In the last decade, the Nigerian banking sector has undergone series of reforms all in an attempt by the apex regulators to strengthen the sector. Indeed as we speak, we can say that though the reforms at different times have been viewed by observers as harsh, the truth also must be told that these reforms have straightened the money Market. Prior to some of these reforms, Nigeria had some of the weakest banks in the world with very low liquidity and capital base. However, Professor Chukwuma Soludo, the former CBN governor's bank consolidation reform was a major stride towards the emergence of stronger banks in Nigeria. This move also resulted in the mergers and acquisitions by some of the existing banks at the time. A product of one of such mergers was the defunct Platinum Habib Bank also known as BankPHB.

Bank PHB came into being in 2006 after meeting the CBN requirements on the 27th December 2005 and subsequent signing of the memorandum on the29th of December (two days before the CBN cut off date). The bank therefore started business operations on the 1st of March, 2006 as the 17th ranked bank in the industry but resolved to be among the top 10 banks before June 2010. But by 2007, the then fastest growing bank brand in Nigeria rose to the 8th position (in one year) and as at June 2008, became the 5th ranked bank in Nigeria and targeted the 3rd position by June 2009.

Unfortunately, while some of the banks that survived the consolidation reforms alongside BankPHB are still very much around and waxing strong today, the brand PHB never lived to realise it's target. Failure became imminent for this brand that once professed that "someday, cars will run on water" and once positioned itself as the most innovative bank brand in Nigeria, when it started loosing it's brand reputation.

I was attracted to the bank late 2008 by the perception of innovation which the brand was pushing out at the time. Being a somewhat 'restless' mind, I always sought for fresh challenges to task my creativity and young innovative mind. For whatever reasons at the time, I felt bank PHB suited the profile of a brand that possessed a platform where my creativity could easily find expression and recognition. As such, resigning my job with a multinational manufacturing company wasn't a big decision to make as soon as I was offered the job after a very relaxed interview session.

As a matter of fact, my passion for creativity made me lead my stream (class) at the time to develop a liability product for the bank less than 2 weeks into our 3-month induction training. We were well celebrated by the leadership of the bank and as such were invited to present to the head of Retail Banking at the head office. As a matter of fact, that was the first time a set of trainees would attempt to develop such a retail product for the bank while in training. This was a task that was usually carried out by the core professional strategy team of the retail banking unit. The passion and enthusiasm was unparalleled, we were a team of young talents that were ready to challenge the status quo and commit to helping the brand achieve it's strategic objectives in our little ways. However, it didn't take us 3-months before we started getting fillers as to the true nature of the brand that has systematically controlled the perception of the public. Indeed, "perception is reality". Of course, the rest is history.

Haven come that close to the brand, I feel compelled to share my thoughts about the likely intangible factors that contributed to the failure of the brand from an insider perspective. The following are 3 factors that I think saw the bank through to failure:

1. BRAND OVER AMBITION
At the time, the bank was comfortably seated as the 5th largest bank brand in Nigeria and in my own opinion, all she needed to do was to be consistent in both her business and service models and in a matter of time, she would have achieved her target of being among the top 3 banks. However, over ambition made the leadership of the bank switch focus and direction from sustaining their business and service model, thinking that the only way to fast-track their ambition was to takeover another banking entity to swell it's existing asset base. Hence the move to takeover Spring bank at the time. The move was clearly one of the key corporate strategies of the bank because virtually all the heads of various banking units who facilitated some of our training classes were proudful whenever they spoke to us about what they called the "hostile" takeover of Spring Bank.

Bank PHB, which had earlier bought substantial stakes in Spring Bank, announced the successful completion of its mandatory bid, which it opened November 28, 2008, for the acquisition of over three billion shares of Spring Bank Plc. Bank PHB had opened the bid in order to take its stake to 51 per cent to give it controlling stakes in Spring Bank, this culminated in the takeover. But the deal was riddled with petitions, controversies and suits instituted by some aggrieved shareholders of Spring Bank who insisted the takeover by Bank PHB did not follow due process. They alleged that the “mandatory bid” Bank PHB sought was illegal because two thirds of the 33 per cent it claimed were “rejected” and “warehoused” shares. Known in banking parlance as “bubble capital”, the said shares were alleged to have been fraudulently acquired by some directors of Legacy Guardian Express Bank and Citizens Bank, two of the six banks that merged to form Spring Bank. The aggrieved shareholders were then granted an injunction against Bank PHB by the Federal High Court, sitting in Abuja on December 19, 2008 and this was sure to spell doom for bank PHB.

