsidiaries.

These included: SBG Insurance Brokers (insurance), Sterling Capital Markets (investment banking), Sterling Asset Management & Trustees (wealth management), and Sterling Registrars Ltd. The bank also held a 31% stake in Crusader Sterling Pensions.

Following the modification of the universal banking licence, Sterling Bank divests from its five non-bank businesses in February 2011 and secured a national commercial bank licence. In the same year, the bank strengthened its position by acquiring Equatorial Trust Bank, whose majority shareholder was billionaire Mike Adenuga.

Earlier in April, Nairametrics reported that Moody’s Investors service had projected a negative performance for the Nigeria banking sector, stating that the banks will face weakening loan quality and foreign currency liquidity challenges, as depressed oil prices and the global pandemic weigh on the Nigeria economy.

However, the banks have shown resolve during the pandemic, as 13 listed Nigerian banks posted an aggregate profit after tax of N439.1 billion, increase of 6.67% when compared with N411.7 billion posted in the relatable period of 2019. This is a clear indication of the banking sector’s wit and innovation, even in a time of global economic pandemonium.

Owing to the recent reduction in monetary policy rate by the CBN, from 12.5% to 11.5%, bank net interest income is expected to come under pressure as observed in the first half of 2020.

In the view of Busola Jeje, Junior Research Analyst at Tellimer Research, shortly after the 2008/09 Global Financial Crisis, the ‘universal banking’ model was halted in Nigeria, with banks given two major options: spin off non-banking subsidiaries or adopt a holding company (holdco) structure. Many banks opted for the former option, while Stanbic IBTC, FCMB and FBNH restructured as holdcos, to maintain their investments in insurance, asset management, investment banking and other activities, she stressed.

According to Jeje, among the reasons holding co has become inevitable is due mainly to regulatory pressure, declining yields from loans, declining yields on investment securities.

More regulatory scrutiny, as businesses such as pensions and insurance require oversight from the likes of the National Insurance Commission (NAICOM) and the National Pension Commission (PENCOM) just as tough competition with incumbent players in the new business lines identified and valuation implications will depend on successful execution.

It is observed that some Nigerian banks are in pursuit of diversifying and restructuring into holding companies. This could be a strategic movement by the banks to explore other revenue sources, and branch into other territories in search of new market growth. However, it is to be noted that the best banks in Nigeria today are not Holdcos.  (The Nation)


Source: News Express

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