Four Nigerian banks have been listed among the top 500 banks in the world in a report by the influential international financial magazine, The Banker, and Brand Finance Plc, reportedly the leading brand valuation consultancy in the world.
This cheering news on the improved ranking of the Nigerian banks on The Banker/BrandFinanceBanking500 index, is a breath of fresh air for Nigeria, especially the banking industry and the four banks that made the grade. They are: First Bank of Nigeria, Zenith Bank, Guaranty Trust Bank and Access Bank.
The 2015 edition of the Top 500 Banking Brands study conducted annually by Brand Finance Plc and published in the United Kingdom-based The Banker magazine, also rated First Bank of Nigeria as the Number One bank in the country for the fourth consecutive time. The bank moved almost 50 places up the ladder from number 382 in 2014 to 336 this year.
The improved ranking of these banks is certainly one of the gains of the nation’s banking reform programme which placed the institutions on a firmer footing and in a better stead to compete with similar financial institutions across the world. It is, however, ironic that this good news is coming at a time that a controversy is raging on the state of the economy and its management among some past and present members of the nation’s economic management team.
That notwithstanding, the banking sector remains a veritable channel through which Nigerians’ hopes and aspirations for rapid economic transformation of the country can be realised. This latest ranking confirms that our banks are on course, given that at the inception of this republic, no Nigerian bank was among the top 1000 in the world.
But, the banks need to do more to become real drivers of the growth and development of the nation. They should step up their game and become veritable engines of national economic development. For too long, our banks have served more as mere warehouses for money and conduits for currency traffickers to the detriment of the real sector. This has made many to question the essence of the growth statistics often attributed to our banks, if they cannot affect the real sector.
So, this ranking is a call to our banks to play a more active role in the economy. One area that the mileage from this global ranking can be quickly deployed to is maritime transportation. Despite the port reforms, there is not enough banking support to the maritime sector to improve local content. Our banks hardly pay sufficient attention to the sector. Neither are they able to come up with the credit lines required to boost indigenous participation in the sector. The result is that our potentials remain unfulfilled to the overall detriment of our economy.
Another area crying for urgent and sustained attention from our banks is agriculture, which could be the mainstay of our economy if it gets the necessary financial support. How much has this sector got from our banks? If we have not realised our potential of not only feeding ourselves, but the entire sub-Africa region, it is because our farmers are not yet receiving sufficient support from the banks. The true transformation from subsistence farming to mechanized farming and agro-allied industries requires real and sustained commitment from the banking sector of any economy.
The present excessive interest rates and the generally disabling economic environment have not done our real sector any good. In addition to land and adequate power generation, access to capital has remained the bane of the real sector. Though some funds and outlets have been created ostensibly to stimulate growth in the real sector, the reality is that they are yet to percolate down to most of those who truly need them.
At the end of the day, the ordinary man in the street should be able to feel the positive impact of these ratings. In a challenged and developing economy like ours, subsistence farmers who want to upgrade to commercial farming, the small and medium entrepreneurs who want to take off or expand their businesses, the petty traders who want to move to bigger shops or change their line of business and those who need financial backing for big ticket deals should enjoy support from the banks to actualise their aspirations.
It is only when this happens, as is the case in India now, and before that, Malaysia, Singapore and the other Asian tigers, that we can truly say that our banks have taken their proper position in the effort to grow the Nigerian economy.
Until then, we hope that the banks will continue to perform their statutory functions in our increasingly difficult business environment and rise up to the challenge of deepening the economy. Our banks, incontrovertibly, have to do more for Nigerians and the national economy.