First Bank of Nigeria Limited (FBN) is the latest Nigerian lender to set up camp in Sierra Leone. Over the last decade, more than five Nigerian lenders (Guaranty Trust Bank, Zenith Bank, Skye Bank, Access Bank and United Bank for Africa) have launched businesses in Sierra Leone.
Sierra Leone lacks solid local participation in the banking industry. More than 70 percent of Sierra Leone’s commercial banking sector is dominated by foreign players, making it an attractive destination for Nigerian banks, which are considered the biggest within West Africa.
Even though Sierra Leone is still recovering from the damaging effects of a civil war and the recent ebola epidemic, FirstBank, hopes to exploit the vast untapped opportunities inherent in the country, where access to loans is still a major challenge.
First Bank prides itself as one of the largest corporate and retail financial institutions in sub-Saharan Africa (excluding South Africa). It operates in the United Kingdom, France, and five other African states. It also has representative offices in South Africa, China and the United Arab Emirates. It is Nigeria’s second biggest bank by asset, only beaten by Zenith Bank, which is also an active participant in Sierra Leone.
The bank begins operations in the West African country after reaching an agreement with the International Commercial Bank Financial Group Holdings Ag (ICBFGH) for the full acquisition of International Commercial Bank (ICB) Sierra Leone. “The launch of FBNBank Sierra Leone fulfills one of the critical stages of our ambition to steadily broaden and build a more diverse footprint across Africa,” said Bisi Onasanya, GMD/CEO of FirstBank, in a statement.