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Report Raises Concerns over Health of Nigerian Banks

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A number of banks in Nigeria are living on borrowed time as they struggle to recover sticky assets and pare down their loan loss provisions, according to Business Hallmark.

 

The report said that the banks are buried in a heap of poor quality loan assets in the guise of high none performing loans (NPL’s) and that all may not be as well with the banks as the domestic regulator, Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), would have many believe.

 

Indeed, recently the international credit rating agency, Fitch, marked a down grade in the credit ratings of virtually all Nigerian banks as the agency pointed to the worsening condition of their credits.

 

Within the year Fitch’s analysts downgraded the outlook for four Nigerian banks from stable to negative; the banks were Zenith Bank, GT Bank, First Bank and Diamond Bank.

 

The problems with the banks downgraded were attributed to, ‘heightened vulnerability of capital due to downside asset quality risks’ which in simpler terms meant that these banks were finding it increasingly difficult to get back the monies that they lent to customers.

 

Third quarter 2017 results for nearly all the banks have been dyed in rose colour. Nine months’ results for the banks have shown profit figures glide up as the economy edges out of recession. But how real are the numbers?

 

Truth be told with discussions with a fair number of bankers who did not want their names put in print, the profit tally for most of the banks, ‘where beautiful Picasso replicas, as brilliant as they were; they were all fake’ said a senior manager of one of the banks with headquarters in Victoria Island, Lagos.

 

The banker insisted that, ‘you cannot make omelets without breaking eggs, with interest rates at double  digits and manufacturers rolling in escalating debt as retailers groan in agony, how the heck does a bank make money with customers hung over a barrel?’, he asked pensively.

 

When it was pointed out that banks had stopped granting credit and had actually become more comfortable simply buying treasury instruments at double digit yields he agreed but noted that, ‘banks may have been able to turn a trick or two by buying treasuries over the last two years, but that is not core retail banking; it is more of an investment banking function and it still does not address the problem of proper loan loss charges against risk assets that have already been created.’

 

In other words most banks have made inadequate provisions for loan impairments or bad credits and have simply engaged in a number of clever accounting rouses to restructure bad loans to make them appear hale and perhaps hearty.

It is obviously difficult to establish how bad Nigerian commercial bank loan portfolios precisely are, especially as even the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), the sector’s chief regulator, and the Nigerian Deposit Insurance Company (NDIC) often get caught on the wrong foot as bank examiners serially underestimate impairment charges required by banks to cover their deteriorating loan assets.

 

This has led to independent observers classifying bank loans as a mixture of financial fact, fiction and something one analyst recently called ‘faction’, a grey area between reality and outright falsehood.

 

Peering through reams of recently published financial data is not likely to shed very much light on the warm matter of bank assets and capital adequacy.

 

The problem of poor bank loan books is not just that of the smart reclassification of bank loans by managers form non-performing to performing but also the accounting convention of using historical valuation of bank assets rather than adjustment of the assets on the books by marking to market which means that if interest rates go up the value of banks assets simultaneously go down and vice versa.

 

It would also mean that the increasing riskiness of bank loans when interest rates rise would be better captured on bank books when loan quality is measured as weaker when rates go up; in other words as interest rates go up bank loan quality comes down.

 

As lending rates have hovered between 25 and 28 per cent over the last two years, bank asset quality has taken a turn for the worse.

 

The CBN estimates that delinquent loans as a proportion of loans outstanding on average industry wide is about 12 per cent as against the regulatory rate of 5 per cent. But even the twelve per cent claim is disputable.

 

Investigations suggest a more accurate rate of double that number putting real average loan impairment ratio closer to 25 per cent or a quarter of all loans outstanding.  This clearly indicates that banks would have to recapitalize operations to reduce leverage (debt to equity ratio) and build greater strength in balance sheets.

 

In a telephone conversion with Business Hallmark, Chidi Ajaegbu, former President Institute of Chartered Accountants of Nigeria (ICAN), noted that the challenge of bank credit assets and their current levels of equity was not dire enough to cause major worry, ‘I don’t think we have an immediate systemic problem but something must be done to ensure that we do not slide into systemic distress’. He was of the opinion that banks may need to raise their capital base in 2018 by either rights issue or Initial Public Offers (IPO’s).

 

Also commenting on the issue, Dr. Afolabi Olowokere of Financial Derivatives Company Limited (FDC) said it is a known fact that the relatively low capital base of banks could constitute a serious problem for such institutions anywhere in the world. ‘It is normal that the capitalisation of banks will be eroded at a time like this if you consider the huge non-performing loans which they have to provide for. I hope the banks do not suffer any shocks because they have links with one another, poor management of one could set off a contagion that hurts all’’, he said.

 

In his own observations Dr. Adi Bongo, economist and faculty member, Lagos Business School was of the view that the recent Fitch downgrades of local bank was a fallout of the poor macroeconomic management that started last year, adding that the banking industry suffered huge capital flight as portfolio investments that were plugged into banks during the consolidation period, began to pull out on concerns over macroeconomic direction.

 

He further explained that, ‘Nigeria has been performing poorly in capital importation. As money began to leave the system, banks where many portfolio investors had plunked capital, started having liquidity challenges.’ Noting that, ‘…because of the state of the economy, non-performing loans in banks have increased geometrically. The combination of these two issues has caused banks to face serious challenges, except those that have strong equity bases.’

 

With calls for bank assets to be marked to market or at least made compliant with International Accounting Standards Board’s (IASB’s) IFRS 9 rules, the days of bankers running rings around regulators in regards to the quality of their balance sheets is slowly fading into distant memory or at least that is the hope

 

 

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So since 2007, we have devoted our energy to independent reportage of technology and how they affect lives.

