Overall, its digital banking has evolved in both volume and public impression. Ease, convenience and reliability have moved the customer base from its tiny 0.6 million to 22 million.
Indeed, First Bank is transmuting into a transaction-led institution. Last year, the volume of transactions hit 17 million, 8.5 times what it was in 2015 when it experienced some corporate turbulence. But the growth is not only in volume terms, as its non-interest income ratio hit 40.6 per cent for the first time last year, which aligns with the strategic direction of the current management in weaning the group from excessive credit risk exposure.
Over the years, most Nigerian banks have consolidated their global outlook. First Bank has led the pack with its 40-year United Kingdom subsidiary, which is bigger than some of its competitor wholesale operations back home. But some of the pro-offshore Nigerian banks had been accused of extroversion and ego-seeking as most of the outposts were nothing but cost centres.
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In the past few years, the assumption has been deflated; and the performance of the African subsidiaries of First Bank is among what could be changing the tide. Before the 2015 change of the guard, the subsidiaries’ operations left had created a gaping hole in the PBT of the consolidated account. Last year, they contributed a combined 21.3 per cent to the group’s pre-tax profit.
But that was not because there was no risk out there. In the heat of the Ghanaian government debt crisis, Adeduntan revealed, FirstBank took the least impairment among Nigerian banks that were exposed to the crisis “not because we saw it coming but because we have consistently done the right thing and adopted best risk management practice”.
There is also a humane side to his management approach. Today, First Bank is among the highest-paying Nigerian banks and offers the most attractive conditions of service, including training, accelerated career growth and many more. In 2021, its efforts were compensated with the Great Place to Work Award. Today, the once-touted conservative bank is attracting young and upwardly mobile professionals with the average age of its employees estimated at 39 years.
Being the longest-serving managing director of the pre-colonial financial behemoth, Adeduntan has the leverage of time and experience to enforce its transformational agenda.
But he had also prepared for the job. At KPMG where he co-pioneered the firms’ financial risk management advisory services, he trained in almost all areas of human endeavors – presentation, people management, business writing and all sorts.
On assumption of office, he was bold and firm in his decision to headhunt, institute new work culture, clear career growth blockages and challenged the status quo.
His courageous outing in the past seven and half years has transformed an institution once considered one of least prepared for the age of “brick and click” banking into the Usain Bolt of the emerging financial technology space