National Financial Credit Bank (NFC Bank) is one of the fastest-growing banks in Cameroon today. Through its motto “We make life easy”, the bank’s dedication to providing superior customer service is rapidly garnering many plaudits within the industry and is setting it apart from its industry peers.
Today, we are fortunate to be joined by the bank’s Head of Marketing & Communication, Mr Aelred Fokwen.
Mr Fokwen, thank you for joining us.
I’d like to start off by asking you about that motto. What does “we make life easy” mean to you personally, and do you have any examples of this mantra being successfully applied in recent times?
The bank’s mantra of “we make life easy” conjures up the NFC brand—products, services, business offices and the way we do things around here creates comfort, provides convenience and an enjoyable atmosphere for our clients (internal and external) as well as for all of our stakeholders. For example, there are no service barriers between our customers, subordinates and top management, and we encourage smart and lean processes that increase service delivery. We also integrate our key resources and processes in a way that it gives comfort and a customer experience that creates an enduring competitive advantage.
Your core values are Transparency, Resilience, Integrity, Modesty and Stewardship (TRIMS). How do you ensure that the entire bank is representing those values on a consistent basis?
To win, we focus on our mission and behaviour/values in all that we do. Our core values, which we have encapsulated as TRIMS, are critical in staff appraisals and on making tough decisions. We have effective speak-up procedures, including whistle-blowing channels through which employees are encouraged to report any wrongdoings and breaches of the bank’s core values.
To further elaborate on the compliance culture that reigns in NFC Bank and in line with the above, the local financial intelligence unit ANIF (National Agency for Financial Investigation) has successively within the last three years given us an excellent rating on compliance (second in the country, and by no means an easy feat). Due to our commitment to living our values, we are certain to have the same or a better rating at the end of this year and subsequently.
The bank is also an active member of the Business Coalition Against Corruption (BCAC), which is a strong private-sector initiative to combat bribery and corruption in all of its facets.
Yes, being rated second in the country is certainly a laudable effort, especially given the sharp rise in the number of new financial institutions in Cameroon’s banking sector in recent years. In addition to this excellent compliance rating, what separates NFC Bank from the increasingly intense competition?
The single distinguishing factor is a great customer experience which results from the unique way we integrate our key resources and processes to get the job done for our customers. NFC staff and customers interact in a way that gives a great feeling of genuine concern, warmness and trust to the clients, resulting in every client feeling satisfied and great, appreciated, important and at home in front of every NFC Bank staff and in any of our 14 branches that we call business units.
I have sometimes been amazed by the strong loyalty displayed by a cross-section of customers.
Those 14 branches must certainly help customers to access the bank’s wide range of products and services. Do you expect to continue expanding the number of branches significantly over the coming years?
Yes, we expect to continue expanding the number of our branches over the coming years to meet the needs and expectations of our current and potential customers, as well as to fulfil our vision of being a dominant banking player in the country and the sub-regions, providing reliable and comfortable solutions.
Going forward, we expect to mark our presence in the country’s 10 regions and reinforce our branch network in Douala. The West Region and the Kribi Port localities are areas of immediate interest.
Are there any locations within the country that you consider to be currently underserved by NFC Bank?
The northern regions are currently underserved by NFC Bank, and feasibility studies are at an advanced stage.
As we continue to ride the wave of positive public perception, NFC is poised to modulate her delivery to exceed stakeholder expectations and continue to “make life easy”.
I imagine the branch expansion will also help the bank to access the high numbers of unbanked and underbanked in Cameroon. As per my understanding, the bank’s Micro Save product is also designed to encourage such groups to have savings accounts in a commercial bank. How successful has the product been thus far in attracting these particular groups?
The idea behind the bank’s Micro Save product is that of financial inclusion. Cameroon has over 80 percent of its population either unbanked or underbanked. Within the last few years, we have had over 4,000 Micro Save accounts, which represent 0.02 percent of Cameroon’s population, thus reducing the level of the unbanked population by this figure, and there are hopes of improvement. We are very optimistic that with the introduction of our digital-banking products and services including mobile banking, the figure will grow at a geometric rate.
Ah yes, digital banking—it seems as though technology is playing an increasingly crucial role in boosting customer-service standards for banks all over the world. How is NFC Bank responding to this current technology boom? Are there any specific tech products (for example, mobile or online banking) the bank has introduced recently that you would like to mention?
The bank has a flexible IT banking platform that is capable of interfacing with any fintech solution. The bank has ATMs, cards and SMS available to customers, and its cards can be used on the ATMs of other banks within Cameroon and the CEMAC sub-region (CEMAC is the Central African Economic and Monetary Community).
