United Bank for Africa

Africa, Benin, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Chad, Côte d’Ivoire, Gabon, Guinea, Liberia, Nigeria, Republic of the Congo, Senegal, Sierra Leone, Zambia

Africa

While several African banks impressed the judges this year, there was no doubt as to the worthiest recipient of the Bank of the Year for Africa: United Bank for Africa (UBA) Group, a clear winner across a wide range of criteria. 

UBA has performed impressively across its footprint, with a strong financial performance across most of its markets. The bank picked up awards in 13 countries, including competitive markets such as Senegal, Côte d’Ivoire and its home market of Nigeria. The group has continued to post robust financial results into 2021, with gross earnings for the nine months to end September being 8% higher than the same period last year. 

The bank’s digital transformation continued unabated during the year, with the continued rollout and take up of its relaunched UBA Mobile and Redd apps, together with its Leo chatbot and UBA Connect services. These were complemented by innovative services in individual markets, such as the low-income UBA Sharp-Sharp account service offered in Sierra Leone, which can be opened with a deposit of just 10,000 leones ($0.91). 

UBA has also played its part in combating the spread of Covid-19 with a series of donations to national governments’ healthcare initiatives, in addition to measures designed to cushion the financial impact of the pandemic on its customer base. 

“We are Africa’s global bank with presence in 20 African countries, as well as in the US, UK and France,” says UBA’s group managing director and CEO, Kennedy Uzoka. 

“We are presently consolidating our [business] across our African subsidiaries by strengthening payments and cross-border trade solutions on the African continent. We are also primed to take advantage of any opportunities to continue to spread our footprint globally and on continents in which we do not presently operate,” he adds.

Benin

UBA Benin has been selected as the country’s Bank of the Year for 2021 in recognition of the lender’s strong financial position during the Covid-19 pandemic, as its ambitious transformation programme bore fruit during a difficult year.

Last year began with the appointment of Gbenga Makinde as the new CEO and managing director of UBA Benin. The bank then initiated a change programme focusing on internal processes and working conditions, while targeting an improvement in key banking metrics versus market competitors.

In addition to improved working conditions, the bank has reaped benefits in financial performance, with significant improvements in its fundamentals compared with competitors in terms of deposits, balance sheets and profitability.

For example, UBA Benin saw its asset base increase by 50% over 2020. Profitability and efficiency also saw significant improvements; return on equity improved from 10.9% to 15.6%. The cost-to-income ratio, which saw an increase in 2019, dropped from 77.5% to 64.4% in 2020.

Improvements in key financial indicators have not come at the expense of UBA’s traditional strengths in digital finance. The bank’s Leo Chat Banking platform – the first of its kind in the country – is complemented by mobile money automation partnerships with local telcos, Moov and MTN. A partnership with a local fintech has seen the distribution of more than 100,000 prepaid cards for betting activities in the country.

In addition to rolling out measures to ensure the safety of staff and customers during the Covid-19 pandemic, the bank donated CFA Fr57.6m ($100,000) to the government to boost the country’s response to the virus. Coronavirus awareness messages accompanied all of the bank’s marketing campaigns on both social and traditional media, while pricing on digital finance products was relaxed to encourage the use of contactless payment measures to reduce risk of transmission.

Burkina Faso

UBA Burkina Faso has regained the Bank of the Year title in 2021, thanks to robust financial results and improvements in its core banking system.

The past year saw UBA strengthen its vendor selection framework to improve quality standards in line with an ongoing review of its existing vendor relationships, with a web-based platform for the registration of suppliers and service orders. The bank has also set up a dedicated business desk to better serve the country’s small business customers.

Significantly, the bank has also invested heavily in its core IT systems for better integration with local telcos, in a bid to improve financial inclusion in the country via mobile banking services. During the past year, UBA launched its e-payments system for the country’s National Tax Office; upgraded its internet banking platform for both retail and corporate customers; and released a new version of its UBA Mobile app, offering services such as personalised finance management and stronger authentication for transactions.

Alongside such digital upgrades and a commitment to agency banking, the bank has maintained its branch network in the country. In combination, these channels yielded around 28,000 new accounts in 2020.

After a decline in 2019, UBA Burkina Faso registered a 29% increase in its asset base in 2020 and a 21% increase in profit, while also posting improvements in its cost-to-income and non-performing loan ratios.

UBA continues to champion the cause of youth entrepreneurship via the Tony Elumelu Foundation (TEF), founded by UBA’s former group managing director. TEF’s entrepreneurship programme awarded 27 prizes of $5000 each to 27 young Burkinabes to help them build up businesses. The programme is targeting prizes for 100 Burkinabe for 2021.

