Pandemic provides litmus test for banks’ digital strategies

Edward Nartey Botchway, Executive Director – Finance at Ecobank

– Ecobank Executive Director

The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic offers a unique opportunity for institutions, especially banks, to showcase their much-touted digital capabilities and strategies, Executive Director – Finance at Ecobank, Dr. Edward Nartey Botchway, has said.

While acknowledging a number of factors which have a bearing on profitability and sustainability, he argued that the abrupt and wide-scale transition to digital solutions for businesses, banks and their customers provides the ideal litmus test for the veracity of their claims.

He made these comments off the back of Ecobank’s impressive performance in a year that was riddled with uncharacteristic disruptions to global supply chains, and the ensuing impact on economies the world over. He added that the handwriting – showing that businesses need to migrate to more digital solutions – had been on the wall for quite some time.

Speaking to the B&FT subsequent to release of the bank’s full year 2020 audited financial results, which saw the lender grow its profits by more than 23% over the previous year, he said: “Even before COVID-19 struck, more than 80 percent of our transactions did not occur in brick and mortar branches; they occurred over our digital channels. That shows our customers were already comfortable with our digital channels. We did not start onboarding customers or orienting them during the pandemic on how to use our digital platforms; the process had already begun, so our customers were already comfortable with our digital platforms”.

He added that the requisite capital expenditure had already been made and the bank was digitally ready when the pandemic struck.

“Most of the investment that was required to operate digitally had already been incurred, and so we did not have to incur any further significant material investments on account of COVID-19. The investments in technology across our network has proved very useful in deploying superior technology products in the marketplace.”

Ecobank and AfCFTA

Dr. Botchway also stated that the bank is well placed to be the ideal partner for cross-border settlements with the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) onset, saying: “We see ourselves as a key player in development of the African continent; after all, we are present in more African countries than any other bank in the world”.

Touching on a number of interventions the bank undertook during the year, including Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) obligations and maintaining the “biggest loan book in the industry” of approximately GH¢5billion in advances, the Ecobank Executive Director said that it is an indication of why the nation requires strong banks.

“That’s one of the benefits of having big and strong banks as an economy; if we desire to develop even further, the contribution of strong banks in the intermediary role is critical. Being able to take deposits from market players with excess funds and making these funds available to market players who require them for investment activities is the way to boost employment, create wealth and develop the nation.”

In the year under review, the bank saw the value of its total assets appreciate by 21% from GH¢13.2billion in 2019 to GH¢15.89billion in 2020, with profit before tax and deposits also increasing up by 22% and 21% respectively.

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