In the weeks ahead, NFC Bank will roll out its mobile-banking and Internet-banking solutions. The bank is finalizing studies for possible introduction of Visa and MasterCard to continue exceeding its customers’ expectations as well as increasing its portfolio base.
Worthy to note is that NFC Bank was the first fully compliant bank amongst the three pilot banks selected in the Central African sub-region to test the interoperability of ATM cards engineered by the Interbank Electronic Banking Group of Central Africa known under the French acronym GIMAC and under the auspices of the Bank of Central African States (BEAC).
You mentioned fintechs there. How buoyant is the fintech sector in Cameroon?
As of this date, the fintech sector in Cameroon is not very buoyant. However, in the next three to five years, we should expect an acceleration due to the introduction of the 4G technology in the telecommunication industry, increasing the number of Internet users and smartphones. Most corporate customers request their bankers to provide online banking products to facilitate their activities.
Are there any opportunities for NFC Bank to collaborate with fintech companies to provide the latest, most innovative products to customers?
NFC Bank is in the process of unveiling enhanced mobile and Internet services in the weeks ahead, but we are still open to partnering with fintech companies in order to provide more robust and innovative fintech products and services.
I expect having a high quality of human capital must also help in delivering the best service to customers. How would you rate the bank’s Human Resources division, and in what ways does it ensure that the bank retains it best staff for the long-term?
The bank’s Human Resources division is doing a great job, with constant improvements by the day.
We lay emphasis on human-capital development. Over 50 percent of the current staff strength is engaged in personal development with assistance (morally and financially) from the HR division. Much in-house and outsourced training is rolled out yearly in every department of the bank. These constant developments and upgrading of our people, coupled with management’s deliberate efforts to celebrate every win and success, motivates our people and drives retention.
Also, the bank has a tuition-reimbursement policy for staff who pursue personal development in any field related to his or her career development in the bank and five examination leave days per annum (payable) exclusive of other leaves to permit staff to sit for exams.
The bank has an effective performance-appraisal system that identifies, encourages, recognizes and rewards high performers and also accompanies low performers through a remedial procedure.
The bank has a medical health-insurance policy that covers 80 to 100 percent of each staff’s health expenses, including leaves abroad. This is supported by an occupational-health doctor who consults all workers personally, advises on hygiene and safety measures, sensitizes workers and follows up on them.
The bank has an open-door policy where employees can present their problems up to the highest level while respecting the hierarchy.
This explains the reason why for the years 2015 and 2016, voluntary staff turnover remained at zero (0) percent, and NFC Bank was nominated by the syndicate as one of the best banks in Cameroon in 2016, with an excellent social working climate.
I’d like to now turn to your own experiences, Mr Fokwen, if I may. If I’m not mistaken, you have been with NFC Bank since 2012. During those five years, what are some of the main ways in which the bank has changed?
Yes, I have been in NFC Bank since late 2012 and am pleased to register some notable milestones:
- Positive customer experience—The customer experience has evolved positively with the introduction of a different sort of customer service and training of our frontline human resources. Turnaround time has been drastically reduced, thereby increasing customer satisfaction. We integrate our key resources and processes in a unique way to get the job done satisfactorily to all stakeholders especially our clients. These have led to a wonderful and unique customer experience and created an enduring competitive advantage.
- Online, real-time transactions—The bank has migrated from semi-manual processing to online, real-time processing with the effective implementation of a modern banking solution (Flexcube).
- More competition and bigger challenges—New entrants have come into the market as well as the provision of banking services by other financial institutions and service providers. For example, telecommunications providers are now active in the money-transfer business, and insurance companies now issue various bank bonds and guarantees to bank customers. With these changes in the sector, NFC Bank is now more flexible and proactive to positively face increasing competitive demands.
- Improved teamwork, people happiness and business growth—Trust has been built through transparency, candour and credit. This together with constant development and upgrading of our people competencies through regular training sessions, our focus on the mission and behaviour needed for NFC to win, competitive products and services, the positive energy and enthusiasm managers bring to work daily, celebrations and rewards have resulted in people happiness, greater productivity, profitability and growth. A significant portion of the achievement can be attributed to the change of mind-set that we have embedded into our culture.
I imagine your role within the bank must have also evolved in response to those changes, then?
Yes, my role has evolved much in response to those changes. First, to be able to assist my team drive those changes, I have had to school myself and undergo much leadership and retail-banking training and several workshops on service delivery and innovation.
As a banking leader, if there was one important piece of advice you could give to a student looking to forge a career in the banking industry, what would it be?
To forge a successful career in the banking industry, he/she needs to go beyond a sound knowledge in banking, finance, economics, marketing and effective business communication to demonstrate integrity, confidentiality, responsibility and sound interpersonal skills. Banking is a respected and respectable profession.