The bank also donated CFA Fr87.5m ($150,000) in 2020 to Burkina Faso’s National Coordination for Pandemic Response to Coronavirus, in order to fight against the spread of the virus in the country.

Cameroon

Despite the ongoing conflict between government forces and anglophone separatists, Cameroon’s economy has so far endured the Covid-19 pandemic relatively unscathed, its economy contracting by just 1.5% in 2020 and set to grow by 3.6% in 2021, according to the International Monetary Fund.

UBA Cameroon is the winner of this year’s Bank of the Year award thanks to its strong financial performance and the ongoing development of its digital services.

The bank saw its Tier 1 capital position rise by 25% during 2020, in line with increases for the previous two years. Net profit for 2020 increased by 7%, while return on equity improved from 28% to 32.4%. While the bank was able to significantly reduce its non-performing loan stock, from 12% in 2019 to 2.9% in 2020, its cost-to-income ratio rose for the second consecutive year, reaching 48%.

In addition to its existing digital strengths – which include its Leo virtual banker and mobile banking services – UBA recently launched its UBA Connect service, enabling customers to conduct traditional banking transactions at any UBA branch in the 20 African countries where it operates. Within Cameroon, the service has found favour with those trading along the borders with Nigeria, Republic of the Congo, Chad and Gabon, facilitating seamless transactions and reducing the risk of theft.

The solution charges 0.2% on withdrawal and 0.1% on deposits from a non-
resident location, encouraging a cashless business environment and enabling customers to directly access their bank accounts, deposit and withdraw cash from any UBA branch across the Economic and Monetary Community of Central Africa.

Within Cameroon itself, UBA continues to reap the benefit of its agency banking partnership with Cameroon Postal Services, with the deployment of more than 200 point-of-sale terminals and 100 offsite ATMs, expanding the bank’s reach within the country.

Chad

Despite a challenging year financially, UBA Chad has been selected as the country’s Bank of the Year for 2021, in recognition of the lender’s efforts to deepen financial inclusion via both physical and digital channels.

While UBA Chad’s asset base continued to grow healthily in 2020, the year saw net profit drop by two-thirds, with the decline attributed to a decrease in electronic transfers to other countries and the freezing of loans to civil servants during the Covid-19 pandemic. There was also a drop in the bank’s foreign exchange income – a consequence of new exchange regulations requiring the repatriation of 70% of incoming foreign currencies to the central bank.

Despite such challenging circumstances, UBA Chad continued to expand its physical footprint – a necessary move for increasing financial inclusion in a country where less than a third of the population own a mobile phone. The bank launched a new branch expansion programme in early 2020, with the opening of four new branches in the provinces of Mandoul-Koumra, Ouad-dai-Abeche, Sila-Goz Beida and Chari Baguirmi-Ndjamena, thereby spreading its footprint in the north and south of the country.

In addition, the bank has implemented an upgrade to its mobile banking app, streamlining the banking experience and introducing new functionalities for visually impaired customers, such as offering voice recognition as a transaction channel. The app also allows for budgeting, loan applications, automated bill payments, card control, account opening, money transfers, hand-gesture control, shortcuts and mobile airtime data top-ups.

In the early stages of the pandemic, UBA Chad signed a memorandum with the government of Chad to provide loans to start-ups and entrepreneurs impacted by Covid-19. The bank was one of the first lenders in the country to donate to relief efforts, with a $100,000 donation to the government to help it purchase medical equipment.

Côte d’Ivoire

Despite the challenges presented by the Covid-19 pandemic, Côte d’Ivoire was one of west Africa’s better performing economies in 2020.

The country recorded a 2% gain in gross domestic product for the year, with growth rebounding strongly in 2021. In a closely fought contest, UBA Côte d’Ivoire has been selected as the country’s Bank of the Year for 2021 thanks to a significant increase in its retail customer base, accompanied by a solid financial performance.

During the past year, UBA Côte d’Ivoire launched ‘Project BIM’, an initiative designed to significantly increase customers and deposits within the bank’s retail business. The initiative – which targeted new customers in the country’s markets and universities, as well as via door-to-door selling – prompted a 40% year-on-year increase in account openings, with significant contributions to both transaction fee income and pre-tax profits.

Overall, the lender saw a significant increase in profitability, with return on equity rising from 44.8% in 2019 to 59.2% at end-2020. After a surge in 2019, non-
performing loans improved from 4.4% to 3.7%.

