Photo of Retail Banker International editor Douglas BlakeyArguably one of
the most significant and headline-grabbing banking deals of the
past few months was Ecobank’s partnership with Oracle (see
Ecobank deploys Oracle

News of that deal coincided with me
being asked to list 10 banks worth following over the next few

Any banks I wanted, subject to
selecting a mix of lenders from some of the more interesting
emerging as well as the mature markets.

Ecobank was one of the first banks
I suggested, at least so far as the emerging markets are

The sub-Saharan retail banking
market, with its massive unbanked population and potential for high
double-digit growth over the next five years, is one of the most
fascinating markets in the world right now.

No surprise then that it continues
to attract high levels of interest from international banks,
hampered by low growth rates in more mature markets.

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Ecobank has one huge advantage over
foreign banks because it understands the 30-plus markets in which
it is present and has a strong brand.

There is no rival bank in the
region present in so many markets: 33 countries now and

Following the acquisition of
Nigeria-based Oceanic Bank, its branch network almost doubled to
close to 1,400 outlets.

Investment in Ecobank’s in-house
remittance platform, Rapidtransfer – a product it has been
marketing aggressively as the only such bank product offering
remittances across Africa – is paying off.

Current plans include ramping up
investment in Rapidtransfer, by linking it to Ecobank’s mobile
money platform. With Bharti Airtel, Ecobank has a 14 country tie-up
across the region.

It has also signed a pan-African
memorandum of understanding with MasterCard; once it can link the
payment gateways of MasterCard and Airtel, the bank will be able to
offer the same payments functionality currently available on cards
via mobile handsets.

For Ecobank, product development
will remain focused on debit cards and prepaid cards for salaried
workers and students.

It has differentiated itself in a
number of its markets by offering instant card issuance.

An Ecobank customer service greeter
helps the customer activate the card and helps the customer at the
ATM, thereby helping the customer become comfortable with it and
this means drop-off rates are much lower.

A major push into the credit cards
sector is for another day.

Ecobank has also upped its
marketing activity with major campaigns on TV, radio and print and
become active in social media.

Mobile sales staff have gone out
into the field or at least out into the main street, to attract
custom from the unbanked segment.

Investment in the branch channel
and upping its staff training budget, have helped Ecobank to treble
new account opening in the past 12 months.

The IT deal with Oracle for
Flexcube is anything but just another bank/IT deal. As recently as
early 2010, Ecobank was running its core operations across as many
as six or seven platforms.

If it gets the Oracle
implementation right, Ecobank can look forward to improving
delivery and offer a more consistent customer experience.

For a variety of reasons, Ecobank
is going to be worth watching in the years ahead.

Douglas Blakey