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Raheem Akingbolu reviews 75 years of United Bank for Africa Plc operation, touching on the bank’s milestones, its memorable campaigns and how Tony Elumelu’s can-do-spirit impacted on the brand’s corporate personality

The story of today’s United Bank for Africa (UBA) is that of not giving up despite all odds. Like every corporate entity, UBA has recorded both low and high moments but its promoters have consistently fixed their eyes on the ball and remain guided by the vision of its founding fathers; “to be the undisputed leading and dominant financial services institution in Africa.”

Perhaps the number one factor that has continuously worked for the brand lies in its name -United Bank for Africa.  True to its name, UBA became stronger as a real bank of destiny, after the industry consolidation between 2004 and 2005, which changed the dynamics of banking in the country.  

The name was to play a bigger role and claim its destiny of pan-Africa nomenclature when leading Nigerian banks were making inroads into other African countries.  From Ghana to Cote d’lvoire, Cameroon to Congo DRC, down to Gabon, UBA’s natural identity opened doors with ease. This could not be said of other brands that struggled and deplored huge campaigns to tell customers in their new markets that the brand they brought was pan-African. Thus, UBA has demonstrated over the years that names are an incredibly important part of brands’ identity because they carry deep cultural, familial, and historical connections. Of course, it also gives a brand a sense of who it is, the society in which it belongs, and its place in the market.

The Past

United Bank for Africa was one of the most iconic banking brands of the 70s and 80s. This was before its merger with the Standard Trust Bank some 18 years ago. 

While it belonged to the exclusive club of first generation banks, UBA has been able to combine age with modernism that warmed into the minds of its customers. Many analysts have linked the youthfulness and modernism of the brand to the 2005 marriage between the old UBA and the then Standard Trust Bank (STB), which appeared to target the youth and students market more than any of the then existing banks in the country.

The chief promoter of the UBA brand, Tony Elumelu, who established STB in 1997, aptly captured it recently during the reunion of the old STB team. He admitted that he came in with the youthful brand at the time to redefine the face of banking in Nigeria. 

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“As CEO of STB, I wanted to challenge the status quo and democratise access to banking in Nigeria – and then Africa. What was a dream, quickly became a reality. The symbol we chose – the mustard seed – the logo of UBA, has truly borne fruit,” he said while welcoming old colleagues to the reunion. 

Though Elumelu admitted that achieving what he targeted was not easy, the STB Lions and Lionesses, as they called themselves then, worked day and night to execute that vision. According to him, these successes laid the groundwork for the largest financial services transaction in Africa to date, the merger of STB and UBA Group in 2005.

In the mid 80s, UBA came up with one of its most timeless advertising and promotional classics, ‘Wise men Bank with UBA’. Immediately this campaign hit the airwaves, there was a backlash as the Bank was accused of male chauvinism by claiming that only wise men were banking with UBA. ‘What if women?’ A newspaper columnist asked famously. 

The furore brought the best out of those managing the UBA brand then. They didn’t drop the iconic material. They simply went back to the production laboratory to rework the material with more attention and delivered an arresting copy: “Wise men bank with UBA. And women too with UBA. Save your counts and your money with UBA.”

And that was it. The ability of the bank to reinvent itself played out pointedly during its merger with Standard Trust Bank. While the bank was facing challenges then, it was generally believed that it was a stronger brand than the then STB. And that was why it was agreed that the name ‘UBA’ must be retained in the new logo after the merger but adopted the ‘STB’ logo -the mustard seed in front of the name ‘UBA’.

Another iconic material of the brand was the ‘World in Your Pocket Campaign’, which was conceptualised to subtly announce to the banking public that UBA has become a global brand with branches in 20 African countries and four global financial nerve centres (New York, London, Paris and Dubai). In the campaign, a suave-looking corporate personality was showcased while bestriding the corporate world with confidence because he has UBA as a partner. 

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Meanwhile, UBA remains the only Sub-Saharan financial institution to operate a deposit-taking license in the United States of America. UBA America is 40 year-old old.

The Future

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On Monday this week, the bank and its promoters further pushed its global narrative with a global press conference to announce UBA’s 75th anniversary as a bank in Nigeria with a peep into a past that was filled with success stories and enduring legacy milestones of achievements. The occasion was used to announce that the bank would this week seek shareholders’ approval for its recapitalisation plans.

While assuring that the bank is poised to meet the deadline as it kicked off its year long 75th anniversary activities, the bank’s Group Managing Director, Oliver Alawuba, said the recapitalisation became necessary to meet the N500 billion new capital base set by the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN). 

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He noted that the bank would over the next years focus on increasing its presence in the countries where it currently operates, adding that the bank will also focus on supporting small and medium scale enterprises (SMEs).

To the bank, the past 75 years have been marked by stability and excellence, pillars upon which UBA’s legacy stands tall. The bank was the first bank in Nigeria to offer an initial public offering (IPO) in 1970, the first Nigerian bank to be listed on the Nigerian Stock Exchange (NSE), now Nigerian Exchange Limited (NGX).

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It was also the first bank of African origin in the USA and UAE  and the first bank in Nigeria to install Automated Teller Machines (ATMs) and open a campus branch at the University of Lagos in Nigeria.

UBA was the first Nigerian bank to open a subsidiary in Africa (Ghana in 2005), appointed the first female board chairperson in Nigeria and was a pioneer in introducing mobile banking in Nigeria. It also launched the first multi-lingual chatbot banking in Nigeria called Leo as well as the first Nigerian bank to launch the most successful prepaid cards across Africa.

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While honouring past leaders of the bank for their steadfastness, Alawuba appreciated the sacrifices, contributions, support and guidance over the years of the current Group Chairman, Mr. Tony Elumelu.

He said: “We appreciate and honour you because you built and nurtured the platform on which we are standing today. Our Group Chairman truly deserves special recognition and mention.

 “Without his visionary push in 2005 and tutelage over the years, I doubt whether we would be where we are today. For these and more, we say a big and resounding thank you to him.”

He also used the opportunity to thank all customers of UBA around the globe as their consistent support and patronage over the years have been amasing.

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He said: “You meet several people, they will tell you that they are third or fourth generation of UBA customers in their families, that their grandparents and parents were customers of UBA and their children currently carry UBA ATM cards, enrolled on our mobile banking and LEO chatbot banking. This is the strength of UBA.

“This milestone is not just a celebration of longevity, but a testament to resilience, innovation, and unwavering commitment to excellence that have defined UBA’s journey over the decades.

“As we reflect on the significance of this epoch-making event, it is important to acknowledge that UBA means different things to different people. For some, UBA is a trusted financial partner; for others, UBA is a beacon of stability and reliability, a development partner in various local communities as well as a catalyst for African development.

“Since its inception in 1949, UBA has evolved from a modest beginning on Lagos Island to a global financial institution with a presence in 20 African countries and 4 global financial nerve centres (New York, London, Paris and Dubai).

“Today we have over 25,000 staff, over 35 million customers served through multiple channels – over 350,000 POS terminals, 2,000 ATM terminals, 1,000 business offices and 19.7 million card customers.

“Amidst economic challenges and market dynamics, UBA has demonstrated remarkable financial strength and resilience. Its splendid performance, especially within the last year, is a testament to the robust fundamentals and sound strategic decisions taken by the bank.” 

For the UBA brand, the first 75 years have come and gone with its own story of ups and downs, but the next 75 years can only be better.

Do you have an important success story, news, or opinion article to share with with us? Get in touch with us at publisher@thepodiummedia.com or ademolaakinbola@gmail.com Whatsapp +1 317 665 2180

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