The 2016 and first quarter 2017 operating results of FirstBank Limited affirmed the bank’s number one position in terms of earnings. Managing Director/Chief Executive, First Bank Limited, Dr. Adesola Adedutan, in this interview discusses efforts to reposition the bank through digital banking and the state of the Nation's economic sector among other sundry issues.
The Nation's state of economy gives us an idea of how much value has moved out of our economy. That is why for me, there is this sense that we are finally doing what needs to be done. We must be able to feed ourselves as a nation. We have arable land, manpower, just imagine the number of people that studied agricultural related subjects; animal science, crop science, soil science etc. We need to make these things work together. A number of agricultural scheme are set up by the CBN, Bank of Industry, Bank of Agriculture and commercial banks. So the necessary capital is there. When we focus our attention on things like these, it would save us foreign exchange, create jobs, and ensure food security.
 
What is your outlook for the banking sector in 2017?
The banking sector is a sub-set of the economy, thus if the economy is challenged, the sector faces challenges, if the economy is growing, the banking sector grows. As I said, there is a general sense of optimism, thus, we expect the sector. Overall, I expect the sector to mirror the state of the economy. If the economy grows, the sector will grow as well, and vice versa.
From where I sit today, what we see is a general optimism across various segments. Also, if you notice what the CBN has done over the last five months, it has injected a significant amount of forex (foreign exchange) liquidity into the market to support the economic growth. So, when we say there is a general optimism that is where it is coming from.
 
Is the recent positive performance of the stock driven by this optimism or the good Q1 results posted by listed companies? Also is the positive performance sustainable over the rest of the year?
You have to situate the performance of the stock market with the overall economy. The stock market is a good barometer to measure the outlook. If the economy does well, it would. If the positive economic trend remains, thus, the subsequent quarter results remains positive, then it should impact positively on the stock market.
Don’t forget that what drives a stock market is not just the performance of the individual companies that are listed. There are other externalities that affect the performance. If you hold those externalities constant, then you will have a positive correlation.
 
The Vice president recently called on banks to support its economic recovery and growth plan, the ERGP. What roles can banks play in the implementation of the plan?
Banking sector is a significant part of the economy. With this kind of plan by the government, it is the responsibility of the banks to look at it and say, where can I function? I will give you a good example, Two to four years ago, the government decided to increase the level of participation of Nigerians in the oil sector, the banks stepped forward.
 
Banks like FirstBank step forward with our balance sheet to provide finance to emerging Nigeria oil and gas companies. Today, we have the likes of Seplat, Sahara Energy, Aiteo. That was a specific government initiative that the banks supported.
Also, years ago, when the government decided to privatize the power asset, the bulk of the finance was provided by Nigerian banks. So, Nigerian banks have actually never shied away from providing financial support for government initiatives once there is proper clarity.
It is our country.  The bigger the GDP, the bigger the opportunities available for banks to grow.  That is where the alignments are between what the government is doing and the opportunities available for us.
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