Ghana is currently experiencing a rapid and massive technological revolution in its banking industry as well as in other sectors of its economy. The innate benefits associated with the use of digital technologies in service delivery have required a myriad of banks to heavily invest in information-technology infrastructure and systems. As a result, several electronic channels such as mobile-banking and fintech applications and platforms have been launched to promote remote, secure and convenient financial and banking services to the banking demographic.
UMB’s digital agenda
It is worth noting that UMB (Universal Merchant Bank) is among the few banks in Ghana that have successfully integrated digital banking into its core operations. CEO John Awuah has said that the bank has a strategy known as “One cedi on branch, one hundred cedis on tech”, which is aimed at ensuring that “a cedi spent on a physical infrastructure must commensurate with a 100 cedi expenditure on state-of-the-artfinancial technology”.
Previously known as Merchant Bank Ghana Limited, UMB Bank is an indigenous bank that has been providing exceptional banking services to customers for the past 46 years. This makes UMB one of the oldest indigenous banks in Ghana.
According to the bank’s CEO, Mr. Awuah, the bank’s flagship digital-banking platform, UMB SpeedApp, was officially introduced in February 2018 to provide convenient and superior mobile-banking services to customers and non-customers wherever they may be, at any given time. He mentioned that the mobile-banking app UMB SpeedApp can be used to make mobile airtime top-ups, instant transfers of funds, loan requests and cash withdrawals using the Cardless Withdrawal feature on any UMB automated teller machine (ATM). He also reiterated that even non-customers of the bank can use the UMB SpeedApp to earn interest on deposits on their UMB mobile-money wallets as well as transfer funds instantly and purchase mobile airtime, among other services.
Mr. Awuah further expressed his commitment to making customers’ experiences with UMB’s digital channels seamless and convenient by reducing the challenges associated with high data charges and access to data. “We will soon launch a data-free version of UMB SpeedApp for our customers to use without any data charges. It will also help us eliminate the inconveniences caused by unreliable internet connectivity,” he explained.
Commenting on cybersecurity and electronic banking fraud, the CEO of UMB stated that UMB SpeedApp and other electronic banking channels are built and fortified with robust security infrastructure and systems, thereby making it almost impossible for mischievous persons and fraudsters to tamper with them. He assured customers to have confidence in the bank’s systems because accounts on the UMB SpeedApp can only be accessed by the users through their PINs, and he admonished mobile-banking users to safeguard their login PINs and transactional PINs at all times.
Mr. Awuah added that UMB also has other electronic products, such as internet banking, e-zwich, electronic cash-management systems and mobile-money services that promote secured, cash-liteand convenient banking transactions.
New minimum capital requirement
A new directive from the central bank specified that commercial banks in Ghana have up until December 31, 2018, to raise their minimum capital from GHS120 million to GHS400 million. The 233-percent minimum-capital increment has generated some level of apprehension among some banks, especially indigenous banks. CEO John Awuah said that although recent developments in the banking sector are of concern, particularly for indigenous banks, UMB Bank remains absolutely focused on meeting thenew minimum capital requirement announced by the Bank of Ghana before the deadline announced by the industry regulator.
In spite of the challenges faced by many indigenous banks, Mr. Awuah said the bank is well-positioned to meet the recapitalization requirement ahead of the deadline because it is advanced in discussions with its partners on the process. “Without a doubt, I can say UMB is among the few indigenous banks that has a sound roadmap towards recapitalization. Our main focus now is to examine the prospect of each investor and select the right partner whose strategic objectives align with UMB’s policy framework and middle- to long-term strategic goals,” he affirmed.
Mr. John Awuah added that a series of meetings aimed at fine-tuning the final leg of discussions are underway that will propel UMB to become a major player in the financial sector in Ghana and beyond.
Already, some banks have announced possible mergers and acquisitions in order to meet the minimum capital requirement. The CEO of UMB said mergers and acquisitions are a big part of ongoing discussions. He noted that the bank will explore every feasible opportunity and take the best decision in the interest of all stakeholders.
Impressive 2017 financial performance
UMB Bank has witnessed astronomical growth in its financial performance in recent years. “In 2016, we recorded over 100 percent profit growth over the preceding year, 2015. There was a far more significant improvement in the bank’s performance in 2017 when profit before tax was in excess of 150 percent over the previous year, 2016,” Mr. Awuah disclosed.
The CEO attributed the bank’s continued profit growth to its fast-increasing customer base and adoption of sound capital-management strategies. He affirmed that the bank’s operations are guided by apt board and management decisions, and by drawing on both local and international best banking practices. Among other things, this has improved the nonperforming loan ratio of the bank when compared with other players on the market, he declared.
According to John Awuah, “UMB is diversifying its portfolio to explore opportunities in different sectors and other banking areas”, adding that they are working hard to make UMB a financial brand that is here to stay and reinforce trust, security andresilience among its customer base.
He indicated that the bank’s profit margin is also likely to improve substantially this year because of the introduction of the UMB SpeedApp as well as significant operational efficiency processes, among other advances. “UMB has undergone tremendous transformation with regard to investments in technology, human resources, branding, forward-looking policy frameworks andbanking systems. All these have culminated in the massive profit we have recorded in the last two years and are turning out now in 2018,” he averred.
Mr. Awuah concluded that the bank was confident in meeting the Bank of Ghana’s minimum-capital requirement by the stipulated deadline of December 31, 2018. “We have been in this industry for 46 years now, and so we intend to be in business for the next 50 years and beyond.” He added that the bank will make an announcement long before the due date with respect to the recapitalization. Mr. Awuah finished by assuring the bank’s customers and the banking public that UMB is in a very secure position and is committed to continuing to create superior value and service for every customer.
UMB is a leading financial institution with headquarters in Accra, 36 branches located throughout Ghana, three UMB Centres for Businesses located in key market centresin Ghana, one UMB PPP Incubator Centre, a vast network of ATMs and exciting new products in development.
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