By Babajide Komolafe, Economy Editor, in Morocco
Group Managing Director/Chief Executive Officer, United Bank for Africa, UBA Plc, Mr. Oliver Alawuba, was among the banking and finance executives at the Annual Meetings of the World Bank/International Monetary Fund, IMF held in Marrakesh, Morocco.
In this interview at the sidelines of the meeting, Alawuba speaks on UBA’s efforts to facilitate businesses on the African continent and significance of it’s participation at the meeting.
You have been in Marrakech for some days now, participating in the IMF and World Bank meetings, what are your thoughts on the proceedings so far?
First of all I would like to appreciate the people and government of Morocco for the excellent hosting of the IMF/ World Bank
meeting. The feedback I have been getting from a number of people is that it is one of the best meetings in recent times. And that it is happening on African soil is something we are proud of.
Can you speak more about UBA’s international operations and also on the recently released financial statements of the bank?
UBA is a bank focused on African development. My presence here is based on the fact that we have been inspired by all the developments in Africa. I have held fruitful meetings with some of iur customers and development partners who share the vision of the African development agenda. I believe that this is the time for UBA, working with other corporate organisations and partners to develop the resources and opportunities that are available in the continent. We are today present in 20 African countries and 4 other countries outside Africa. Yes, Africa has tremendous opportunities. What we are saying is that we need to have partners, institutions that will be able to harness these opportunities for the people. UBA is well positioned to facilitate business within Africa and the rest of the world. That is why we are here in this conference.
Prior to your GMD’s roles, you were once CEO of UBA Africa. Can you tell us of possible trends on banking and economy in Africa?
The most important thing today is for Africa to drive financial inclusion. We still have a lot of Africans that are left out of the banking industry. That is where UBA comes in. The bank is using digital technology to drive financial inclusion. And we think that we need to build strong African institutions that will be able to support infrastructure development across the continent. This development has to be done by Africans working with like minds who believe that Africa must move forward.
You talked about partnership with development partners, and some of the things that have been discussed here at the meeting are growth for Africa, sustainable financing and climate change. Are we expecting agreements between UBA and other development partners?
I can tell you that a lot of agreements will come out of this meeting. But you are also aware that UBA has put forward six billion dollars for SME financing, working with the African Continental Free Trade Area. Today, we had a very fruitful discussion with the International Finance Corporation (IFC) and AFREXIM Bank. We have also had useful discussions with the African Development Bank (AFDB). We are looking at how to partner to move Africa forward particularly as it concerns SMEs and women empowerment. We believe that African women can be more empowered to do more for African development and UBA is in the forefront of these i initiatives.
Do you have any plan for expansion of your international operations?
We will continue to expand UBA’s presence in Africa. Today, we are consolidating. We think that within the countries where we are present, we can do more to increase our share of business. We also think that if opportunity comes for other African expansions why not, we will take that opportunity. After all, UBA is for Africa.
UBA is today, Nigeria’s most profitable bank, how do you sustain the excellent performances and what contributed majorly to the performance?
UBA’s performance in the 2022 financial year was impressive. The half 2023 from what we can see further recorded tremendous improvement. We think that our expanded presence in Africa and four other countries are beginning to yield fruits. This justifies the need to go beyond Nigeria, Africa to the rest of the world to identify more opportunities.
Another point that came out of this meeting is that banks and banking regulators should watch it because as interest rates go up, there is a possibility of loan default. Is that a concern?
Banking is a highly regulated business and we are happy with the good role our regulators are playing across various markets. We will continue to work within those regulations but we should not focus so much on the risks that we forget the opportunities. We will continue to manage the risks. You have to strike a balance. We will also continue to develop and harness the opportunities.
How positioned is UBA for Africa and international trade in general?
East and African trade is actually our key area of strength. Our presence in twenty African countries is mainly to drive inter-African trade. Our partnership with ACFTA is also to drive inter-African trade. Today, you are aware that AFREXIM Bank has Pan-African Payment & Settlement System ( PAPSS), a payment system for settlement of business transactions across Africa and UBA is in the forefront of that partnership. Inter-African trade is important. Africa needs to trade more with each other and that will further improve economic development across the continent.
Looking ahead, what message do you have for shareholders?
We love our shareholders. I am sure that by now they would be smiling. We are here to ensure that at the end of the day, they would have more dividends. So it is cheery news from UBA and there will be a lot more for them.
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