Ecobank Nigeria’s foray into the international bond market earlier this year will enable the bank to become a more aggressive player in growing and facilitating African trade, says MD Patrick Akinwuntan.
The bank saw a positive response from the investor community when its five-year $300m unsecured bond, which was listed on the London Stock Exchange in January, was three times oversubscribed.
Akinwuntan says the bond issue presented investors with an opportunity to gain medium-term exposure to Nigeria and its post-Covid-19 growth potential as the continent unlocks the benefits of the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA).
The bond offer followed a broad marketing campaign with both non-deal and deal roadshows, which involved consultations with over 90 institutional investors.
In the wake of the fundraising, Africa’s biggest bank by geographical footprint is aiming to establish itself as a leading facilitator of pan-African and international trade and payments.
Nigeria’s private sector is enthusiastic about the AfCFTA, which gives companies the opportunity to scale their operations across multiple markets. The country has a ready-made opportunity to redirect its focus from international to regional markets for its oil and gas exports, but also needs to become a leading exporter of goods and demonstrate its ability to achieve self-sufficiency, says Akinwuntan.
“The bank has been in positive discussions about trade in the real sector, including agribusiness, services and manufacturing, positioning itself to play a leading role in facilitating the country’s engagement in this initiative. Executing this means nurturing entrepreneurs in Nigeria to recognise the opportunity and then providing the financial muscle and instruments for them to engage in export markets. This would be a win-win not just for Ecobank Nigeria but for Nigerians and for Africa, given the bank’s large African footprint.”
Leveraging digital platforms
Akinwuntan says the bank has responded to Covid-19 by leveraging its digital platforms and taking advantage of palliative measures introduced by the Central Bank of Nigeria. Looking forward, the CEO says the banking sector’s challenge is to bring the informal economy into the formal banking sector. He cites the importance of this in the agricultural sector, where most farmers are informal and trading in cash.
The bank also supports the central bank’s new policy direction that aims to formalise the significant inflows of diaspora remittances, which are currently dispersed across many different channels.
A more decisive move to financial inclusion is key to Nigeria’s future, he says. Ecobank has increased its agency banking from 6,000 agent locations to more than 20,000.
“Greater inclusion will not only build a savings culture but help our forex earnings capability, stabilise the exchange rate and make wealth creation a reality by empowering the productive sector.”
With the success of this year’s bond issue and an earlier tier 2 capital raising initiative with the Development Bank of Nigeria, the group is well positioned to take advantage of the optimistic projections for Nigeria’s growth going forward, says Akinwuntan.
“The fact that other economies are also suffering from the impact of Covid-19 gives us a chance to power ahead. This opportunity must be taken with both hands so we can meet the needs of a vibrant economy where the expectations of the growth remain high.”