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E-Financial

NIBSS, PFS Launch National Automated Cheque Clearing System

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Dr. Yele Okeremi, Managing Director of PFS,

Nigeria Inter-Bank Settlement System (NIBSS) and Precise Financial Systems (PFS) have collaborated to unveil a new National Automated Clearing System (NACS), which allows all the Deposit Money Banks in the country to clear cheques within hours.

 

The banks have been test-running the infrastructure for 11 weeks ago and a total of N5 trillion  worth of cheques from 10 million transactions has been processed through the new platform.

 

At the post go-live session in Lagos with representatives of the banks, Mr. Ade Shonubi, managing director of NIBSS, explained that the institution had been on the project for over 18 months. He added that the infrastructure would allow all the banks to achieve several payment and non-payment transactions.

 

NIBSS’ boss said that as at today there are four clearing sessions. According to him, the advantage of having multiple clearing sessions was that the net amount against each bank is smaller so that risks are managed.

 

“With the new system, a cheque can be cleared within six hours, four hour or at whatever duration we agree”, he said.

 

Dr. Yele Okeremi, Managing Director of PFS, the software firm behind NACS, at the session said the process of clearing cheques in all Nigerian banks has been simplified with the launch of NACS and that the successful completion of the project has the door for more Nigerian firms to take on more national challenges.

 

Okeremi commended the collaborative effort that exists between NIBSS and PFS, saying that the partnership has given birth to the new system that “allows bank customers to experience the benefits of shorter cheque clearing cycles, as it reduces operational cost of the banks because the clearing departments of the bank can work smarter and close earlier”.

 

Mr. Kolawole Aminu, Head, Domestic Payments and Collections, Union Bank,  described the new platform as user-friendly.

 

He added that “over N5 trillion that has been processed on the new platform just within 11 weeks. We are talking of over 10 million in terms of the volume of cheques. That tells you how much we do with this mode of payment.”

 

 

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ATM Cash Withdrawal Volume Reach 107 Billion in 2016

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In 2016, the number of cash withdrawals at ATMs worldwide was 107 billion, a 6 percent increase over 2015.

And though the total number of withdrawals is declining in some developed markets, the value of the cash withdrawn is increasing as consumers choose fewer, higher-value transactions, according to Global ATM Market and Forecasts to 2022, a report from the research and consultancy firm RBR.

According to the report, not only are ATM withdrawal volumes and values on the rise in most markets, but also real-time cash deposits.

By the end of 2016, the number of ATMs that could be used to automatically deposit banknotes reached 1.1 million, or 34 percent of the global ATM total, RBR said in a press release.

By connecting additional facilities to the deposit module, deployers often enable customers to settle bills, transfer money, or pay for other goods and services with the deposited cash.

And just as the rise in ATM popularity meant that banks could rationalise their branch networks and redeploy staff to higher-value positions, automated deposit ATMs mean that they can continue to move staff members to other roles, such as sales.

For the customer, these ATMs mean that they can deposit their banknotes at more times of the day and in more locations, for greater convenience.

Recycling ATMs — automated deposit ATMs that also dispense the deposited banknotes — are growing in number. At the end of 2016, more than 670,000 ATMs at the end of 2016 were recyclers, up from 360,000 in 2012, RBR said.

In addition to staff redeployment or rationalisation, these machines also allow banks and independent ATM deployers to reduce their cash-in-transit costs, since fewer CIT visits may be required.

“Banks are improving the functionality of their ATMs so that more transactions can be migrated from the branch counter to self-service, freeing up staff to undertake sales and advisory tasks. Furthermore, they are increasingly rationalizing their branch networks and using ATMs to offer a wide range of services in areas that do not justify the presence of a traditional outlet,” said Rowan Berridge, research leader for the report.

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CBN Licenses Inlaks as Super-agent for Financial Inclusion

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The Central Bank of Nigeria, CBN, has granted an approval-in-principle to Inlaks, a financial technology company, to drive its financial inclusion and the cashless initiative agenda. Inlaks will operate as a super-agent in the nation’s financial services system.

Inlaks, a system integrator in Nigeria and Sub-saharan Africa will work very closely with the CBN and all partners to reach the underserved population as well as the financially excluded.

The aim is to ensure that informal workers in Nigeria have access to affordable financial services through its agent network which will address social challenges in key areas such as health insurance, credit accessibility, savings, wage payments, among others.

To launch the service, Inlaks will leverage the Nigerian Inter-Bank Settlement System, NIBSS, switching infrastructure to enable inter-scheme Cash-In-Cash-Out, CICO, at all its agent locations as approved under the CBN regulatory framework.

The Inlaks’ super-agency platform therefore shall be enabled to communicate with all its agents and shall also have visibility of its agents’ transactions through integration with NIBSS, according the CBN framework.

As stated in the framework, “Super-agents’ in Nigeria shall be responsible for the management and monitoring of the activities of their agents only, and shall not hold electronic money value and would also have information on the volume and value of transactions carried out for each type of service by each agent.”

The framework also states that the volume and value of transactions should be made available to the principal to monitor effective compliance with set limits and establish other prudential measures in each case. Measures such as onsite visits will be carried out to ensure that agents operate strictly within the requirements of the law, guidelines and the contract.

Femi Adeoti, managing director, Inlaks, while commending the CBN for granting it the license also highlighted the fact that the licence would deliver numerous gains to the Nigerian economy by enhancing financial access, financial inclusion, sustainability and growth of the small and medium scale enterprises.

Also as part of its efforts to reach the underserved, Adeoti said Inlaks would partner CBN to deploy a unified information technology platform for about 1000 Microfinance Banks in Nigeria. “The landmark project which is ongoing will be implemented under the auspices of the National Association of Microfinance Banks, NAMB,” he said.

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