Universal Merchant Bank (UMB), a leading universal bank in the country is on a mission to become a digital-first bank as it turns 50 years today.
Chief Executive Officer of the bank, Nana Kwadwo Dwemoh Benneh disclosed this to senior journalists in Accra, saying the vision is to provide customers with varied easy-to-use digital channels to access banking services on the go, so that the staff of the bank can concentrate more on advisory roles.
Currently, the bank provides digital banking services via its UMB SpeedApp, which allows both customers and non-customers to access banking services on the go. So even if one does not have a UMB bank account, they can still access the UMB SpeedApp with the mobile wallet.
“Out digital channels will be a bouquet comprising of our UMB SpeedApp, social media channels and possibly a Chatbot plus the regular customers service phone lines where the less tech savvy customers can still reach our staff for assistance,” he said.
SME and Retail Banking
The CEO noted that UMB is a known leader in corporate and merchant banking so the digitization drive is gearing more towards gaining market share in the small-scale enterprise (SME) and retail banking sectors, for which reason, the bank does not intend to shortchange the less tech savvy customers in terms of access to customer service.
The CEO believes technology has been democratized to the stage where the barrier of entry is very low, and that is why he is confident that the bank’s digital-first drive will ultimately lead to increased market share for UMB, particularly in the SME sector and among the youth.
“At the core of our digital-first agenda is a vision to become associated with SME and retail banking and that is on course as well because most of our big corporate clients also deal with lots of SMEs and so we get to interact with them and sign them on as we go along,” he said.
Mr. Dwemoh Benneh noted that many people in the country today, particularly the youth, are technology driven, so UMB believes that targeting the youth with digital channels to access banking services is the right direction to go.
According to him, the bank intends to work extensively with as many of the fintech (financial technology) companies in Ghana and elsewhere on the continent to drive its digital-first agenda, saying that there is no need to reinvent the wheel since the expertise already exist both here and across Africa.
“We have a number of young people who are some of the best fintech providers in the country. When you look at fintech reports in Africa, Kenya, Nigeria and Ghana are doing very well and we intend to leverage on that to expand our footprints into other countries,” he said.
He also believes that going digital will cut the huge spend on brick and mortar that comes with expanding the traditional way, adding that digitization will also help the bank to retrain and refocus its staff into better ways of assisting customers.
“We think the digitization strategy enables us to expand and gain market share without necessarily putting in a colossal amount of investments required for expansion through branches,” he said.
Mr Dwemoh Benneh, said the bank’s digitization strategy is not only about products targeted at customers, but also about transforming their back-office activities.
“We believe that as we apply digitization to some of the occupational work as well, it frees our staff to engage more with the customer and offer more of the relationship and advisory approaches to the customers,” he said.
So the plan is to empower the customers to deal with the simple things while the bank staff focus on advising customers on, for instance, what kinds of investments opportunities exist, how to get financing for projects and other things of that nature.
Meanwhile, Mr. Dwemoh Benneh said the bank intends to use its 50th Anniversary celebration to gather enough information from customers on what they want from the bank going forward, so that “we will concentrate our energies on delivering on the aspirations on our customers.”
“We also want to use the time to draw the linkage between the erstwhile Merchant Bank and UMB so that people can appreciate our rich history particularly in corporate and merchant banking and also what we have on offer in terms of SME and retail banking going forward,” he said.
“Basically, what we are looking for is to engage and re-engage to an extent where we can offer things that are relevant to the kinds of customers that we want to attract so that we can use that as a stepping stone to grow our market share,” he added.
The bank under the leadership of Mr Dwemoh Benneh is eyeing business developments within the continent of Africa.
The CEO noted that within the continent, there are a lot of developments that are happening, particularly around the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA), under which a pan-African payment system is due to be launched.
He believes AfCFTA holds a lot of promise, so, UMB is strategizing on how to plug in and leverage on that to grow by riding on strategic partnerships and linkages across the continent – be it with banks or fintechs.