The bank’s financing business saw significant growth in 2020, despite the impact of Covid on the wider economy, with risk assets increasing 24% year-on-year. Among the highlights were a contribution to the financing of construction of a second container terminal in Abidjan, a €150m letter of credit to the oil and gas sector for the importation of crude oil, and CFA Fr45bn ($78.5m) worth of agricultural loans.

In response to the pandemic, UBA Côte d’Ivoire deployed a remote account opening platform, called Customer Data Collect, enabling customers to open accounts via mobile phones, leading to a 700% increase in account openings. The bank also released an upgrade of its UBA Mobile App, offering simplified navigation and biometric security features.

The bank also donated a fully equipped ambulance to the Minister of Health to help in the fight against Covid, and helped several customers reschedule loan payments in line with guidelines from the central bank.

Gabon

UBA Gabon has been awarded the title of Gabon’s Bank of the Year for 2021 thanks to a solid financial performance in the midst of a difficult economic climate, together with the expansion of both its physical footprint and its digital services offerings.

As an oil and gas exporter, Gabon was hit hard by the Covid-19 pandemic, its first recession in more than 20 years. The economy is forecast to recover in 2021 with a growth of 1.5%, increasing to 3.9% by 2022, according to the International Monetary Fund.

UBA moved into its new headquarters on Boulevard Triomphal in the heart of Libreville’s government and corporate district in April 2021. The move has enhanced the bank’s status in the capital, with the new building helping to generate new customer registrations among high-end institutions and individuals.

In addition to its new flagship headquarters, the bank has opened new branches in Ntoum in Estuaire Province and the port of Owendo, and has deployed an additional five ATMs around the country, together with 50 point-of-sale (POS) terminals, reinforcing the bank’s position as having the country’s second-largest POS network.

In late 2020, the bank offered its instant bill payment service via bank cards to its customer base, the first such service offered by any bank in Gabon. The solution has been integrated with all e-commerce aggregators in the country, providing services for public institutions, private organisations and businesses either directly or through the aggregators.

The service has prompted a surge in account openings for the bank. Between December 2020 and June 2021, the bank opened more than 75% of the number of accounts opened in the entire year for 2020 as result of the service’s popularity.

The bank’s financial strength improved considerably in 2020. After downward pressure on profits in 2019, UBA Gabon returned to profit in 2020, with its asset base increasing by 35%.

Guinea

In a close contest, UBA Guinea retakes the crown as the country’s Bank of the Year for 2021.

Impressively, it managed to return to profit after two years of losses as the result of a strategic transformation programme.

The bank began adopting a new strategic segmentation strategy from early 2020, developing new teams and products for specific segments, including small and medium-sized enterprises, consumer lending, personal and commercial banking. Key to the strategy has been the hiring of direct sales agents across all segments, with a particular focus on generating account-opening leads.

As part of this approach, UBA Guinea has renewed its focus on the student banking segment, with the launch of a new student savings product with no fees that can be linked to mobile wallets. The focus on students also saw the bank install two new ATMs in the first public university in Conakry.

The strategy has already borne fruit, with a market-leading 10,000 accounts opened during the year across all segments, compared with 8270 for its closest rival, and the second-highest growth in incremental deposits for 2020.

Such numbers have helped turn UBA Guinea’s finances around, with a GNf45.9bn ($4.8m) profit for 2020, compared with a loss of GNf3bn in 2019. Assets rose by 50% over the same period, while non-performing loans rose from 2.8% to 5.4%.

On the digital front, the bank launched its Red App for iPhone and Android, with features including cards and account management, transfer and payment to other banks, loan requests, standing instructions, ATM and branch locators, and the top-up of mobile airtime.

As part of its Covid response measures, UBA Guinea made a $100,000 donation to the government, reduced interest rates by 1% for borrowers, and reviewed and extended loan repayment periods for borrowers adversely affected by the crisis.

Liberia

In 2021, UBA Liberia repeats its win as the country’s Bank of the Year thanks to significant partnerships with the country’s tax authority and Ministry of Finance and Development Planning (MFDP).

The bank was selected by the MFDP for a pilot programme to upgrade the government employee salary-paying system from being cheque-based to one that is fully online. As part of the programme, UBA Liberia developed an application programming interface enabling government agencies and ministries to perform automated payments directly to employees’ bank accounts in either US or Liberian dollars, regardless of who the employee banks with.

The programme has greatly improved the government’s payments system, enabling the generation of timely reports that can be used for decision-making by executive management, as well as streamlining service delivery for government employees.

Additionally, the Liberia Revenue Authority introduced its prepaid tax card in collaboration with UBA in September 2020. The co-branded card, which can also be used as a Visa card, enables Liberian residents to pay their tax online, and can also be used for regular purchases anywhere in the world.

