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Nigerian banking sector during Covid-19 and beyond

Just as rainfall wets all areas under its shower, so has the COVID-19 pandemic disrupted all facets of human activity throughout the entire world.

Whilst these disruptions have been undesirable in all sectors, its impact has not been uniform across the various areas of human activity, with some making a higher sacrifice than others.

One of such areas is the banking sector which in country after country – and Nigeria in particular, has perhaps been the one of the most impacted in negative terms, by the pandemic.

To say the least, the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic has ushered in its own complement of challenges for the sector, even if it is only by the very protocols of facilitating its containment.

In effect the banking sector has to prepare itself for the imperative of managing business for success, both during the course of the pandemic, and even Post COVID -19.

Seen in context, the extant challenges facing banks under the pandemic include the following.

Firstly, the imperative for banks in Nigeria to reinvent themselves under COVID-19 remains self-manifest, as the dispensation may have come to stay, even after its more telling morbid impact of spreading death and sorrow, have subsided. Banks collectively remain the nerve-centre and heart-beat of the economy and society, hence can never afford to sleep.

In that context, they must remain operational – come rain come shine. Secondly is their basic obligation of ensuring the safety and convenience of millions of customers from every walk of life, as well as their staff, who must be assisted to conduct business in all bank branches.

This is not to discount the enormous challenges faced in providing security for cash as well as other valuables in custody of the banks, and in an environment that is rife with death-defying criminal elements.

Describing the scope of obligations introduced by this imperative as humongous, remains an understatement.

The truth therefore remains that, Nigerian banks qualify for encomiums, even if such is for keeping their doors open at all, throughout the run of this pandemic.

Against the backdrop of the foregoing is the inescapable lesson from the pandemic, and which is that Nigerian banks need to adopt with dispatch, far reaching organizational and business operational restructuring, in order to cope with the emergent realities. It however needs to be appreciated that even before the advent of COVID-19, the Nigerian banking sector was building momentum for an across-the-board migration to a new level of technology-driven operational-culture as presently feature in the progressive roll-out of sundry products, under the aegis of electronic banking.

It is in the face of such systemic circumstance that the advent of COVID-19 is defining a new impetus for the accelerated roll-out of further adjustments in management practices that will deliver the sector both for now, and into the post pandemic future.

And this is where the banks have as a silver lining, the option of deeper recourse to technology, technology and technology – the surefire panacea for them to attain the twin objectives of higher efficiency and productivity as well as better and a higher service delivery regime for the banking public.

Indeed, it can be surmised justifiably that at no other time than now, when COVID-19 is raging, has the need for deeper penetration of technology in the country’s banking sector, been more opportune and urgent.

It is even inconceivable that with the myriad of personal restriction protocols – courtesy of the pandemic, banking in contemporary Nigeria would have been possible without state of the art technology.

What with the challenges of social distancing and the imperative of remote banking operations, it is clear that the old order of banks depending on a surfeit of on-ground resources and proliferation of banking halls, has become obsolete.

Rather, the new order calls for smarter banks with leaner structures, which facilitate rapid response to customer needs, in an ever growing business environment.

Obviously, the new dispensation of higher recourse to technology by banks requires equally new perspectives on the human resource function in these institutions.

In this respect, at least two factors qualify for consideration.

Firstly is that of reskilling and retooling of bank staff to cope with the emergent business realities.

Without equivocation, Nigerian banks need to consolidate their survival with the emergence of new generation of bankers who are at home with digital banking, to complement the traditional human resources, for enhanced service delivery.

Such a dispensation constitutes a major watershed of opportunities for technology savvy youth in the banking sector.

Secondly is the inevitability of structural contraction of the presently bloated bureaucratic structures of most banks in Nigeria, to facilitate their recourse to the advantages of technological advances.

This is where a bank like Access Bank Plc – as a pacesetter in technology-driven banking and operational profitability in Nigeria, deserves commendation for sensitizing the country to the emergent, more compact corporate structures, which will soon come to be normal in the sector.

At different times in the life of any society, there come changes that are initially misread as unfavourable to the wider interests of the public but are later embraced for their unmatched utility.

The Nigerian banking sector has since its inception in 1892, (when the African Banking Corporation and the Bank of British West Africa now First Bank of Nigeria Plc were established), been witness to several of such.

Several of such changes have also been recorded in the sector since the advent of electronic banking in 1996 through the advent of the ESCA card, by the now defunct All States Trust Bank Ltd.

The roll out of changes has been continuous with an ever expanding threshold of other advantages which have changed the face of the industry and the Nigerian economy.

The situation cannot but be better as Nigerian banks – which as businesses established for profitability, build on the lessons of COVID-19 to shape-up, instead of shipping-out of existence.

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