Republic Bank Ghana has been operating since the early 1990s, when it started as a private limited liability company providing mortgage financing under the name HFC Bank (Ghana) Limited. A decade later, in 2003, the Bank of Ghana granted HFC Bank a universal banking license. Then, in 2015, HFC Bank became a subsidiary of Republic Financial Holdings Limited, the leading bank in the Caribbean, headquartered in Trinidad and Tobago. Three years later, HFC Bank was officially rebranded as Republic Bank Ghana. Despite being a universal bank, Republic Bank’s special area of expertise continues to be mortgage financing, which it today delivers through both traditional and omnichannel digital solutions.
During its initial 30 years in operation, Republic (HFC) Bank became renowned for its many firsts: establishing the earliest collective investment scheme in the country, introducing corporate bonds on the Ghana Stock Exchange and helping to launch the Public Sector Employees’ Housing Scheme, to name a few. The bank’s mission to provide personalized, efficient and competitively priced financial services and to implement sound policies that will benefit customers, staff and shareholders and the communities it serves has been realized in the many innovations the bank has introduced to reach all Ghanaians, even those who have been traditionally unbanked or underbanked, with the latest financial technologies. Republic Bank Ghana’s reach extends beyond Ghana into its neighboring West African countries, where it has struck mutually beneficial financial partnerships; Republic Bank has been instrumental in helping its neighbors foster their own mortgage financing.
Republic Bank’s staff adhere closely to the bank’s stated values—integrity, customer focus, respect for the individual, professionalism and results orientation. Consequently, the bank’s profits and popularity continue to grow.
International Banker recently interviewed the bank’s managing director, Mr. Benjamin Dzoboku, who described how especially the bank’s digital initiatives are making all the difference in enabling Republic Bank to extend its financial outreach to the communities it serves.
Mr. Dzoboku, thank you for your time today….
What is Republic Bank’s most significant challenge over the next 12 to 18 months? How do you intend to accomplish it?
We see the challenge here as a positive one to attain, not a hindrance or limiting factor. We want to become a Tier 1 bank within the next three years, playing critical roles in driving economic growth and furthering business empowerment through digitization. So, it is a question of how we get there and what we need to do within the next few years to accomplish it. This is why we have ranked excellent customer service, digitization and operational efficiency as critical in our three-year strategic plan to ensure the attainment of our strategic objectives. Over the past few months, we have made significant progress introducing the first omnichannel, digital financial-solutions platform in Ghana that serves a mobile, web and branch experience, giving the bank a 360-degree view of the customers’ activity across products. The products—RepublicMobile App, RepublicOnline, RepublicUSSD and recently the launch of four fantastic VISA credit cards—are necessary tools to help boost business growth in today’s technological world. Banking is now digital, and we are joining this space with the full might of the Republic brand. Therefore, the challenge is how we increase the pace and our market share. The good thing is we have other products and services in the pipeline to be launched over the next 12 to 18 months to enhance the banking experiences of our various customer segments.
Many would agree that the bulk of Republic Bank Ghana’s success as a financial institution has been tied to its leading position in home lending in the country. In what key ways has the bank’s mortgage business consistently outperformed its local banking peers?
Our consistent innovation has been the key to maintaining our dominance over the mortgage industry. As a pioneer, we are obsessed with providing Ghanaians home and abroad incredible mortgage processes through our expertise, knowledge and quick response time to make their homeownership journeys effortless and affordable. Over the years, we have offered attractive value propositions to aid our diverse customer segments. The bank recently launched two additional repayment options along with the existing ones. The bi-weekly and semi-monthly repayment options have been designed to significantly reduce the interest costs on customer mortgages by up to 40 percent whilst reducing the number of repayment years. We are also about to launch our innovative Pension Backed Mortgage, making mortgage acquisitions easier for many Ghanaians as they plan toward retirement.
What has been the bank’s biggest challenge during the last couple of years of the COVID-19 pandemic? And specifically, what were some of the key measures the bank took to ensure seamless business continuity during this period?