At this time, PHB had committed about 60 billion Naira to mop up shares of Spring Bank and all that sum became stuck as a result of the litigation process that never came to an end before Sanusi introduced his stress test on banks. The implication of this was that the liquidity of the bank had become so low that it was impossible to pass the stress test.  The then Minister of State for Finance, Mr. Remi Babalola, in his report had declared the acquisition of Spring Bank Plc by Bank PHB Plc as “improper”. This move proved to be one of the Major implosions of the brand PHB and you know as much as i do that the bank never recovered.

2. BRAND AMNESIA
When a brand forgets what it is supposed to stand for, it is bound to run into trouble. This was the case with bank PHB. I recall that the first class we took while in training school was "Basic Banking Operations" and the first thing Simon Ejima (from the office of the Group Head Banking Operations) did was to expose us to the 'supposed' culture of the brand PHB. In the process, we were compelled to learn (actually, memorise) the former as well as the new vision, mission and core values of the brand. I recall them as follows:

Former vision: to be a leading Financial Institution committed to providing superior customer service by redefining standards.

Former Mission statement: to provide innovative solutions to our customers with passion, while creating optimal value for our stakeholders.

Former Core Values:
D - Deliver on promise
R - Respect for the individual
I - Integrity
P - Professionalism
T - Team Spirit

The expected take-over and subsequent expansion of the bank made them readjust these brand components as follows:

Vision: To become Africa's integrated bank

Mission: together, with passion, we deliver superior value to our customers by redefining service standards

Core Values:
P - Professionalism
B - Business focus
I - Innovation and Leadership
T - Teamwork
D - Dynamism and strength

In practice, the life of the brand was in variance with her core values. Prior to joining bank PHB, I had not really had any close shave with the bank's operations. However, after a month in training, we were posted to branches for a mandatory weeklong "on the job training". We actually underwent these process twice during our induction programme; the first was to gain practical knowledge in banking operations and the second was Market facing experience. I observed during this process that a lot of customers had developed serious hatred for the bank. At the time, the bank had migrated from it's more stable "Equinox" software platform to a newer platform "T24" in order to accommodate the anticipated surge in customer base all in view of the expansion as a result of the 'hostile' takeover of Spring Bank. Unfortunately, the new software was not stable and hence one of the major implications of this was the malfunctioning of the bank's ATMs across the country. A lot of customers dreaded the use of bank PHB ATMs to withdraw funds, the ones that had the courage to defy found themselves in the banking halls the following day to complain about debits where the machine never dispensed cash. Debit reversal was just one of the numerous operations issues customers had to face. The worse part of it was that the operations staff themselves were fed up, as such, situations where the customer service personnel had heated altercations with customers was a recurrent decimal. I observed during this process that most of the bank's touch points  did not resonate the brand's core values any-longer (if they ever did). The brand forgot what it stood for. The fact is that brand amnesia is one of the major causes of brand failures world over.

3. BRAND DECEPTION
Often, some brands see the whole marketing process as an act of covering up the reality of their product. I had often commended Insight Communications, the brand communication agency that handled the bank PHB brand at the time for the excellent job they did in conditioning the perception of the public towards the brand PHB considering the fact that at the time, the bank was functionally dysfunctional. Bank PHB deceived the public with their excellent ATL brand communication channels. Any wonder, they invested so much in advertisement at the time. There is a simple Logic that says, you don't spend so much to sell a good product. Al and Laura Ries stated it rightly in their 22 Immutable Laws of Branding, "today most products are bought, not sold." This brand fiction engineered by Insight Communication on behalf of the brand PHb only cemented the downright lies about the brand. However, the brand failed to realise that in this age where markets are increasingly connected, via the Internet and other technologies, consumers can no longer be deceived.