UBA Liberia reported strong financial results for 2020, with a doubling of net income resulting in return on equity increasing from 10.2% to 17.6% during the year. While the bank’s cost-to-income ratio continued to improve, non-performing loans surged from 6% to 24.1% for the year amid the Covid-19 pandemic.

In addition to implementing strict health protocols to check the spread of Covid among employees and customers, the bank restructured loan facilities and extended tenors for borrowers adversely affected by resulting economic tightening in the country during the year.

UBA Liberia provided financing for the health ministry’s import of ventilators and other crucial healthcare equipment, and donated $150,000 to the government for the provision of aid to the population.

Nigeria

UBA Nigeria is awarded this year’s Bank of the Year in the country in recognition of its solid financial performance and its response to the Covid-19 crisis.

The bank – the third-largest in Africa’s biggest economy – saw its profits rise by 27.7% in 2020, with return on equity increasing from 16.2% in 2019 to 17.2% in 2020. Non-performing loans continued to decline for the second consecutive year, while the cost-to-income ratio remained stable.

In line with guidance from the Central Bank of Nigeria, the bank has restructured approximately 3% of its loan book for customers whose cashflow was impacted by the Covid-19 pandemic, and has reduced or removed several transaction banking charges to further encourage customers to use digital channels.

Through the UBA Foundation, the bank donated N5bn ($12.2m) to fight the spread of Covid-19 in Nigeria and across its footprint, with half going to causes within the country. Following the closure of schools, UBA has partnered with an educational arts charity to distribute home-learning materials to help pupils remain motivated during lockdowns.

The bank promoted World Immunisation Week, which aims to raise awareness and increase rates of immunisation, to its customers and stakeholders. The UBA Foundation has committed to raising $1.5m for the Gavi Vaccine Alliance to end infant mortality through vaccinations.

As part of its digital transformation programme to encourage the use of non-physical banking channels, UBA has promoted biometric authentication at its ATMs, contactless payment cards, and contactless point-of-sale terminals for ease of transactions. Such measures are in addition to the bank’s deployment of technology to offer basic financial services outside of bank branches via its agency banking proposition.

The bank has also launched its UBA Connect service, enabling customers to conduct traditional banking transactions at any UBA branch in the 20 African countries where it operates.

Republic of the Congo

Picking up the accolade for Bank of the Year in the Republic of the Congo, UBA Congo Brazzaville reported a robust financial performance even as the country’s oil-dependent economy suffered a significant setback in 2020.

UBA also continues to make progress in its Customer First (C1st) initiative, a customer services transformation project across all segments.

Even as the domestic economy shrank by 8.2% in 2020, UBA Congo Brazzaville recorded an 18% increase in net profits, together with a 21% increase in Tier 1 capital.

As part of C1st, the bank has made new efforts to target corporate customers with an increasingly holistic approach, offering products and services to both large corporate customers and their entire value chain, each customised to meet the need of individual market segments.

UBA Congo Brazzaville has increasingly focused on winning regional and international settlement business among importers by customising international payment services, such as MoneyGram and Swift, alongside the bank’s in-house regional payment service, Africash.

With the bank’s mobile-based mass market ‘Magic Banking’ service, UBA is increasingly targeting the country’s emerging middle class with its next generation banking offering, via dedicated ATMs and branches.

UBA Congo Brazzaville has continued to grow its lucrative Visa prepaid card business across all market segments in 2020. The bank scored several important distribution partnerships for the prepaid cards, including microfinance institution Mucodec, mobile operators MTN and Airtel, and the Ministry of Finance, to assist with the payment of university students’ bursaries.

As part of its efforts to combat the spread of Covid-19, UBA Congo Brazzaville donated $100,000 to the government in 2020, and helped several of its customers restructure loans. This came on top of internal health and safety measures taken to help protect staff.

Senegal

In a very tight contest, UBA Senegal has been selected as the country’s Bank of the Year for 2021 thanks to a significant improvement in its financial performance with improvements in account openings across the board.

After profits were all but wiped out in 2019, UBA rebounded strongly in 2020, with return on equity increasing from 1% to 20%. The bank renewed its focus on the high-growth affluent, corporate and business banking segments, with the opening of 100,000 new accounts in less than a year. The bank has created a new department specifically targeting customers among embassies and multilateral development organisations, with more than 15 significant accounts opened as a result.

At the other end of the spectrum, the bank deployed a remote account opening platform, called Customer Data Collect, in Senegal, allowing commercial agents to open accounts and generate account numbers instantly via a mobile phone, without visiting a branch.

