Last week will go down as one of the most challenging weeks, if not the most challenging,
Nigeria has faced in 2020. What started out weeks before as a very well-organised peaceful
protests by young Nigerians campaigning to #EndSARS was supplanted by hoodlums
engaging in wanton looting, arson, and destruction of public and private properties across
many states at an unprecedented scale. By the end of the week, many lives had been lost,
many properties and businesses completely destroyed and Nigeria has been left reeling
from a shock that dwarfs any, the country felt even at the peak of the COVID-19 outbreak.
In keeping with the Nigerian spirit of being one’s brother’s keeper, equally unprecedented
efforts by individuals, groups, and corporate organizations to try to provide assistance for
people and businesses affected by the crises of the past week, have followed. Individuals
and groups have announced donations of cash and materials, set up helplines to offer
psychological counseling and support, and started online crowd-funding efforts in support of
victims. Among corporate organizations, we have seen banks take a leading role. Some
banks, such as Access Bank and Stanbic IBTC, have announced funds or desks they have
set up to receive requests from, and process assistance for, affected individuals and
businesses. One of these banks’ efforts includes pledged interest-free loans and grants that
affected businesses and individuals can access.

Another bank has seen thousands of requests for assistance pour in through the online
channel is set up for the purpose. The requests have flowed in, not only because of the
victims’ desperation for help but also because of the humane approach to banking that this
institution adopts. Always putting the customer at the heart of its business, FirstBank has
been showing empathy with all those who have experienced one loss or the other as a result
of the crises. Since last week, the bank has been seeking every opportunity to identify with
people who are currently grieving and hurting.

Although the largest and most prominent member of Nigeria’s leading financial powerhouse,
the FBNHoldings Group that is a one-stop-shop for financial services ranging from
commercial and investment banking to financial advisory, insurance brokerage, and pensions
custodianship, FirstBank is neither immune nor removed from the challenges people face. It
is a human institution with thousands of humans working as employees to provide bespoke
banking products and services to millions of other humans whose pulse the bank feels
through its employees. Being part of a group with expertise across the broad spectrum of
financial services make FirstBank the banking partner with the broadest shoulders to assist
SMEs buffeted by the wave of violence witnessed across the nation last week.
Given the interconnectivity between Nigeria and FirstBank’s history, it is no surprise that a
tumultuous week in Nigeria is giving way to one with stories of hope and optimism by
Nigerians badly affected by the crises of the past week, who are looking to FirstBank for
assistance. These Nigerians have been encouraged by the strides FirstBank has made over
the years in the SME space as the bank of the first choice for small businesses. Built around
seven strategic pillars – of connecting to infrastructure, connect to talent, capacity building,
policy and regulation, connect to resources, connect to market as well as connect to finance
– considered essential for the sustainability and growth of SMEs and intended to promote a
healthy business interaction and adaptability of the SMEs with their immediate environment,
FirstBank’s involvement with SMEs, through SMEConnect (the bank’s branded bouquet of
empowerment initiatives, products, and services tailor-made for SMEs), has been one that
has sought to facilitate their growth into future economic powerhouses playing ever-
increasing roles in Nigeria’s economic development.

Since its maiden SME National Conference in 2014, FirstBank has annually engaged small
businesses and SME owners in series of empowerment seminars and workshops designed to improve their business capacity. Only this year, FirstBank held its inaugural SME
Business Clinic in Lagos, Port Harcourt, and Abuja with many SMEs in attendance. The SME
Business Clinic featured Abayomi Adewumi, CEO of the Global Leadership Institute and an
industry expert and business growth consultant with vast experience working with SMEs. He
engaged participants on the FirstBank SME diagnostic tool designed for SMEs to check the
health of their business, better understand it, and drive profitability.
In 2019, FirstBank organized a weeklong SME event that had owners of SMEs in different
sectors mentored across multiple states in the country. It was the first of its kind in the
industry. Organized in partnership with SME Traction, a leading business coaching platform,
it was aimed at empowering SMEs to make informed choices about their businesses,
thereby facilitating growth and bolstering their contribution to the development of the
economy. At the event, FirstBank’s Deputy Managing Director, Gbenga Shobo, underlined
the importance the bank attaches to SMEs. He said: “At FirstBank, we recognize the impact
SMEs have in promoting the growth of the economy and are excited at the opportunity to
continue to enable them to prosper by strategically contributing to the sustainability of their
business. We remain the trusted financial partner of SMEs and reiterate our resolve to be
known as the brand that enables their success; much the same way that we have for over
125 years enabled Nigerians and the economy at large.”

This same point was elaborated at another FirstBank SME event, " Food Souk" convened in
2019 in partnership with Eventful Limited, an events management firm, where the bank
restated its commitment to the Federal Government's diversification drive, promising to
continue to support the agricultural value chain from production to consumption to create
opportunities for SMEs in the food sector so they could, in turn, create job opportunities. The
bank also extended its hand of partnership to all small businesses involved in organizing
different trade fairs and exhibitions. A food vendor at the event, Ms. Ijeoma Ebeneme, the
Chief Executive Officer, JEM N Iris, commended FirstBank for putting the event together.
Ebeneme said she was at the food fair to make a profit, meet new clients as well as create the
needed publicity for her brand. It is for people like Ebeneme that FirstBank maintains an
SME website (https://smeconnect.firstbanknigeria.com) with rich resources to help SMEs
build capacity and improve how they run their business. On the website is a blog featuring
business articles and tips, an SME business toolkit, SME products, Microsoft 365 Business
Basic and a whole lot more.

In support of owners of SMEs operating in the education sector, FirstBank, in partnership
with the Lagos State Employment Trust Fund (LSETF), set up a matching fund scheme of
₦5 billion LSETF-FirstEdu Loan. Officially launched in September by Governor Babajide
Sanwo-Olu of Lagos State and Dr. Adesola Adeduntan, Managing Director/CEO of FirstBank,
the scheme aims to cushion the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on low-cost private schools by
ensuring lending at an attractive interest rate. Speaking at the launch, Dr. Adeduntan said:
“At FirstBank, we recognize the indelible role played by the education sector in the growth of
any economy and this underscores our partnership with Lagos State Government for
continuous development of the education services in Lagos State and the nation as a whole.
The commitment by the Lagos State Government – including this partnership – to enable
schools are quite commendable as this will mitigate the challenges caused by the lockdown
on the education sector following the COVID-19 pandemic.”
It is for efforts like all those highlighted above and many more that the 2019 edition of
KPMG’s Annual Banking Industry Customer Satisfaction Survey named FirstBank is the
biggest mover in the SME space. The 2014 edition of the Survey had named the bank as the
most popular bank among MSMEs for both deposit transactions and credit/loan facilities with
26 percent of the SMEs surveyed identifying the bank as one where they had an ongoing
loan facility or had obtained one in the recent past. It is also for the same reason that the
unfortunate events of the last week have reignited the bond between Nigerians and

FirstBank, a partner that they can bank on in times of need. The bank’s track record leaves
no one in any doubt of its unwavering commitment to continue to weather all storms with
Nigeria and Nigerian SMEs with whom it shares a common destiny.

Culled from BusinessDay

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