I recall once personally asking Mr. Francis Atuche, the embattled former Managing Director of the Bank at a town hall meeting in Ibadan about the efforts the bank was making to correct the growing negative public perception about the brand. I was shocked by the indifference in his response, he openly said "I am not interested in what people think about the bank..." It took a while for me to get over the fact that the man acclaimed by his subordinates to be one of the most intelligent bank CEOs at the time could offer such unguided response to the question. The negative image of the bank had gone viral online. I remember a thread on www.nairaland.com where several contributors had no good comments about the brand PHB. Then offline the negative word of mouth was also on the upsurge.

In conclusion, I wish to advice existing brands to be consistent in their functional attribute and should try as much as possible not to fall into the trap of toying with the emotions of the customers. Emotions are not to be messed with, it should be handled with care. One step out of the line and the customer may not be willing to forgive. Negative brand reputation is ultimately one the reasons why brands fail.


Ugochukwu Ezeagwula
me@ugochukwuezeagwula.com

Note: I dedicate this piece to former Bank PHB Stream 27 members. It's been exactly 3 years since the brand deceived us. But I'm glad that through it all, God has kept us stronger and we have faired better. My greatest joy today is that we have all outlived the brand and that the corrupt and inhuman leadership of the bank are now facing the consequences of their cruel actions. 
 


Comments

roro
03/05/2012 18:55

a very strong and insightful piece, ugo. may those towing in that line learn a thing or two from this.

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Nene-pet
03/05/2012 23:24

very interesting reading. A big lesson for one not to be over ambitious, but take each step at a time. When we have a vision, we should run with it and not sprint thereby leaving the vision far behind.

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03/06/2012 14:46

Well said Aunty Nene.Thanks for dropping a comment.

03/06/2012 03:01

Thanks sister Roro & amen to that prayer (for their own good).

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leke
03/06/2012 04:49

Ugo nice one, I really enjoyed this write up, I can remember back then when Mrs. Akinlade read out your comprehension to the class in JSS 3 keep it up.

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03/06/2012 05:50

Haaa Leke! You sure don't forget things...lol. JSS 3! That's a long long time! Thanks for your kind comments.

bola
05/24/2013 13:53

that is a good one ugo.i was there too.but f a did not do it alone.kuru and demola banjo most anser some q.

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Damilola
03/06/2012 05:36

Well done guy, very insightful. Others need to learn

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03/06/2012 05:51

Thanks Damilola.

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Yomade
03/06/2012 05:43

Very insightful piece. Well articulated. Perception is key indeed

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03/06/2012 05:53

Perception is key! Thanks Yomade.

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laolu
03/06/2012 08:05

Insightful timeless truth, bruv.. Great thoughts!!

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03/06/2012 12:26

Thanks Laolu.

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kenneth
03/06/2012 08:26

I Longed to read this piece from when you talked about it on your twitter handle, its a nice write up and full of facts, you made me remember how Integrated Microfinance Bank(IMFB), No 1 MFB in Nigeria also went down, as an insider the Bank left its core value and stated chasing to become a Commercial Bank at all cost which lead to its demise. i hate to remember my experience with them. and as faith could have it, i now work close to the Banks former Head Office.

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03/06/2012 12:27

Thanks Kenneth. It is well my bro.

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Seun adedeji
03/06/2012 08:40

Great job ugo, am more than impressed. So many of us will never forget d cruel experience we got in d hand of dis better 4goten bank. I sincerely hope pple will learn from our experience. Truly, perception is reality.

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03/06/2012 12:29

Thanks Seun. Indeed we learnt valuable lessons. Thank God for everything.

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03/06/2012 08:42

Bro,
Your piece leaves me speechless. I'm interested in the development of brands especially in the corporate world so I literally flew here from twitter when I saw the title. Your insider point of view as well as the brilliant analysis has added a kind of extension to my measuring line. Brand PHB was a very bright flash in the pan, hope brand managers get to see this. Please do more of this.

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03/06/2012 12:31

Thanks Victor. I'm encouraged by your kind comment.

