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Access Bank: Between fact and fiction

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By Jackson Ugbechie

One noble attribute of the average African is that he or she seeks opportunity to do good. The African man is his brother’s keeper.

This finds strong expression in an Igbo adage: “Let no one leave his kindred behind.” Access Bank and its Group Managing Director, Herbert Wigwe, just did that as Nigeria and indeed the rest of the world buckle under the Covid-19 pandemic.

Wigwe and his bank donated N1 billion apiece to a common purse managed by Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) under the auspices Coalition Against Covid-19 (CACovid).

The donation was not directly to the Federal Government. It was to be administered by the apex bank for the building of isolation centres and acquisition of other medical facilities to combat the pandemic. Other corporate bodies and good-hearted Nigerians also contributed to the purse. By last count, over N27 billion had been donated into the purse.

Africa’s richest man, Aliko Dangote, oil magnate Femi Otedola are among the donors. Politicians like Bola Ahmed Tinubu and Atiku Abubakar also made donations in their own unique ways. It was clearly a freewill donation. Corporates who donated only fulfilled a part of their corporate social responsibility, CSR. Every year, corporate organisations vote millions and billions for CSR, as a way of giving back to the society. In recent years, CSR has become an integral component of corporate budgets and budgeting.

It helps to give capitalism a human face. It’s become a powerful public relations tool. If you make money from a community, it’s only fair that you donate to the same community.

It is part of global best practices. Corporates now recognise that an organisation is as good as its environment; that profit is not everything but impact is. Wigwe and his bank chose the path of impact. They chose to add value to society, to be a part of the solution to a plague that got the whole world into a lockdown mode. The efforts of these corporates and individuals is noble and commendable, especially as they are not under compulsion to give.

What they donated was used to build isolation centres in all the six zones of the country. It was to serve all Nigerians, poor or rich, irrespective of ethnic configuration. And truly, all categories of Nigerians have been profiting from these donations. The very fact that Nigeria has been able to increase the number of test centres, increase number and capacity of medics and successfully treated and discharged over 480 covid-19 patients owes largely to the efforts and goodwill of these donors. It’s therefore unfair to vilify any of these donors under any guise.

Wigwe, a chartered accountant, banker and economist while explaining reasons for the donation said: “In our characteristic manner of offering ‘more than banking,’ Access Bank is at the forefront of the fight against COVID-19. Through our various projects, we are looking to support the government and the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) by providing facilities that can serve as both testing and isolation centres.

“Despite the strides being made, we implore all Nigerians to adhere to stipulated social distancing guidelines, and practice regular hand-washing as directed by the World Health Organization. We are positive that we can beat the spread of the virus, if we all comply with the safety measures as advised by the NCDC and WHO,” he stressed.

Worthy of note is the fact that the same bank made similar donation in Ghana and got rave commendation, not denigration. Access Bank donated a fully equipped ambulance to the University of Professional Studies, Accra (UPSA) to improve health care delivery on campus and in the community in which it operates. The ambulance, which will be managed by the UPSA Clinic on campus, is equipped with basic emergency kits such as oxygen inhaler, fire extinguisher, stretcher among others. While the bank has been roundly commended in Ghana for its gesture, the contrary is the case in Nigeria where it gave even more. Is this a case of a prophet not being honoured at home?

Outside Africa, other public-spirited individuals and corporates have continued to make donations in cash and in kind. Chinese billionaire and e-commerce mogul Jack Ma has his donations shared across the world including Nigeria. World richest man, Bill Gates of Microsoft fame, through his foundation has been dishing out money to find a cure for the virus. He has already splashed $250 million of his money for this cause. He, too, needs commendation, not vilification.

It is therefore shocking to hear some Nigerians pour venom on Wigwe and his bank for making donations in the manner they did. It is an act of ingratitude to say the least. His maligners point to an imaginary sacking of Access Bank staff and an anticipated cutting of salary of staff as reasons for their criticism. Here, they miss the mark. The bank has not sacked any staff on account of covid-19 economic impact. Staff sacked were non-essential casual workers inherited from Diamond Bank which it acquired recently. Staff rationalisation is usually a consequence of mergers and acquisition. To continue to hold to the notion of staff layoff, therefore, is to continue to dwell on fiction, not fact.

