Intercontinental Bank Expands Frontier With Western UnionDate: Tuesday, May 18, 2004
For a long time, the monetary authorities were somehow oblivious of the potential benefit of remittances through international money transfer to the nation's quest for economic development and hence, it was not exploited.
Beneficiaries or recipients of such remittances of course suffered the consequences of the indifference of the authorities. They suffered untold hardship, and exploitation by the few financial institutions offering international money transfer services. First, they were paid at very unfair exchange rate. Also they experienced long delays even before they could receive the money sent to them by their loved ones abroad, especially those beneficiaries residing outside state capitals. The agony was suffocating and in some cases, life threatening.
In response to the yearnings of these beneficiaries, the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), somewhere along the line, not only identified with their plight, but also recognised the potential inherent in international money transfer. They discovered that it could help solve the nation's problem of high exchange rate.
Hence, in 2002, the Sanusi-led CBN issued a circular which directed banks offering international money transfer services to pay beneficiaries in dollars or any foreign currency of their choice. The directive, according to the apex bank, was in response to complaints of exploitation by beneficiaries, as well as in recognition of the moderating effect it will have on the exchange rate of the naira especially in the parallel market.
Elsewhere, Western Union Money Transfer, the dominant international provider of international money transfer services in the country, conducted a research to elicit public opinion about its services in Nigeria. According to Mr. Stanley Wachs, Director, Business Development Africa, Western Union, "the Nigerian people told Western Union through research that they were looking for more access points, more service points, to collect their money through out the country and also they prefer to be paid in dollar.
This discovery prompted Western Union to deregulate its services in Nigeria by appointing more banks as direct agents. But Western Union was not willing to appoint just any bank. According to Wachs, we were looking for (banks with) customer service experience at the point of sale.
Consequently, Intercontinental Bank Plc became a natural choice for appointment as direct agent bank.
The bank, apart from its tested and proven customer service delivery, which spans from its days as a merchant bank, also has a branch network of 55 branches, scattered strategically across the country all offering online real time services. In addition to this is the excellent financial performance of the bank, its strong asset base, and highly professional management. For example, the bank's operating result for year 2003, showed a 14.7 per cent increase in gross earnings to N14.7 billion, 70 per cent increase in after-tax profit to N3.4 billion, and a 51 per cent jump in total asset to N96.9 billion.
Thus, an international money transfer company like Western Union, which according to Wachs, wants to make sure that beneficiaries anywhere in Nigeria, can collect their money quickly easily and conveniently could not ignore the enormous potential represented by the bank to its quest to expand the frontiers of international money transfer services in Nigeria. The import of been appointed as direct agent bank is however not lost on the bank and its management. To this end, and in recognition of the enormous responsibility of the appointment, Vice chairman/Chief Executive officer, Intercontinental Bank Plc, Dr. Eratus Akingbola, while speaking at the official launch, the previous week, stated "we are proud to be associated with western union because our link to the service as direct agent will open another vista of opportunity for us to showcase out time tested service delivery culture for which we have been known since inception in 1989.
"Having fore-tested tested the operation of Western Union through similar service we invented last year - the Inter continental instant cash transfer system (I-CASH) which has proven to be a huge success, I can assure you all that we are equally prepared for the challenges of International money transfer service under Wester Union network," he asserted, adding that the bank's information technology is properly fortified to provide the necessary service to give our customers the best of attention promptly coupled with our branch network spread across the country.
In his words, "our strategy is to ensure that all our present 85 branches (already hooked on) and many more in the pipe line are hooked on to the service." "What that means in simple terms is that you can walk into any of our branches anywhere in the county and demand to be paid in dollars, oh yes, in dollars, if such money has been sent to you from abroad," he asserted.
Such statement from Akingbola, cannot be dismissed as an emptly boast in view of the passion and aggressi-veness with which Intercontinental Bank renders serves to its banking clientele. Since conversion to a commercial bank and lately universal bank, Intercontinental Bank has demonstrated unrelenting commitment to providing unique, cutting edge solution to the banking needs of its customers. This explains the banks strong presence in all the segment of the financial sector.
The appointment of Intercontinental Bank as direct agent by Western Union, no doubt offers a big relief to the growing number of beneficiaries of International money transfer but much more it offers prospect of new frontiers in the way and manner Western Union Money transfer services are rendered in Nigeria.
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