ECOBANK At 25: Remembering A Great Liberian

By Atty Philip N. Wesseh (PNW)

Few days ago it was reported that ECOBANK Liberia was involved in activities in line with its corporate social responsibility by identifying with some schools in the country. This was in observance of the 25th anniversary of the parent body of this international bank. Corporate Social Responsibility usually referred to situation in which an entity that finds itself in a society, always gives back to the society. That is, it identifies with the needs of individuals, institutions and also organizations.

This phrase can be likened to the Social Responsibility Theory in journalism. As one of the ethical principles in the journalism profession, Social Responsibility stresses that whatever is done, the society must benefit. In other words, the interest of the society should always reign supreme or paramount. Unarguably, it was in this light that ECOBANK Liberia, as a way to share this celebration of 25 years of existence of its parent body, Ecobank Transnational Incorporated (ETI) embarked on giving back to the society.

Today, this country can boast of having a branch of this international bank that came to Liberia when there was a need for banking institutions, as the civil conflict, also affected many of the existing banks at the time. But what is important to note that it took some efforts, time, brains and energies to have ECOBANK’s branch established in the then war-torn Liberia.

One may ask as to who were some of the brains behind the establishment of this bank in a shattered and lethargic economy. There might have been many persons who were instrumental in having this bank here today. But one person who played the lead role was the late Eugene Cooper, former president of the Liberia Chamber of Commerce. Others who were part of the founding stage of the group were the late Jim Holder, then a businessman, and Hilary Dennis, former president of the National Housing and Savings Bank.

The task of encouraging the group to set up as branch in this country was a huge one, considering the fact that its infrastructures have been affected and that investment was at its lowest ebb. But because of the determination of this man to contribute to his country’s post-war reconstruction, realizing that the establishment of an international bank, would positively impact on this, was able to conciliate his colleagues, after the necessary study was done. But that was not all to it. The next task was to ingratiate the public about the bank’s ability to effectively perform in a post-war country.

To build public confidence, the late Cooper, knowing the important role of the press in this matter, recommended that a local journalist attend the meetings of the country to inform the Liberian people about the status and activities of bank. It was in line of this that one day while sitting in my office, I received information that one well-built man, who later identified himself as Lawson from a bank was in the office to see me on some media-related matters. It was then I was informed that I have been invited by the bank to cover its pending meeting in Lome, Togo.

It was while in Lome that the late Cooper told me that he recommended me because the group wanted a local person, with vast experience in such matter to attend and report back home. Mr. Cooper, who was a workaholic, said Liberia stands to benefit from the operation of the bank. I also attended similar conferences in Benin, and Senegal. Few years later the ECOBANK increased the number of Liberian journalists, thereby affording Mr. Joseph Bartuah, former editor of the NEWS Newspaper and Sando Moore, the country’s top photojournalist to attend subsequent meetings.

During those gatherings, the activities of the various branches of the group were made. Obviously, being fully aware of my audience, during a press conference shortly after that annual meeting of the ETI, I asked the then Chief Executive officer of the group, Arnold Ekpe while his group decided to invest in a war-torn ground. In response, he said Liberia has good prospects and linkages after years of conflict. He expressed optimism about the bank’s operation in the country.

Truly to his word, the bank that started with few employees and customers today has more than 400 employees with a former female manager. Besides, the customers’ base of the bank has increased. The bank which was established in Liberia in 1999 is today the leading bank in the country with total assets of about USD$ 280,370,607 million, Deposit of over 216, 548, 011 million and over 227, 249 customers. According to research, with over 400 employees in Liberia, Ecobank operates in eight counties across the country, which includes Montserrado, Maryland, Grand Gedeh, Nimba, Lofa, Margibi, Bong and Grand Bassa Counties respectively.

