In an exclusive interview with The Point’s Pa Modou Cham, Trust Bank Gambia Limited’s Managing Director Njilan Senghore talks extensively about remarkable achievements and challenges about the banks 25 years of existence. Below reads the full text of the interview.
This year the bank celebrates its 25th Anniversary. What thoughts and emotions come to your mind when you think about that?
Answer: Twenty-five years marks a significant milestone in our journey, providing an opportunity to reflect on everything that the original Trust Bank brand stood for and everything that we aspire to become as we move forward into an exciting future.
I believe that we have consistently grown and demonstrated our commitment to The Gambia over the last two and a half decades. We will continue to strive to do so in the achievements we make and in the positive difference we bring to people’s lives through our Corporate Social Responsibility Program.
In a world where nothing stands still, Trust Bank now inhabits an environment with more intense competition and higher consumer expectations than ever before. Internet and mobile connectivity have increased beyond measure bringing new knowledge and high expectation of service.
In order to maintain our position as a leading Bank in the Gambia, and to continue to grow, it is now more important than ever before to re-focus and re-affirm our position in the marketplace through a new brand identity; better communications; and tireless commitment to serve our customers better than ever.
In what different ways have you grown Trust Bank in the country over the past 25 years, compared to other banks?
Answer: Trust Bank Ltd was incorporated on July 3rd, 1997 to take over the business of Meridien Biao Bank Gambia and began operations on October 1st the same year. The bank was listed on the Ghana Stock Exchange in November 2002, the first cross-border listing in the sub-region.
The ownership structure of the bank is quite diverse. The major shareholders of the Bank are Social Security & Housing Finance Corporation, Data Bank of Ghana, and other prominent Gambian institutions and individuals.
Historical milestones and a variety of achievements characterize our journey- from a humble beginning marred by reputational issues, we have over the years gained a lot of investor and stakeholder confidence through our commitment to implement best practices in the way we do business. We have also launched many products along the way with a steady flow of innovation and continuous expansion through organic growth.
Trust Bank inherited 124 staff from Merridan Biao Bank. We have over the years, strengthened our workforce with job creation, and today this number has grown to a family of 400 staff.
Along the way, we lost some of them to retirement and a few others to the cold hands of death-May their soul continue to rest in peace. All of them have played a critical role in maintaining our service delivery standards and commitment to excellence.
We are the largest employers in the Banking sector.
Trust Bank started operation with 3 branches and with courage and determination increased it to 18 branches. We have over the years built modern state-of-the-art branches and also staff residence facilities for all our provincial branches to ensure that our staffs are provided with the best accommodation away from home. This was influenced by the increase in customer base, the fast pace of growth in business activities, and the need for improved facilities for our staff and esteemed customers. We also have the largest branch network in the Banking sector.
Ø Corporate tax
Trust Bank continues to make substantial corporate tax payments annually. We have paid over a D1billion in corporate taxes over the last 25 years.
Ø Customer strength
In 1997, we started with slightly over 6,400 customers inherited from Meridian Biao. Today we can boast of over 200,000 customers; again, the largest customer base in the industry. This we owe to all those hardworking staff (both present and retired) for through their commitment and perseverance we were able to regain the confidence of the general public. Today we stand on their strong shoulders for the excellent work and the foundation they have laid on which Trust Bank was built.
Ø Balance sheet
From October 1st 1997 to August 31st 2022, we have achieved monumental strides in growing our business by gaining significant market share and delivering mind-blowing levels of growth.
Loans and advances to customers grew from D104 million in 1997 to over D4.4 billion by end of August 2022 while total deposits grew from D161 million in 1997 to over D9.3 billion by end of August 2022. Total assets increased from D174.5 million in 1997 to D11.6 billion by end of August 2022 driven by growth in loans and advances and investments in treasury bills. Trust Bank has the highest loan book in the sector and we have managed to do this healthily with a non-performing loan ratio of less than 1% for the last five years.
As our customer base expands and transactions grow, the legacy system we were using was stretched to its limit. We needed something that will provide flexibility and also enable us to improve operational efficiency and found Flexcube to be our best option. In 2005, we rolled out Flexcube 6.0 and later upgraded it to Flexcube 12.2 in 2014. This application offers us customer-centric core Banking functionalities and ensures a holistic view of all customers.
We have also taken advantage of an enhanced information technology platform to introduce a range of e-banking products and services. These include internet banking, Mobile Banking, and Automated Teller Machines (ATMs) deployed across the country. Uptimes of our ATMs stand at 95% helping us to decongest our branches. Customers can now access salary advances through an automated system using our Mobile Banking Application.
What do you see as the biggest accomplishments since your started over the past years and you as a manager?
Answer: I have already talked about the Bank’s achievements over the last 25 years so I shall confine this response to when I became the MD in December 2021.
From January 1st, 2022 to August 31st 2022, we have achieved monumental strides in growing our business by gaining significant market share and delivering exponential growth in the following key matrices:
Loans and advances to customers grew by 94% from D2.271 billion in 2021 to over D4.4 billion by end of August 2022 with strong contributions from Retail Banking whilst Corporate Banking led the way with major investments in almost all sectors of the economy.
