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UBA, the past 75 years, and the important factors for the next 75

Before the licensing of some banks a few years ago, commercial banks in Nigeria were sharply divided into two, by the media – the old-generation and new-generation banks. Of all the banks, the United Bank for Africa (UBA) Plc was one that, at a point in its life, was difficult profile, and most of the time depended on how the reporter wanted to frame his story.

This difficulty is traceable to the merger in 2005 between Standard Trust Bank and the old UBA Plc, which infused new-generation banking blood and orientation into the old body, thus creating a hybrid that did not lend to easy classification between the two hitherto existing stereotypes.

But for First Bank and to some extent, WEMA Bank, the old-generation banks appear to have been interred. Union Bank may still be there if the Central Bank rescue operation that knocked off Titan Trust Bank which recently acquired. If not for this the number would have been two, but unlike UBA which transmogrified from a languid old vehicle to spritely youthfulness, retaining much of its brand identity, Union Bank almost became an item of historical reference that could have been buried inside the hardbound books of the “almost new owners.”.

Today, UBA is 75 years old. In the highly deciduous Nigerian financial services industry, 75 years is a long time. The average life expectancy in the industry is below 15 years, meaning UBA deserves all the drums it said would be rolled out for a year-long celebration of a milestone only one or two in the industry could boast of.

Even before the announcement by Tolu Alero Ladipo, the bank’s Head of Marketing and Corporate Communication, that the celebration was going to be a year-long series of events, the number of journalists invited for the press briefing had earlier suggested the anniversary was not going to be a conservative one. Men and women of the pen were flown in from some of the African countries where the bank operated while others joined in the live-streaming.

The Group Managing Director, Oliver Alawuba, serenaded the audience with what the bank has achieved since it was established in 1949, highlighting the major firsts scored over the years. These included, UBA was the first bank in Nigeria to offer an Initial Public Offering (IPO), first in Nigeria banking industry to be listed on the Nigerian Stock Exchange (NSE), The first to install ATMs, the first to open a subsidiary in Africa, first to have a female Board Chairperson, among several others

Alawuba spoke of its footprints across Africa where he said the bank employs over 25,000 Staff, has logged more than 35 million customers served through more than 1,000 branches across the continent and beyond.

“Amidst economic challenges and market dynamics, UBA has demonstrated remarkable financial strength and resilience. Our splendid performance, especially within the last year, is a testament to our robust fundamentals and sound strategic decisions, The GMD said.

Days after this proclamation, the shareholders endorsed the management for a strong performance that saw the financial institution record an unprecedented profit after tax of N680 billion for the 2023 business year. Given the showing in the first quarter during which the bank posted N142 billion in profits (after tax), everyone will believe Alawuba, who during his speech at the conference, claimed the bank has ticked all the good boxes of shareholder value.

Where Alawuba failed in his bragging rights recitations, journalists filled in for him, reminding him of, “THE WISE CHOICE,” the old tagline of the bank and the advert that helped reinforce it.

The style and form of the current logo may have delivered a great bank, but might not sustainably appeal to the future generations who want pace, are nonconformers, and attuned to the disruptiveness of technology.

Many will agree that in addition to the blood and energy of Standard Trust Bank, this proposition and enabling campaigns constituted the adrenalin that fired the bank’s growth, especially from the 1980s. The mention of this riveting proposition and its campaign excited nearly everyone in the hall who was old enough to recall when the airwaves were filled with the advert. People murmured and even voiced their nostalgia for those days before the bank became Africa’s Global Bank.

I guess Alawuba was caught in the nostalgia. To win the admiration of those afflicted with this contagious nostalgia and cast his net for those of later generations, he went into an impromptu sermon whose mission was to link the past with the present and most certainly, the future.

“We believe in innovation, and I can tell you that we are a customer-focused bank. Without our customers, we wouldn’t have a job. I can tell you that we have retained most of our customers from the early days. Today, we have more than 35 million customers. Many of these customers are the children of our past customers and I can assure you that this bank will be here as the bank of choice for the children of the present crop of customers.”

What the GMD said here connects with the bank’s mission statement of being the “role model for African businesses by creating superior value for all our stakeholders, abiding by the utmost professional and ethical standards, and by building an enduring institution.” Thinking of how to remain the bank of choice for both present and future generations have to be the only way to build an enduring institution.

The future beckons

Before the Group Managing Director spoke on the day, it was the call of the Deputy Managing Director, Muyiwa Akinyemi to welcome the guests, and in his speech, he talked up the bank’s “forward-thinking” DNA.