Even with the intervention of CBN on staff layoffs, the impact of covid-19 on businesses cannot be ignored. Some Nigerian corporates including media houses have served notices to staff of inevitable layoff. The biggest and profitable global conglomerates have furloughed staff, some embarking on outright sack. General Motors, Scandinavian Airlines (SAS), Air Canada, Marriot (the world’s largest hotel conglomerate), Tesla (the automobile maker) have furloughed staff in thousands. The sombre song is same in South Africa and other parts of Africa, Asia and Europe. Note that most of these corporates also donated for the cause of Covid-19 in their respective countries. Commercial ventures are no charities. They mind the bottom-line.

Singling out Wigwe and his bank for purloining on a false premise of staff layoff is a show of ingratitude to a man of immense goodwill and a corporate citizen that has a history of public good. The Malaria to Zero initiative, Access Lagos Marathon, the “W” Initiative which seeks to broaden women participation in entrepreneurship, the UNICEF Charity Shield Polo Tournament 2016, and Health Awareness Programs focusing on awareness and sensitization on: Sickle Cell, Diabetes, HIV/AIDS, Cancer, Obstetric Fistula amongst other health-related challenges are a few of the many public-good ventures undertaken by the bank. Wigwe and his bank deserve garland, not guillotine.

  • Ugbechie writes from Abuja

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E-Financial

Banks Fingered in $2trn Dirty Money Scam

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Some of the world’s top banks have been found to be complicit in aiding criminals move $2 trillion in dirty money around the world, according to leaked government files.

Banks Fingered in $2trn Dirty Money Scam

The exposition was done by Buzzfeed News and shared with the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ), a group that brings together investigative journalists from around the world, which distributed them to 108 news organisations in 88 countries.

In the revealing documents, they said: “global banks including JPMorgan, HSBC, Standard Chartered Bank, Deutsche Bank, Bank of New York Mellon, among others defied money laundering crackdowns by moving staggering sums of illicit cash for shadowy characters and criminal networks that have spread chaos and undermined democracy around the world.”

It was also revealed that they kept profiting from these powerful and dangerous players even after the United States authorities fined these financial institutions for earlier failures to stem flows of dirty money.

FinCEN is the US Financial Crimes Enforcement Network. These are the people at the US Treasury who combat financial crime. Concerns about transactions made in US dollars need to be sent to FinCEN, even if they took place outside the US.

Known as the FinCEN files, these are more than 2,600 documents which banks sent to the US authorities between 2000 and 2017 which help show that these banks raise concerns about what their clients might be doing.

They have also been regarded as some of the international banking system’s most closely guarded secrets.

Some of what has been found so far showed that JPMorgan, the largest bank based in the United States, moved money for people and companies tied to the massive looting of public funds in Malaysia, Venezuela and Ukraine, the leaked documents reveal.

The bank moved more than $1 billion for the fugitive financier behind Malaysia’s 1MDB scandal, the records show, and more than $2 million for a young energy mogul’s company that has been accused of cheating Venezuela’s government and helping cause electrical blackouts that crippled large parts of the country.

JPMorgan also processed more than $50 million in payments over a decade, the records show, for Paul Manafort, the former campaign manager for President Donald Trump. The bank shuttled at least $6.9 million in Manafort transactions in the 14 months after he resigned from the campaign amid a swirl of money laundering and corruption allegations spawning from his work with a pro-Russian political party in Ukraine.

It was also revealed that one of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s closest associates used Barclays bank in London to avoid sanctions which were meant to stop him from using financial services in the West. Some of the cash was used to buy works of art.

HSBC allowed fraudsters to transfer millions of dollars around the world even after it had learned of their scam, leaked secret files show.

Britain’s biggest bank moved the money through its US business to HSBC accounts in Hong Kong in 2013 and 2014.

The United Arab Emirates’ central bank failed to act on warnings about a local firm which was helping Iran evade sanctions.

Deutsche Bank moved money launderers’ dirty money for organised crime, terrorists and drug traffickers.

Standard Chartered moved cash for Arab Bank for more than a decade after clients’ accounts at the Jordanian bank had been used in funding terrorism.

The FinCEN Files represent less than 0.02 per cent of the more than 12 million suspicious activity reports that financial institutions filed with FinCEN between 2011 and 2017.

Mr Fergus Shiel from ICIJ said the leaked files were an “insight into what banks know about the vast flows of dirty money across the globe”. He said the documents also highlighted the extraordinarily large amounts of money involved.


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SEC Boosts Investor Protection with Digital Assets

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The Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) has explained that its Digital Assets and their Classification and Treatment is aimed at boosting investors’ protection in the capital market.