Total deposits grew by 6% from D8.807 billion in 2021 to over D9.3 billion by end of August 2022 reflecting successful deposit mobilization despite tight deposit market conditions.
Total assets increased by 15%from D10.061 billion in 2021 and increased to D11.6 billion by end of August 2022 driven by growth in loans and advances and investments in treasury bills.
Where do you expect to go in the next five years? In what ways do you expect to grow as a bank?
Answer: Since we commenced operation in October 1997, Trust Bank has experienced tremendous growth. We’ve become a trusted partner in corporate and retail banking and also a leader in providing banking solutions and services for our customers.
Our journey started with a vision to create the kind of company that continues to deliver quality services and innovative products with an inspired team dedicated to serving our customers, environment, and communities at large in the most caring manner.
In anticipation of the establishment of a capital market and the commencement of The Gambia Stock Exchange by the Central Bank of The Gambia (CBG), the Bank is migrating from Trust Bank Limited to Trust Bank PLC. The change in our corporate identity was initiated in 2002 when we were listed on the Ghana Stock Exchange albeit in a gradual manner. That was the first cross-border listing in the sub-region.
As part of our rebranding strategy, Trust Bank is well placed to meet both the legal and regulatory requirements for listing on the upcoming Gambia Stock Exchange.
Today, we are bigger and better. Our Trust Bank family consists of highly trained, young, and talented individuals and a fast-growing customer base that we are certainly proud to serve. We are now taking the opportunity to evolve our brand in order to represent and realign with our values, mission, and vision.
Apart from the rebranding, another objective is to build the Trust Bank brand around a new set of values that promote environmental and social considerations. As a result, Trust Bank will not support any institution or business whose activities are causing pollution or destruction of the natural environment either through accidental or deliberate actions or unacceptable standards of employment and business ethics. This set of values is as important to us as the financials that we pursue.
What these changes mean for our customers is that it is business as usual. Our focus and priority continue to be providing a high-quality service they can rely on for their banking needs. However, there will be changes in our identity system, our domain name, website, and social media profiles.
Over the last few weeks, we poured our hearts into creating a new image that would accurately depict our heritage as well as the expectations of what the Trust Bank brand stands for.
We are empowered by these changes because we believe they will put us in a position to be more competitive and offer more capabilities to our customers. We will continue to grow and expand our services, accomplish local and international objectives, and foster and develop new client relationships.
Recently, Standard Chartered Bank announced to shift attention to growth, and scale opportunity markets, saying the Gambia market is not favourable; does your bank experience a lack of similar growth opportunities?
Answer: I must admit that the decision to exit The Gambia is rather unfortunate. I keep wondering what Banking will be like in The Gambia without the Standard Chartered Bank brand. They are a household name and have been the beacon of hope for Banking in The Gambia.
Our experiences are more or less the same because we operate in the same environment. We had our fair share of bad runs and thankfully with the determination, and perseverance of my team, we are able to turn things around and come out strongly.
Today, we might not be the most profitable bank in The Gambia, but we are leading in many matrices. We are one of the top three banks that have the largest market share of the local customers. This came at the back of hard work, and customer focus backed by strong local knowledge.
6. As a woman, how are you inspired to manage a bank with 400 staff and 18 branches? Did you envisage increasing more branches and if yes, how many?
Answer: As a woman, it is noteworthy that while considerable progress has been made and corporates are moving in the right direction in terms of equal representation, female representation in the boardroom still remains extremely low.
At Trust Bank, I have a dynamic, young, and supportive team of 400 staff across 18 branches. We have a shared belief in a set of values that guides ethical behaviour. These shared beliefs in values help to create a bond between us as a way of working, interacting, and behaving.
I am immensely fortunate to lead such a team that respects and values me, a team that treats everyone with dignity and professionalism. And above all, a team that celebrates our diversity in gender, age, ethnicity, physical abilities, religion, and race and strive to create a culture where all stakeholders feel welcomed and valued.
7. Finally, kindly tell us, what are some of the challenges the bank registered in the country over the past years and how would you describe working under the current government.
Answer: Well, our challenges are diverse but the most conspicuous one is the limited availability of correspondent banking relations. This is a bilateral arrangement between a major international bank providing a deposit account or related services to another Bank.
The correspondent bank enables a range of crucial transactions and services including the execution of third-party payments such as wire transfers, trade finance as well as short-term borrowing.
Following the global financial crisis, major international banks have reduced their involvement in less profitable and riskier activities globally including correspondent banking. This process is sometimes referred to as de-risking.
The drivers of this global de-risking are multi-dimensional but mainly include regulators in advanced countries’ attempts to strengthen prudential regulations and enhance economic and financial stability and combat money laundering.
These decisions by major international Banks coupled with a new macroeconomic environment characterized by low-interest rates and increased costs of regulatory compliance are seriously affecting our international banking operations and also putting downward pressure on our bottom line.
The Government has been truly supportive of our Industry. The Central Bank especially is doing a great job in ensuring that Banks are operating in a safe and prudent manner. In turn, we are very passionate about assisting the Government in many community engagements, especially in health, education and disaster management.