Hear him: “We are committed to offering value that enhances the experiences of our customers while solidifying our position as a forward-thinking institution.”

Right from the gates to the various departments at the Marina Lagos headquarters of the bank, a keen observer would notice certain intangible and subtle things that indicate readiness for this future. For someone like me who had worked in the bank before, these soft changes screamed loudest from the appearances of a number of employees.

Banks generally have a culture of conservatism, that is reflected in the dark and grey suits and close-cropped hair of nearly all the employees. But it was easy to notice that some of the employees, especially the young ones, were strutting the corridors of the bank looking “unbanker-ish.” While there were a few of them with flourishing dreadlocks dropping far below the shoulders, others wore luxuriant afro hairstyles the size of thickets. You did not see young bankers turn out like this in the past, and it seems UBA has quietly loosened up to accommodate the Millennials and Gen Zs whose anti-status quo attitudes might be driving the change.

Subtle as this might be, it is indicative of the space and freedom allowed for the present and future generations, and this is why marketing and brand positioning experts would advise even more enhancements of the look and feel of this brand to launch into the post-75 era.

One important area for serious re-evaluation is the institution’s logo. At its merger with Standard Trust Bank in 2005, there was a creative logo fusion that saw the inclusion of the mustard seeds on the logo of STB with the lettering of UBA. Although the fonts used for the logo of STB was retained, the name of UBA stood out as a pointer to the rich history of the bank.

Coursing backward into history, one would agree that this logo has served its purpose and would need some infusions that would appeal a lot more to the generation that the bank says represents the customers of the future. The people in this generation are smart, rebellious, and rebel against traditions and stereotypes. They are asymmetrical in thinking and lock up when shoved into conventional behavioural patterns and templates.

The style and form of the current logo may have delivered a great bank, but might not sustainably appeal to the future generations who want pace, are nonconformers, and attuned to the disruptiveness of technology.

This is pure gut feeling, but I strongly believe research will validate this position.

Closely connected to this is the pay-off of the bank. While many of my colleagues in the media regurgitated the old proposition of the bank, I spent time contemplating the relevance of the current one, especially to the future of the bank.

I recall that Africa’s global bank as a proposition emerged from the continental strategy of the brand and the inspiring mission to become a role model for businesses on the continent. Many also suspected that it was also an adaptation of “The world’s local bank, used by HSBC.

Launched in 2002, HSBC wanted to create a brand with meaning and value that would help establish a strong global identity and image. The World’s Local Bank, according to Incorporated Royal Charter, a United Kingdom agency advisory organisation, was “a brand idea born from a belief in embracing the variety and richness of culture in the world. It was launched as a marriage of brand, marketing, and business strategy. It created unity out of global diversity, and inspired multiple marketing campaigns around the world.”

This campaign worked for HSBC. Reports indicate that an estimated incremental growth of $69.87bn was generated between 2002 and 2008, helping the bank to weather a recession.

But HSBC has since 2016 shifted from this proposition and would rather be seen as the bank known for “Opening up a world of opportunity.”

The change in strapline by HNBC was informed by the realization that it was not the world’s local bank in the real sense. As for UBA, Africa’s Global Bank as a strapline, has delivered on its promises. It has created a UBA that is Africa-wide and which looks like it was the initial purpose.

In the minds of the present and emerging generations, Africa’s Global Bank, for those that follow the global banking ecosystem, has always looked like it was inspired by HSBC’s The World’s Local Bank. It will also be difficult for this generation with their individuality and global citizenship, to understand what the purpose for them is, and what being the continent’s global bank is in a world where technology and travel have made nearly everybody a global citizen.

The quest for a new and relevant logo ID and a strapline that appeals to and speaks to this generation has to start during the reflective moments of this anniversary if the journey into the future is envisaged to be as auriferous as that to the present.


Ikem Okuhu is a journalist, a Public Relations professional, brand strategist and teacher. With a career that traversed Print Media, Oil & Gas, Banking and entrepreneurship, Ikem is the author of wave-making book; PITCH: Debunking Marketing’s Strongest Myths, a dispassionate exposition of the dos and don’ts of successful engagement in the marketplace, especially the Nigerian marketplace. He is the founder/publisher of BRANDish, Nigeria’s first nationally circulating Brands and Marketing magazine. He has also handled the PR and reputation management consultancies for a number of brands, businesses and public figures.

  • Uche Okafor

    Happy 75th anniversary to UBA. They’ve come a long way, conquering the upheavals in the banking sector and are still prevailing. Congratulations to them.

    June 13, 2024 at 12:40 am Reply

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