The biggest challenge we faced during the pandemic was balancing the bank’s profitability with the well-being of our staff and customers, who were incredibly hit. Though the bank remained resolute at the time in ensuring that our nonperforming-loan levels did not rise excessively, the economic situation was quite unfavourable to our staff and customers. To help ease this burden, the bank, after many deliberations, took a bold step to be the first bank in Ghana to introduce a loan-moratorium offer as well as waive off fees on some digital-banking services, and the response was overwhelming. As part of business-continuity measures, the bank implemented a 50/50 staff-rotation system where some staff worked from home, and others worked from the bank’s premises. That notwithstanding, staff were paid a one-time allowance during the period to support them during the lockdown. Management also put in place measures to ensure staff could be vaccinated when the vaccines were available.
The bank’s mobile app, RepublicMobile Ghana, represents an omnichannel platform that houses all of the group’s business segments. How successful has the app been with customers to date?
Banking was becoming digitally and technologically driven even before the global pandemic. The pandemic instead put the digitization agenda within the financial-services space into a hyperactive drive. All available data shows that mass adoption will only continue. We realized that excellent customer service and technology were the only ways to go if we wanted to help people, especially our customers across the group, to boost their personal and business efficiencies, and digital transactions and internet-banking tools were critical to improving efficiencies within the banking and payment ecosystems. These create more transparent and clear systems with strong controls but are also an immense opportunity for individuals and businesses to grow and reach other markets.
Thus, our resolve is to provide an omnichannel digital platform called the Republic Digital Banking Suite. It offers a bundle of products—RepublicMobileGhana (mobile app), RepublicOnline (internet banking) and RepublicUSSD. These platforms integrate the various products and services of the group in one location to offer customers the ease of moving funds from one platform to the other whilst still getting cashback rewards, speed, convenience and seamless banking experiences. This wide range of functionality has offered ease to customers across the Republic Bank Ghana Group, including the Investments and Microfinance subsidiaries. The app also provides bancassurance products—namely, EduPlan (an insurance policy for a child’s education), NextGen (a policy for unforeseen circumstances like death or permanent disabilities) and Final Rest (a funeral policy if you lose a loved one).
The bank launched credit cards during the first quarter. How has the rollout of this product gone so far? And what are some of its most attractive features
The bank launched four fantastic credit cards, and the response has been positive. For the first time in Ghana, Republic Bank launched a VISA Business Credit Card to allow corporate entities to effectively manage and monitor their businesses and other corporate travel expenses. It also provides SMEs (small and medium-sized enterprises) with an immediate source of working capital to grow and expand their businesses. The bank’s credit cards target the elite in society. However, Republic Bank has demystified this notion by making the cards available to many salaried workers and entrepreneurs whose incomes exceed GHS 1,500 (equivalent to USD$200). Aside from meeting customers’ needs, the cards—Republic VISA Infinite, Republic VISA Business, Republic VISA Adeshie (Royalty) and Republic VISA Classic Credit Cards—offer up to 45 days of the interest-free payment cycle, insurance, access to over 1,200 airports worldwide and cashback rewards. We continuously add more partners to ensure our customers get the best from our credit cards.
What innovations has the bank employed within its investment-banking division? Do customers have the ability to access financial markets and investing services from their smart devices?
Our investment-banking division (Republic Investments) has four collective investment schemes, which target different investor groups based on their risk appetites and investment horizons. Our four investment-banking products are fully integrated into our RepublicMobile App, enabling customers to access them using smart devices.
Republic Investments recently launched its innovative Republic Wealth Trust, a fixed-income-focused collective investment scheme that provides investors with long-term fixed-income investment portfolios. It aims to provide returns in the form of income by investing in fixed deposits, corporate bonds, local and municipal bonds, Government of Ghana securities and liquid funds. The key differentiator is the discipline to have a long-term focus for investments to build enough capital for various needs while investing at your convenience and pace. Individuals, corporates and SMEs can access it.
We are also excited about the addition of Republic Trust to Republic Bank Ghana Group. Republic Trust is our new trustee business with added retirement-savings products, offering various services to help Ghanaians plan for their future.
The bank’s 2021 Annual Report identifies one of its “ground-breaking products and initiatives” as the establishment of Republic Trust Limited Company. Can you briefly explain the purpose of this company, as well as the significance of its creation?
