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 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 organisations 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 counselling and support, and started online crowd-funding efforts in support of victims.
Among corporate organisations, 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 it 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, makes 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 first choice for small businesses. Built around seven strategic pillars – of connect 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 organised a weeklong SME event which had owners of SMEs in different sectors mentored across multiple states in the country. It was the first of its kind in the industry. Organised 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 recognise the impact SMEs have in promoting growth of the economy and are excited at the opportunity to continue to enable them 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.”