FirstBank: Resilient through the Ages | Bizness Watch

FirstBank: Resilient through the Ages

As FirstBank continues to attract local and international recognition as an outstanding brand, Raheem Akingbolu takes another look at the 120-year old brand

Within and outside the financial sector, the name FirstBank has become synonymous with success. This obviously explains why brand management experts now make reference to brand FirstBank at different fora as case study for custodians of smaller companies, who are looking curiously into a brighter future.

In a country where brand mortality rate is high, the feat recorded by the brand has been awesome.

However, this has not gone unnoticed to local and international assessors, who have consistently recognised the bank as a brand to learn from.  For instance, in the last few months, the bank has clinched at least four top awards as a result of its commitment to banking ethics, credibility, customer service and continuous growth.

Recent recognitions

Last month, the brand was named the best Bank in Nigeria in 2013 by Global Finance Awards. It has also been recognised as the number one Bank Brand in Nigeria by the Banker Magazine. The most recent are the awards from the Asian Banker International and Marketing Edge Magazine, a Nigerian wholly marketing communications journal. While the Asian Banker named First Bank the Best Bank in Nigeria, Marketing Edge aptly announced it as the ‘Outstanding Bank Brand of the Decade’.

The Asian Banker is the region’s most authoritative provider of strategic business intelligence to the financial services community. The Singapore-based company has offices in Singapore, Malaysia, Hong Kong, Beijing and Dubai as well as representatives in London, New York and San Francisco.

The bank received the award at The Asian Banker’s International Excellence in Retail Financial Services 2014 Awards ceremony, held in conjunction with the region’s most prestigious retail banking event -the Excellence in Retail Financial Services Convention. The ceremony was held at the Shangri-La Hotel, Sydney, Australia early this month.

Among other reasons, a source from the organizers of the award revealed that First Bank clinched it because it had solidified its position as industry leader, with a 17% increase in its customer base in 2013 to reach 8.5 million bank accounts.

With such record, the bank is believed to have more than twice the customer deposits of its closest competitor. Its wide distribution network of over 2,000 ATMs and more than 750 bank branches in Nigeria, were also said to be among the factors considered.

According to a statement; “The bank grew its cards business, achieving a 29% market share in debit cards, with improved services and a faster turnaround time. A more robust Card Management System was implemented, giving the bank direct connectivity to major card associations.

This led to shorter turnaround times, as a debit Mastercard can now be issued in under 15 minutes. The bank has over 6.5 million debit cards in circulation. Its Naira Mastercard, introduced in 2012, saw portfolio growth of over 156% in 2013. The bank also boosted its online presence, with the launch of First eConnect and the enhancement of its Firstmonie mobile platform,”

Meanwhile, a couple of weeks after it refreshed,  the bank’s leadership position was further confirmed as FirstBank for the third time in a row was ranked the ‘Number One Banking Brand’ in Nigeria by The Banker Magazine, Financial Times Group in its February edition and Brand Finance in the United Kingdom.

In a keenly competitive industry dominated by top banks from around the world, the bank which was also ranked number one banking brand in 2012 and 2013, came top amongst the Nigerian banks and was joined in the ranking in second and third place by GTBank and Zenith Bank respectively. At the global level, FirstBank ranked 382 in the world from 414 last year.

The brand value of the bank also increased to $228 million from $201 million from the preceding year. GTBank ranked 422 from 415 while Zenith Bank is ranked 453 from 454 last year. Apart from the three banks, no other Nigerian bank made this ranking.

Brand Finance a member of The Financial Times Group is a globally recognised, highly credible awarding body for our industry. It is regarded as the world’s leading brand valuation consultancy which advises branded organisations on how to maximize their value through the effective management of their brands and intangible assets.


Reacting to the current status, the bank’s spokesperson, Mrs. Folake Ani-Mumuney, described the recognition as a morale boosted that would encourage the brand to do more.

“At FirstBank, we see this award as a very big deal, especially as it comes on the heels of our recently concluded brand refresh. It is a testament of our continuous, deliberate and conscious effort to manage our brand assets according to global best practice.

“Our impetus is to set the gold standard of value and excellence in financial solutions across Sub Saharan Africa as we take our brand another notch higher in providing state of the art financial services and advisory functions,” she said.

In an interview with THISDAY shortly after the bank was named the Outstanding Bank Brand of the Decade by his company, the publisher of Marketing Edge, Mr. John Ajayi said the decision was a unanimous one taken by the board of editors of the 10 year old magazine.

“The decision to give the award to first bank was not taken by individual but an editorial decision that was taken after a market survey and research conducted among consumers and top brand management experts, who have experienced the brand,” Ajayi said.

Brand’s Refresh

At a time the banking public thought handlers of the brand had done all that were necessary to keep it on top as the nation’s number one financial service brand, a new chapter was recently opened to help the bank extend its horizon –it recently came up with a new identity.

In less than 24 hours after the official unveiling, customers who visited a few branches of the bank and other subsidiaries of the group started noticing the change.

According to THISDAY findings, the conceptualisation and implementation of the new identity took the creative egg heads within and outside the group some 18 months before they arrived at the final output.

In the new look, its iconic African elephant, which has remained a symbol of strength and growth for FirstBank, FBN Holdings and all its subsidiaries, is though retained, but not without some amendments, which were done to communicate the new status of the brand.

What the bank has done is a response to global trend if one considers how some of the greatest brands in the world often rejuvenate to remain fresh. Brands like Guinness, Coca-Cola and Kellogg’s are iconic, global in their status. Yet, when one looks at their market leadership over the decades, they have all changed even if it has been in a more evolutionary sense over time, rather than radical overhauls.

One slight difference in the first bank’s approach is that it is an extensive change in order for the business to achieve the required regeneration for growth and profitable returns. This is necessary as the group is already making inroads into some other countries, where the erstwhile logo may clash with that of some other organisations.

To pundits, this has singled out the handlers of the brand as people with foresights.
Of course, the management stated clearly that the refreshed identity embodies the group’s internal values and the direction they were heading to henceforth.
Brand at a glance

It is now exactly 120 years since first bank has been operating in the Nigerian market. Like other leading brands of the world, it has over the years witnessed series of rebranding and restructuring.

However, if there is any lesson worth taking from the managers of the brand, it’s the fact that they have not for a day allowed complacency to affect the growth of the brand.

As a market leader, FirstBank has consistently maintained its position and continues to bond strongly with customers. It has also sustained a profile of integrity and reliability, which has made it easy for its spin doctors to position it for new customers.

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