Republic Trust Limited Company is a Republic Bank subsidiary formed to manage Ghana’s pension funds. The creation of this company means Republic Bank Ghana Group is now a holistic financial intermediary, uniquely positioned in Ghana as the most diversified financial institution. As a corporate-trustee business, it offers retirement-savings products in work-based pensions, personal pensions, tax-incentive savings and retirement planning. The bank is excited about its creation to help Ghanaians boost their savings and investment options for a comfortable retirement.
What are some of the most significant recent strides the bank has taken to promote financial inclusion throughout Ghana? And concerning financial inclusion, are you satisfied with the bank’s microfinance offerings?
Republic Bank’s subsidiary Republic “Boafo” (meaning “helper” in the Akan language) focuses on the economy’s informal sector, providing financial products and services that cater to their needs, from micro-loans to savings products for individuals and groups. Ghana has done considerably well in promoting financial inclusion through the introduction of Mobile Money, primarily managed by the telecommunication industries and regulated by the Bank of Ghana. Taking a cue from this gross development to promote financial inclusion and bring banking services to the doorsteps of customers and the unbanked, the bank launched its digital suite to cater to especially those customers who had cell phones yet could not reach physical bank branches, which remained far away from them. Particularly for our microfinance customers, the POS (point-of-sale) machines, RepublicUSSD and Mobile Money feature on the bank’s app have been some of the critical channels they have used to participate in the financial market.
The bank will soon launch its Pesewa Susu product, in partnership with the telecommunications giant MTN, to encourage and rope in the unbanked, irrespective of status, to save for their future whilst participating in the Ghanaian financial ecosystem.
Though our microfinance division’s current product and service offerings meet customers’ needs, we are constantly engaging to ensure we meet those needs.
Are you satisfied with the bank’s employee-training facilities, given the rapidly evolving digital landscape of banking? What are some key ways you ensure your staff remain on top of the latest innovations within the bank and throughout the industry?
Employee training, development and engagement is a fundamental tenet of the bank’s vision. The bank sees human-capital development as a crucial role in its growth. As a result, the bank offers periodic training to its staff through the Republic Online Learning Academy. The bank also conducts staff education anytime a new product is rolled out. We also encourage staff to stay abreast with new and exciting innovations in the banking space, locally and internationally.
How significantly does the environment affect the bank’s business decisions and overall strategy? And what are some of the key, specific measures the bank has taken to reduce its environmental footprint in recent years?
The bank considers environmental, social and governance (ESG) practices as part of its sustainable-finance consideration and is a signatory to implementing the ESG principles and practices launched by the Bank of Ghana and the Ghana Association of Banks.
Our parent company, Republic Financial Holdings Limited (RFHL), signed onto the Principles of Responsible Banking, thus aligning its CSR with the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Being a subsidiary of Republic Bank, Ghana aligned its CSR to Good Health and Well-Being (SDG 3), Quality Education (SDG 4), Clean Water and Sanitation (SDG 6) and Climate Action (SDG 13) as part of its strategic focus for the next three years.
Some of the key measures the bank has taken to reduce its environmental footprint include adopting the African Union Square for greening and beautification as well as planting over 2,000 trees across the country.
Much of your commitment to corporate social responsibility (CSR) seems to involve boosting educational facilities among local communities. Would you mind expanding on one or two of these initiatives? And how successful have such initiatives been to date?
CSR remains an integral part of the bank’s business and a part of our DNA. The bank recognizes that whilst ensuring sustainable growth and shareholder-value maximization, its role as a responsible corporate citizen is equally important in creating ownership advantages and fostering development in the communities within which we operate to the benefit of Ghanaians. Under our corporate-social-responsibility arm, “Power to Make a Difference”, we have supported various educational institutions, including the construction of an ultramodern six-classroom school block in Berase, Cape Coast—commissioning a fully functional computer laboratory with computers, flat-screen television and printers to aid the technological learning skills of pupils. Support was also given to the Koforidua Technical University to construct a health facility to serve the university community and scholarships to bright but needy children through the National Partnership for Children’s Trust initiative.
It’s certainly clear that Republic Bank Ghana is making extraordinary contributions to the communities it serves. Mr. Dzoboku, we appreciate your speaking with us today.