Additionally, the bank has 18 branches namely, head office, Vai Town, Buchanan, Randall Street, Sinkor, Duala, Ganta, RIA, Free Port, Waterside, Paynesville, CUC, Voinjama, Harper, Zwedru, Kakata, Corporate and Bardnersville Branches; 11 cash centers which include, cash management, head office annex, U L, Jorkpen Town Market, Yekepa,Pleebo, Chocolate City, Buchanan, UNMIL PLAZA, Star Base and Kesselly Barracks Cash Centers.

As one of its ways of providing better and speedy banking services to its numerous customers, the bank presently has over 29 Automated Teller Machines (ATM) deployed namely, S.P Gas Stations at Newport Street, SD Cooper Junction, Vamoma House and Sinkor Old Road. Other areas are Mamba Point, RU, Palm Spring Resort, Cape and Grand Royal Hotels. Others include Paynesville, Duala, Vai Town, Randall Street, Ganta, Buchanan, Zwedru, CUC, Kakata and Head Office Branches, as well as RIA, Harbel, UNMIL Plaza and Kesselly Barracks.

Now, with the level of growth and development at the bank since its establishment, it is imperative that this selfless and extrovert leader, who stood among his colleagues to push for this branch, should be remembered. It should be noted that prior to the civil conflict in this country, the late Cooper, as a pace setter, helped to establish Ecopromotion in Monrovia in 1983, which subsequently produced the feasibility study upon which today’s ECOBANK Liberia became a reality. Ecopromotion was set up by the share holders for the feasibility studies and the promotional activities leading to the creation of ETI.

This posthumous recognition is to send a message to other Liberians to always think positively about activities that would benefit the people and the country. This country needs the likes of the late Cooper who would always think about being involved in activities for the benefit of others.

Today, the bank has more than 400 employees. Economically, if one were to consider the dependency ratio in this country, though those employed are more than 400 and whatever they receive has a great trickle-down effect owing to the extended family system in this country.

The challenge now is for those in charge of this bank to ensure that the dream of this fallen patriot or compatriot continues to live on by making sure that nothing is done that would cause his soul not to rest in perfect peace. They should ensure that bank ethics and procedures, as well as due diligence be considered the hallmarks in the operation of the institution. Happy Anniversary, ETI. I Rest My Case.

Background of Ecobank’s Parent Body

Ecobank Transnational Incorporated (ETI) was established as a bank holding company in 1985 under a private sector initiative spearheaded by the Federation of West African Chambers of Commerce and Industry with the support of ECOWAS. The Federation of West African Chambers of Commerce promoted and initiated a project for the creation of a private regional banking institution in West Africa. In 1984, Ecopromotions S.A. was incorporated. Its founding shareholders raised the seed capital for the feasibility studies and the promotional activities leading to the creation of ETI.

In October 1985, ETI was incorporated with an authorized capital of US$100 million. The initial paid up capital of US$32 million was raised from over 1,500 individuals and institutions from West African countries. The largest shareholder was the ECOWAS Fund for Cooperation, Compensation and Development (ECOWAS Fund), the development finance arm of ECOWAS.

A Headquarters’ Agreement was signed with the government of Togo in 1985 which granted ETI the status of an international organization with the rights and privileges necessary to operate as a regional institution, including the status of a non-resident financial institution. ETI commenced operations with its first subsidiary in Togo in March 1988.

Presently, Ecobank is the leading pan-African bank with operations in 34 countries across the continent, which include West, Central , East and Southern Africa, namely Angola, Benin, Burkina Faso, Burundi, Cape Verde, Cameroon, Central African Republic, Chad, Congo Brazzaville, Democratic Republic of Congo, Côte d’Ivoire, Equatorial Guinea, Gabon, Ghana, The Gambia, Guinea, Guinea Bissau, Kenya, Liberia, Malawi, Mali, Niger, Nigeria, Rwanda, Sao Tome & Principe, Senegal, Sierra Leone, Tanzania, Togo, Uganda, Zambia, Zimbabwe and South Sudan.

The Group also has a licensed operation in Paris and representative offices in Johannesburg, Dubai, London and China.