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naijaman
03/06/2012 08:45

Nice work. But you come to look at it, mergers and acquisitions have never worked in nigeria and will never.Too many interests,culture,shady deals,etc all because the regulators are all compromised. That's why you don't see Zenith , GTB acquiring or merging with any.Give the recent M&A of access/intercont bank & ETI/oceanic a little time and they will be the same story as PHB

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03/06/2012 12:33

From a branding perspective, lack of cultural synergy is the major bane of the success of mergers in Nigeria.

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03/06/2012 12:34

Thanks for your comment @Naijaman

Olojo
03/06/2012 08:49

The Rise n Fall of a great Empire. Very insightful. Kudos!

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03/06/2012 12:35

Thanks Olojo.

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Nnanna
03/06/2012 08:51

Very, very brilliant piece here, wishing you all the very best as you forge ahead.

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03/06/2012 12:36

Thank you very much Nnanna.

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ola
03/06/2012 09:27

Nice write up,very factual,but apparently as an insider you didn't mention or most likely didn't realise the massive looting which took place by a lot of senior management staff who are all Billionaires today as we speak..sad stuff,but dats Naija for you!

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03/06/2012 12:38

Ola, of course the massive looting that characterized the Bank PHB era isn't a secret...The whole world knows. Thanks for your comment.

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Paul
03/06/2012 11:36

The truth Is that corruption has eaten into almost every facet of live in Nigeria...it's therefore no surprise that the looting jas been on for years...but I must tell you that Atuche made a difference to his staff by ensuring trickles of welfare got to the staff to keep them happy even in the face of varied perception vis avis working tools and consolidated strategies...He might have been over ambitious and made wrong decisions but in our eyes...he's a better criminal than all these other criminals put together...Let's call a spade a spade...nice piece though

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03/06/2012 12:42

Paul, we see things differently. Maybe in your eyes "he's a better criminal...", but in my eyes he is simply a criminal. Criminality cannot be calibrated. A criminal is a criminal...there is no good or bad criminal. The challenge with us in Nigeria is that as long as perpetrated evil favors us, it becomes excusable... But nevertheless, its your opinion and I appreciate your contribution. Cheers bro!

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Borono Bassey
03/06/2012 14:09

Please oga,I want to follow you on twitter!!! What's the handle abeg? I'm.a graduate of Marketing Communications who intends to enter into the field!!!

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03/06/2012 14:12

My twitter handle is @ugosanchez

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03/06/2012 14:14

This is a very incisive note. I used to be a great fan of Bank PHB's outstanding marketing model but at a point, I noticed that the vibe dropped abruptly and I couldn't understand why. This note has really opened my eyes. I am head strong and a terrible unbeliever when it comes to brand advertisement, projection and aggressive marketing especially by banks and other multi-nationals... they are like politicians - they say this and that to get your attention but when they get you, some of them end up wasting your time. I thought to give Bank PHB some more time before swallowing their campaign but alas, they blew the chance...not like I would have made a major impact or addition to their business but I would have at least been one customer to deal with. 'Nuff said... Bigup Sanchez!

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03/06/2012 14:23

Thanks James. Indeed with most brands in Nigeria today, there is a sharp variance between the brand promise and the actual brand experience. Thanks for dropping a comment. Cheers!

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oshio
03/06/2012 15:53

Sorry to say but this write up is absolute rubbish as it approaches branding from a layman point of view,the main aim og branding is deception making the market think your product is actually better than it really is,that's the whole essence of branding,I was once a staff too and I joined long before u did and the bank was not cruel to us, I also designed a product for e-banking though I was in operations but the accolades I received was fantastic! All u ve written is based on ur perception nt facts of PHB, PHB failed for just 1 reason which I agree with u it tried to grow faster than was healthy hence lots of corrupt practices as for T24 if u had been with d bank while equinox was still on u would ve blessed the soul who implemented T24 equinox was archiac and absolute crap! Customers complained during the transition period but after that the same customers started commending the new software.the PHB brand was never a lie it was a brand born of brilliant minds which only failed because of poor business strategy. And you are forgetting one thing the bad loans which the bank suffers from today was partially caused by people like u(marketers) who refused or did very poor false findings on the customers the gave loans too all in the bid to meet up with their targets