Emomotimi Agama, Head, Registration, Exchanges, Market Infrastructure and Innovation of the SEC speaking on the guidelines in an interview said: “The first thing the SEC bothers about is investor protection.

“This is no different from what we have been doing. We are looking at investor protection, integrity, transparency and of course we want to make sure that the market is safe and everyone is comfortable with what is going on in the investment climate”.

Agama noted that last year the Commission launched the Fintech Road map and after that was done, it went ahead to set up the block chain virtual financial assets committee.

“These committees are both market wide and principally done to engage the market, to be able to have discussions with the market and get their buy-in into what we are doing.

“What we found out today is that a lot of persons, youths are all involved in this space and it is important that even as far as that is the case, the SEC lives up to the expectations  and making sure that those people that are getting into the business are protected

“Clearly, that is our aim and the market is part of this and indeed the feedback has been wonderful. People are happy with what we are doing, being able to provide some clarity as to where we stand in terms of digital assets regulation.

“Digital assets is the next thing, our idea is not to stifle innovation, but to promote innovation within a reasonable space and that is exactly what we are doing. Section 13 of the ISA empowers us to do this and so we are doing what we have been empowered to do by law,” he said.

On what internal capacities the SEC is developing to meet the challenges of this fast changing digital financial world, Agama said “the SEC is a knowledge based institution and before we come out of this kind of initiatives, we would have done so much research.

“I need to tell you that the Cambridge Centre for Alternative Finance has been partnering with the SEC and up to this point, we have been engaging with them and several of our staff have been part of their programmes.

“The World Bank and other institutions are also working with us on Fintech to see that the Nigerian landscape is not left barren but guided with basic principles, we will not leave any stone unturned, but ensure that everyone within the SEC that has the responsibility to guiding investors and the populace in making sure we have an investment environment that people will be proud of is provided.

“Capacity building is a continuous exercise, we will continue to upgrade ourselves, we will continue to learn because knowledge is for life”.


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Rising Covid-19 Cases Keep Risk Assets Under Pressure

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By Hussein Sayed, Chief Market Strategist at FXTM

Equity markets kicked off Monday on the back foot following three weeks of consecutive declines in US stocks, which marked the longest weekly losing streak since 2019. Investors are becoming increasingly worried about the momentum in the economic recovery given the resurgent numbers of global Covid-19 cases and lack of progress on a new US stimulus package.

Although President Trump signaled his readiness to back a bigger stimulus bill last week, the Supreme Court’s empty seat left by the passing of Ruth Bader Ginsburg is likely to complicate the matter. The fight between the President and Congressional Democrats on whether to fill the vacant seat now or wait until after the election is expected to lead to more delays in reaching a middle ground on a new fiscal package. Hence, we would expect that the much-needed stimulus will be pushed back until after the US elections.

Given that the list of uncertainties is growing, especially on the pandemic front, risk is now skewed to the downside. We have US elections just around the corner, hefty valuations in growth sectors despite the recent correction and the high stakes of possible national lockdowns in the UK and elsewhere all pointing to waning momentum in the economic recovery. All these factors indicate more volatile times for the next several weeks.

Datawise, investors need to keep a close eye on September’s flash PMIs coming out of Germany, France and the UK this week for further indications on how the big European economies are faring following the strong rebound in early Q3. Signs of weakness here will be a strong signal that the economic recovery is indeed losing its way and further action is needed from fiscal and monetary policymakers.

Currency markets are not yet reflecting the risk aversion seen in equities. The Dollar is trading slightly lower against its major peers, with the DXY -0.15% at the time of writing. The Fed is clearly the winner among other central banks in providing the most accommodative monetary policy, which means the long-term projections for the Dollar remain to the downside. However, if the selloff in US equities accelerates this week, expect the greenback to regain some support.

In commodity markets, Brent fell by 1% after trading slightly higher in early Asian trade. The battle between the bulls and bears is keeping prices rangebound between $40 and $45. At this stage, the demand outlook is far more important than the supply side. That’s why oil traders need to keep a close eye on the trajectory of the virus, especially if it’s going to lead to renewed lockdowns. Gold is also another commodity stuck in a narrow range as traders await new clues on the Fed’s policy approach towards inflation.  This could happen later this week as Chairman Jerome Powell may provide new hints when he appears before the Congress on Tuesday.

 


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