Fresh fields

Published: 01-JAN-03

The Union Bank of Nigeria is gearing up to spread its financial wings into the lucrative financial markets of Southern Africa.

The 14-member Union Bank board recently decided to hold its board meeting for the first time in Johannesburg, South Africa to identify new opportunities, which could enable the bank to expand its operations in South Africa where it currently has a representative office.

"We have seen changes and new opportunities enough for us to charge a new focus and expand our operations here", said Godwin Oboh, group managing director and chief executive, said at the Johannesburg board meeting presided over by the bank's chairman Elder Kalu like Kalu.

Union Bank, which was established in 1917, has a large number of banking awards under its belt including 12-times winner of the Nigerian Stock Exchange President's Merit Award. In 2000, 2001 and 2002 it was named Nigeria's top bank by The Banker magazine, a sister publication of the influential Financial Times of London. Its mission statement is "to be the foremost financial institution with the most satisfied customers".

The financial institution has close to 300 branches across Africa's most populous nation, a fully operational branch in London and is the only Nigerian bank with a representative office in South Africa. Union Bank has asset and deposit bases of $2.2 billion and $1.62 billion respectively for the financial year ended March 31, 2002.

Union Bank general manager in Johannesburg, Lawrence Idowu, said that the bank was holding its board meeting for the first time in South Africa in line with its global expansion, especially into the rest of Africa. The Nigerian bank official added that the board meeting demonstrated the bank's commitment to its growth in South Africa.

The board meeting, which was followed by a business networking session afforded the banks top management the opportunity to meet with the South African business community and the Nigerian business community resident in South Africa.

Union Bank also has five formidable subsidiaries specialising in merchant banking, mortgages, insurance, trustee- ship and stockbroking. It is a major shareholder in Valucard Nigeria PLC, Bank Internationale du Benin Republic and has a stake in Afrexim Bank in Cairo, Egypt.

The bank, which has the largest asset and deposit bases of Nigeria's financial institutions, totally N275.2 billion and N204.4 billion for the last financial year ended March 31, 2002, recently bought a stake in the Housing Finance Company (HFC) Bank in Ghana. "We are using this to make our entrance into the Ghana banking sector," said Idowu. "It is a similar process to how we entered the Benin banking sector." Adding: "While the board was in South Africa we visited a number of neighbouring states to look at opportunities to expand our Africa business integration objectives."

Union Bank is currently installing additional 100 Automatic Teller machines (ATM's) across Nigeria. Oboh said the new ATMs, which would be operational before Christmas would be located in Union Bank branches in different areas of the country. "The ATMs have actually been installed but they have to be connected to the network so that they can go live before Christmas", he said, adding that the bank currently have 15 functioning ATMs in key branches.

Oboh said Union Bank had been working in partnership with other banks in Nigeria towards more ATMs "so that people can access their bank account and cash money everywhere they go and at any time of the day".

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