Access Bank Group Plc’s audited result showed an improvement in the non-performing loans (NPL) ratio. NPL improved from 5.80 percent in 2019 to 4.30 percent in 2020. The lower ratio reflected a successful approach to loan recovery adopted by the Group which is fast gaining the reputation as Nigeria’s toughest loan recovery machine. The bank’s new investments in technology and rising commitment to Africa trade through the African Continental Free Trade Agreement (AfCFTA) scheme are lookouts to drive its new growth phase.
For banks and other financial institutions, creating quality loans is one way of staying in business. It not only guarantees sustainable profitability, it also ensures growth of the businesses it supports.
Access Bank Plc has for years supported businesses through quality loans. The bank has also risen to the challenge whenever its loans got bad.
Access Bank has one of the toughest loan asset portfolio managers and a delinquent asset recovery team. The toughness of asset managers has enabled the bank to push its nose ahead of sector rivals concerning improved asset quality.
The group witnessed its highest NPL ratio in 2019 while 2018 advertised its lowest just before its move to merge with Diamond Bank Plc in 2019.
Several innovations and expansion plans by Access Bank has lead to uptick in its performance in the full year 2020 financial results.
Access Bank recorded gross earnings of N764.7 billion for the financial year ended December 31, 2020, which was a 15 per cent improvement from the N666.75 billion posted for the comparative period of 2019.
Profit before tax grew by 13 per cent to N125.9 billion from N111.9 billion, despite the high cost of operating the enlarged franchise and the increase in net impairment charge of nearly N43 billion arising principally from a Structured Trade Finance (STF) portfolio in the Access Bank UK.
The STF impairment is one-off/COVID related and recoverable between the next 12 and 18 months against insurance cover from world class insurers.
Still, profit after tax (PAT) increased from N94.1 billion to N106 billion in 2020 due to 32 per cent rise in operating income, which offsets the rise in impairment charges and operating expenses.
Customer deposits rose by 31 per cent to N5.59 trillion in December 2020, from N4.26 trillion. Likewise, net loans and advances grew by 18 per cent to N3.61 trillion, up from N3 trillion in the previous year.
The board recommended a final dividend of 55 kobo per share bringing the total dividend to 80 kobo per share.
Also, the bank had increased recovery efforts, carrying out major write-offs and leveraged its sound risk management practices. These improved asset quality improved to 4.3 per cent, compared to its 2019 report of 5.8 per cent.
Beyond the positive results delivered by the bank, it has continued to leverage its spread across the African continent and deep investment in technology to reap gains coming from the African Continental Free Trade Agreement (AfCTA).
The AfCTA trade bloc offers a potential market of over 1.3 billion people and a Gross Domestic Product (GDP) size of over $3 trillion. According to the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), there is the potential for intra-African trade to rise to 15.5 per cent as a share of total African trade by 2022 compared with 10.2 per cent from 2010.
For many businesses, securing a seat at the stable ensures that Nigerians can influence negotiations and protect national interests.
While the agreement is not a silver bullet, due to structural barriers to trade, Group Managing Director, Access Bank Plc, Herbert Wigwe, said he saw many benefits to the bank and the various African economies within the AfCTA deal.
In a report entitled: Realigning for Growth released by the bank, Wigwe said the lender would be optimising and taking maximum gain of the trade agreement by repositioning its operations and payment platforms to serve more customers across the continent.
He said Access Bank Group has consistently delivered growth and created value over time and has the largest customer base in Africa, with a significant share of digitally active clients. The bank is also becoming an aggregator in Africa by building a global payments gateway, offering holistic trade finance support and offering correspondent banking services.
The bank is also focusing on key markets to support regional trade by targeting new opportunity markets and positioning the bank as a trade and payments gateway to the world.
He identified eight African countries for a potential expansion as it seeks to benefit from the opportunities presented by the AfCFTA.
The bank already operates in 12 countries following a series of acquisitions spanning from Kenya to Nigeria. The markets of interest are Morocco, Algeria, Egypt, Ivory Coast, Senegal, Angola, Namibia and Ethiopia, according to an online presentation emailed by the Lagos-based lender.
It will also use its London-based unit as an “anchor for growth” to expand representative offices in countries such as India, Lebanon and China, Wigwe said.
The African trade pact aims to bolster intra-regional commerce by lowering or eliminating cross-border tariffs, facilitating the movement of capital and people, promoting investment and paving the way for the establishment of a continental-wide customs union.
