The Ecobank Group’s recent achievements are just as impressive as its plans for future expansion. Over the past decade, for example, the pan-African bank has expanded out of West Africa to 33 countries on the continent, growing its coverage to some 11 million customers. The Group has also built two tech hubs – one in Lagos, Nigeria and one in Accra, Ghana. But these accolades represent just the beginning. By 2020, Eddy Ogbogu explains, the group is hoping to expand this footprint to cover over 100 million people; just shy of 10 percent of the continent’s entire population.
As the Group’s Executive for Operations and Technology, Ogbogu has the remit to maintain the revolutionary momentum brought about by technology in order to deliver this massive expansion, while ensuring that the business can offer these new customers the lowest possible cost of services. He is achieving this by digitalising as many customers as possible through the rollout of an innovative, multi-use mobile app complementing a recently revamped internet banking platform.
“When we started our aggressive expansion beyond West Africa, we wanted to run our operations as the preeminent pan-African bank in an efficient way and with innovative technology,” he says. “We are taking advantage of economies of scale when it comes to technology and we are building on that. The opportunity to deliver value is not just about cost - it’s all about value for our stakeholders - and that includes both business groups and employees.”
He adds that the Group’s commitment to catalysing these changes is backed up by serious financial commitments, to the point that research and development is now a priority spend for the bank: “Ecobank is a big believer in investing in technology. Technology and innovation make up a big chunk of our yearly expenditures.”
Ecobank’s operations are all underpinned by a wide-ranging plan – not only for the company, but for the continent as a whole; Ogbogu explains that Ecobank’s strategy is to lead Africa’s FinTech and banking sectors. He says: “The vision is to build a world class pan-African bank and contribute to financial inclusion in Africa. Whenever we see an opportunity to take advantage of technology, we do that. Our main aim is to provide all our customers across Africa with banking services at a price point that is acceptable to them.”
While Ecobank is spearheading digital banking across the countries it serves, the Group has an extensive bricks-and-mortar network present in some 36 countries. These operations employ over 18,000 staff across over 1,200 branches and offices. Alongside a strong footprint in leading West African economies, namely Nigeria and Ghana, the Group also has substantial subsidiary operations in Central, Eastern, and Southern Africa.
Ecobank brings a diverse range of services to its markets, which cater to its range of clients – everyone from experienced investment bankers to unbanked families looking to take out their first loan. Its offerings include products and services for both personal and commercial banking customers, in addition to those looking for corporate and investment banking solutions.
Key to its operational success are the Group’s centralised technology systems, which have not only saved a lot of time and resources on the ground, but have also made training and developing staff skills simpler and more cost effective. Ogbogu says: “The data centres in Accra and Lagos are where we host the technology services for the entire group. We basically operate a private cloud from these centres.
“One huge advantage of our centralised operations is that we can centralise our skills. Instead of having administrators across our entire geographical footprint, we have the best located in Accra and Lagos. It’s about development and having people in one location.
“The idea is that we have system integration, end-to-end automation, digitisation and the ability to react. This is because digitisation moves fast, and the consumers need these changes to be made very fast. We therefore make sure to always position ourselves to have more agility and to react as fast as possible.”
Digitalising African banking
Africa is often called ‘the mobile continent’ – a statement Ogbogu is happy to agree with; he sees the uptake of mobile as not only positive for society, but also as a potential way of reaching out to new and existing customers and to expand financial inclusion.
He adds: “If you look at the infrastructure in Africa, it is lagging behind other parts of the world, so we prefer the ubiquity of mobile phones to deliver the banking services to our existing and potential customers. To achieve our goal of financial inclusion, we decided to produce a mobile app with a lot of useful services in order to move away from traditional banking as we’ve known it, and into the digital world. This is much cheaper for our customers.”
Ecobank leveraged its in-house technology expertise to produce a new and unique banking app that boasts an impressive range of capabilities that cater to its diverse range of customers. Ogbogu highlights what makes the app so different to the others vying for competition in many of its markets: “An app is just an app - it’s the services that you bring to the customers that make the app unique.
“The ability to open a digital account in a matter of minutes is something completely unique. All the new accounts are likely to be digital – that is why we are making it easy for people to open accounts from their mobile phones.
The app is also available in four languages. “We have English, French, Portuguese, and Spanish, which are some of the official languages spoken where we have a presence,” says Ogbogu. “It is very user friendly. It is the first app that enables you to transfer funds across 33 countries. Transferring money from one Ecobank account to another is instant – no other bank offers those services today.”
Users are able to purchase a range of products and services instantly through the app, including airtime, mobile top-ups, and utility bills; they can even pay for education and church donations. “There’s also the opportunity to make investments in some of the countries, like in Ghana or in Nigeria where you can invest in mutual funds or treasury bills using the mobile app,” he adds. “We continue to add more services all the time.”
Ecobank is not merely a bank with a conscience – it is a financial hub affecting real change for millions of people from all walks of life across the African continent; leveraging innovative technology, and set to do the same for millions more. “We are very much committed to our digital journey,” says Ogbogu. “We have been providing platforms and a landscape to collaborate. So, the future is to push the frontiers of financial technology to make banking services more inclusive, and engender the financial integration of Africa.”