UBA Senegal also recorded several successes in its corporate loans department, with syndicated loans to energy firm Société Africaine de Raffinage worth CFA Fr75bn ($132.4m). The bank also won the MCA Millennium Challenge Account mandate for a $600m project jointly implemented by the US and government of Senegal, aimed at improving electricity access in rural areas, in partnership with state-owned power utility Senelec. The project’s objective is to facilitate access to energy in rural areas over the next five years.

As part of its digital services rollout, the bank launched Orange Money Banking in collaboration with telco Orange, enabling UBA Senegal clients to transfer money between their bank and mobile money accounts.

In line with central bank guidelines, UBA Senegal restructured and delayed payments for several loans from companies impacted by the pandemic. In addition, the bank relaxed fees on bill payments, and a series of card and merchant transactions.

"The award is a testament to our hard work, relentless focus on cost efficiency and our growth strategy, orchestrated by improvements in our business development initiatives, our dedicated people and customer-focused strategies," says Bode Aregbesola, CEO of UBA Senegal.

Mr Aregbesola continues: "We embraced a culture of excellent customer service delivery at every touch point and interface with the bank. This is UBA Group’s number one strategy and, as a subsidiary, we align with our group’s customer-first service initiative. This award is also in line with our 'One Bank, One Team, One Vision, Number One Bank' initiative. We want to be the leading bank in Senegal and we are pleased to inform our partners that we are on course to achieve this." 

Sierra Leone

UBA Sierra Leone has been awarded the country’s Bank of the Year award for 2021, in recognition of its introduction of Saturday banking and the rolling out of a new loan product for the low-income segment.

Following increased customer requests to offer banking services during the weekend, the decision was taken in February 2021 to open all branches on Saturdays. While banks have traditionally not done this, business activity continues at weekends, with merchants facing the risk of storing cash at business premises when banks are closed. UBA Sierra Leone is the first bank in the country to offer weekend services, including cash deposits and withdrawals, card issuances and clearing cheque deposits.

Another of the bank’s milestones in the past year was the launch of UBA Sharp-Sharp – an account with streamlined know-your-customer requirements. This product targets those with lower incomes and can be opened with an initial deposit of 10,000 leone ($0.91). The account is in line with initiatives launched by the Bank of Sierra Leone to boost financial inclusion in the country among students, farmers, traders and agricultural labourers, among others. The account offers access to internet and mobile banking, and a debit card for local ATM and point-of-sale transactions.

The bank also introduced its No Wahala loan suite for salary earners, including executive loans for high-net-worth individuals, salary advances enabling advance payment of up to 50% of monthly pay cheques, and personal loans of up to $50,000.

UBA Sierra Leone has also improved the turnaround time for dealing with customer enquiries and complaints, thanks to enhanced in-house training by the bank’s marketing and products department.

On the Covid-19 front, UBA Sierra Leone made a donation of $150,000 via the UBA Foundation to the government of Sierra Leone to buy medical supplies for health workers.

Zambia

UBA Zambia retains its Bank of the Year title for 2021, thanks to a combination of solid financials and its improved focus on capturing increased business within corporate value chains.

Zambia’s economy, already suffering from years of mismanagement, has been hit particularly hard by the Covid-19 pandemic. The country, which became the first African state to default on its debt during the crisis, is attempting to win over bond investors and the International Monetary Fund through a reform programme led by its new president, Hakainde Hichilema.

UBA Zambia’s profitability continued to grow during 2020, with return on equity increasing from 18% in 2019 to 25% at end-2020. Non-performing loans rose from 2% to 3% over the same period.

While continuing to compete for large corporate business in Zambia, the bank has increasingly turned its attention to the wider ecosystems in which such large firms operate, focusing on small and medium-sized enterprises and sole traders. By leveraging the value chain, the bank has, in several instances, been able to capture the large corporates, their suppliers and distributors, as well as their employee accounts. The number of new accounts opened in 2021 is set to be double that of 2020, with a large increase in UBA Zambia’s deposit base as well.

To help check the spread of Covid-19, the bank made a $150,000 donation to the Zambian government in March 2020 to help acquire medical supplies. To ensure business continuity in its branches, UBA Zambia has divided its staff into two exclusive teams, with only one team physically present at the office at any point, in order to minimise risk of staff infection.

Through the UBA Foundation, UBA Zambia has developed the Read Africa initiative to encourage reading skills among local children. As part of the initiative the bank has donated literature books authored by African writers to primary and secondary schools, supplementing government efforts.

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