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03/08/2012 14:19

Thanks Oshio for your comment. However, I will rather not join issues with you especially as I consider the fact that the same you that calls the write up "rubbish" also a agrees at least with one of my points, "...PHB failed for just 1 reason which I agree with u it tried to grow faster than was healthy..." Its also funny when you say the main aim of branding is "deception", are you confusing the entire branding process with advertising or what? Brand building has never been about deception, yes its about conditioning perceptions but definitely not deception. Like I said in my main note, "emotions are not to be messed with, it should be handled with care." When you "deceive" your customers and then they experience the brand and discover that functionally, your brand promise is different from your what you deliver. Then you do this consistently and think you will continue to occupy the share of mind of these customers when you have competitors that deliver on promise. You need to re-evaluate your branding thesis... Meanwhile if you say all I have written is based on perception, then I doubt how well you knew the brand you claimed you had worked with from time immemorial. Finally, to set the records straight, I was never a marketer but if you claim the bank sunk owing to bad loans, who approves the loans? I am sure you know that all loans are approved by the management at the headoffice, so why blame marketers? Yes you hail T24, but did you know that billions of Naira was siphoned by top management while purchasing the license for T24? One of your bosses in e-banking carelessly let out this info... I'm sorry to say, I don't care how long you worked with PHB, it is obvious you knew close to nothing about the brand and all you were there for was the salaries and entitlements. I advice you to go and research and tell me if the points I put up here are not factual. Well, all the same, thanks for dropping your comment, it sure was within the thin limits of your knowledge of the brand. Cheers!

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peter
03/09/2012 01:46

ugochukwu well done but i will say that i will not agree with all the words of yours been used over there,i worked in that same bank and when i was relieved of my work i hated Francis Atuche and i wanted to follow up his case all the way and make sure he gets the same thing losing everything just like we did,but with the revelation in his court case will tell you that the loans and all the money efcc have been calling all this time have no fact to backup all that their are saying the front of newspapers and with him tell the court that is salary and most of his benificts in that bank was reinvested in that same bank,i have agree with me that ATUCHE was a brain in the industry and would have taking good decisions for the bank but did not pay well,every investor in the world have lost one way or the other are you tell me that their are all criminals for doing a just deal for the interest of the company that they so much believed in,in as much as i know that the reform have brought nothing meanful that bank phb with ATUCHE would have been out of that financial mess than they are now if he was giving time to recapitalize the bank.
DO you justify all the thousands that was sacked from and economy that is growing and losing jobs,the new reform in no time have show that ATUCHE was the best hand in the bank,the MD brought by Sanusi called chukwuma did the wosrt thing to the back than reform and when asked in the office the day he was leaving he said that the CBN governor did not tell him to come and recapitalize the bank but to prepare the bank for liquidation,i dont have to say much but right now am for ATUCHE known as F.A. for he has proved him self in my sight and please wait for the court b4 you call the man a criminal.thanks

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Omoruyi Victor
03/12/2012 11:02

Thoughtful, interesting, educating and above all beyond the ceiling. What happen to Bank PhB is the very problem of many Nigeria youths. Sprinting with an 'over-syllabus' vision instead of learning the ropes, knowing where others before you fail or succeed. God help us all...

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Akwa
03/14/2014 10:19

Ugo, in as much as I think this piece shows a bit of intelligence, I am disappointed that you could write like this. To think that some who claims to have worked for an institution can come up without any court ruling to declare a former MD of the same institution a "criminal" is really appalling. my advise ............ don't be too hasty..... just slow down........ and wait for facts to unravel itself....... it's interesting that Sanusi Lamido Sanusi on whose "irrelevant novel ideal" this whole issues built on has eventually been exposed. just hold on a bit more..... time will reveal more. It is expected that brands coming into existing market will be aggressive, appear over ambitious as was the case of PHB and want to be heard. but then if just a little time was given to Atuche the bank......... I dare say would have still been in existence till today. But no! SLS came with seemingly political undertone and killed an upcoming brand........ but today how far now? ....... he is dancing the same music he started. Just be a bit slow in your conclusion, the era we are going into will really be interesting. don't be in a hurry to call anyone a criminal. you sound smart and I trust you will be patient to wait for the interesting court ruling. I rest my case.

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