Access Bank plans to eventually expand into 22 African countries to cushion challenges in some markets, diversify earnings and take advantage of growth opportunities in the region.
The lender, which is looking to transition to a holding company this year, plans to open subsidiaries in insurance brokerage, consumer lending and agency banking as well as payments to boost revenue, Wigwe added.
The bank is equally transforming payments and remittances using cheap forex from international remittances to feed trade, leveraging AccessAfrica connections to wallets and payment platforms.
It is also building on partnerships with financial investors, Development Finance Institutions (DFIs), among others and providing strategic support to protect and grow partners’ value.
Continuing, he said the bank has continued to deliver strong results and is focused on generating sustainable revenue across all income lines.
Expansions across Africa thicken
Access Bank has also unfolded plans to expand to more African countries as part of a strategy to support trade and finance in the continent and take advantage of the AfCFTA.
For instance, Access Bank Plc recently entered into a definitive and binding agreement with ABC Holdings Limited to acquire 78.15 per cent shareholding in the African Banking Corporation of Botswana Limited (BancABC Botswana).
The transaction, which is subject to regulatory approvals and customary conditions precedent, is expected to close before the end of this quarter. The ABC Holdings is a subsidiary of London Stock Exchange listed group – Atlas Mara Limited.
Access Bank Company Secretary, Sunday Ekwochi, described Bostwana as renowned for its quality sovereign credit rating and stability with the bank’s market entry expected to further solidify its strategy as, “a strong banking partner in key verticals across retail and corporate banking, including especially supporting trade in payments across southern Africa and sub-Saharan Africa more broadly.”
Speaking on the deal, Wigwe, said: “We remain committed to a disciplined and thoughtful expansion strategy in Africa, which we believe will create strong, sustainable returns for our shareholders and stakeholders at large, over the medium and long-term.
“The establishment of Access Bank through this acquisition in the Republic of Botswana will position the bank to deliver a more complete set of banking solutions to its clients active in and across the SADC and COMESA regions.”
According to him, the transaction complements the bank’s recent strategic growth acquisitions in South Africa, Zambia and Mozambique. “We are building a bank of the future that Africans across Africa and the world would be proud of and look forward to welcoming the employees, customers and other stakeholders of BancABC Botswana to Access Bank,” he said.
BancABC Botswana is the fifth largest bank in Botswana and is a very well-capitalised banking institution poised for growth and success in its local market. The bank has been perennially profitable, given an existing high-quality retail loan book with opportunities and scope for diversification and further expansion into corporate and small medium enterprises (SME) lending.
Continuing, Wigwe explained that across Africa, there is an opportunity for the bank to expand to high-potential markets, leveraging the benefits of AfCFTA. He said AfCFTA, among other benefits, would expand intra-Africa trade and provide real opportunities for the continent.
He stated that the plan is for the bank to establish its presence in 22 African countries so as to diversify its earnings and take advantage of growth opportunities in Africa.
Guaranteed commitment to shareholders
Access Bank Plc has consistently assured its shareholders of improved performance and returns as it continues to implement its pan-African expansion programme.
At the Annual General Meeting (AGM) in Lagos, which was also streamed real time online, directors of the bank assured that it has been well-positioned for sustained growth and better returns, and shareholders will continue to see higher dividends in the years ahead.
The assurance came as shareholders approved payment of a final dividend of 55 kobo, in addition to an interim dividend of 25 kobo, bringing total dividend per share for the 2020 business year to 80 kobo. In the audited report and accounts for the year ended December 31, 2020, Access Bank had grown net profit by 13 per cent to N106 billion in 2020 as against N94 billion recorded in 2019.
The assurance also came on the heels of the release of the first quarter (Q1) results of the bank for the period ended March 31, 2021, showing considerable growths across all key performance indicators.
Chairman, Ibadan Zone Shareholders Association (IBZA), Mr. Eric Akinduro commended the bank for riding through the COVID-19 pandemic and delivering improved results that led to the declaration of 80 kobo dividend.
He said the various acquisitions by Access Bank across Africa showed that the institution is strong, assuring the bank of shareholders’ supports.
Founder, Independent Shareholders Association of Nigeria (ISAN), Sir Sunny Nwosu, said Access Bank’s expansion drive shows that the bank is really committed to its aim of playing a leading role in the African continent.
He expressed optimism that the expansion drive would lead to better returns to shareholders and other stakeholders in the years ahead.
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