Technology wins! Welcome to the 21st Century way of doing business unusual. That’s how best to describe the historic feat United Bank for Africa, UBA Plc, achieved on Wednesday April 29, 2020 as it held its first ever virtual Annual General Meeting in the bank’s 71 years history of operations and first of its kind in the financial industry in Africa.
Ms. Bola Atta, Group Director, Corporate Communication, UBA Plc., said “Today, I was part of a historic moment. The United Bank for Africa (UBA) held its first ever virtual Annual General Meeting after 71 years of operations. We had been planning this meeting before the Covid-19 pandemic crept in unannounced. And initially, we had thought to postpone it. But postpone until when? Even as we pray the situation will get under control, today just confirmed to me that life will never really be the same again.”
For Atta and her team, the popular saying of British Statesman, Sir Winston Churchill, that the pessimist sees difficulties in every opportunity while the optimist sees opportunities in every difficulty, must be ringing loudly to their ears as they put on their thinking caps.
They knew it’s a new dawn and they need to make the best of every situation in which they find themselves. And they settled for the digital option albeit not too sure how the whole novel experience would pan out. She thought for a minute it might be easier than an actual physical AGM but was dead wrong. However, with determination and effective application of right technology, the special day for the bank’s 58th AGM went smoothly and successfully.
“We had so many rehearsals to ensure things would go smoothly: technical set up, sound, graphics, participants, look and feel, speeches, procedure, streaming…… so much to consider. This was after all, a first. I haven’t slept a wink today. I learnt a lot about technology in the process,” the UBA top lady said.
To move an event as big as the UBA’s AGM to a virtual platform after 71 solid years of operations is to make a big story that will remain on every lip for some good time. This is because UBA has over 270,000 shareholders. As a matter of fact, hosting a fraction as little as 10 per cent of that figure to an e-AGM would require a very good innovative thinking to execute such brilliant idea.
Like some would say: curiosity killed the cat. But those inquisitive minds were valid. Most were curious to know which digital platform was used that was able to host over 200,000 shareholders because most video conferencing platforms available to the public like Zoom, Skype, Go-to-meeting and few others can only do at most 500 people.
Ms. Atta explained it away that Zoom was the choice but with a limited number of participants. They however streamed the meeting live on YouTube to have the input of every interested shareholder and customers who weren’t able to join the privileged Zoom meeting.
There is no gainsaying that the novel COVID-19 pandemic has led to a digital transformation in today’s business. Technology, in the right direction, would drive cost optimization.
And Atta concurred. The virtual meeting, which had in attendance shareholders, management and staff members, together with representatives of relevant regulatory bodies, according to her, actually cost a lot less than an actual AGM and was better controlled.
In his opening address at the e-meeting, UBA Group Chairman, Tony O. Elumelu noted that it was indeed a very special meeting, held in extraordinary circumstances and in accordance with Guidelines issued by the Corporate Affairs Commission.
Elumelu assured shareholders, that despite the pandemic, UBA had delivered an impressive performance in its just released first quarter results and the bank has also declared dividends of N1 per every 50 kobo share and paid over N27.3 billion to its almost 300 shareholders, in the middle of the most uncertain of circumstances. But just as UBA delivers impressive returns on investment and shareholders applauded the bank’s support in fight against COVID-19, what it did with its novel Virtual AGM has been considered great and inspirational by many in the Corporate world.
The success of the e-AGM, it was rightly observed, has already created the blueprint for others’ future Virtual AGM as well as deepened their professional competencies.
But most importantly, Kudos has gone to Elumelu, the overall boss, as well as his ever resourceful team led by Kennedy Uzoka, the bank’s GMD/CEO and Atta, the Corporate Communication maven, for successfully pulling off the historic moment.
One of the bank’s shareholders said the Virtual AGM is not just creative ways but smarter ways. According to the very impressed investor, the beauty of the virtual AGM was that it saved most of them who are busy thousands of productive man hours. “It was an unprecedented experience for the shareholders who participated. We would have spent endless hours to get to the physical meeting location due to traffic time we would have encountered in a busy commercial hub like Lagos. Secondly, the virtual meeting cost far much less to host and thirdly, people were more relaxed and contributed more positively while attending to other urgent activities.”
But Victor Aboyeji, a Lagos based entrepreneur, summarised the moment better: “Virtual 58 AGM conducted today provided access for direct learning and opportunities (fintech) in Nigerian banking sector. Shareholders feedback, biz projections, sharing dividends & electing executives were major highlights, it’s so inspiring to see it go the TOE (Tony O. Elumelu) way.”
Some analysts have also agreed that this change championed by UBA would force many to now see that things can indeed be done differently. But the question remains: what will happen moving forward?
“Things can never go back to what it used to be. It is just a reality we must all accept. Business that fail to utilise the digital space to have a functional and smooth operation while working remotely, will soon go out of business,” Daniel Ani, a Digital Marketing Specialist said.
According to the young tech expert, “this period is just the best time as it doesn’t matter how hard this pandemic might have hit any business, it will only be more disastrous when the business owners decide to continue operation the same way it used to do. Businesses must go back to the boardroom and draw out the drawing table and make that decision…If you have 200 customers (for instance) without having a digital presence, then you are yet to reach all your ideal customers. We will surely get there. Even though we weren’t prepared for it, it is here already. So we must do the needful.”
In his view, Brian Okomowho, Investment Analyst with Kairos Capital Limited, said it’s so clear that the COVID-19 pandemic has ushered in a new world order of doing things.
“It’s clear that not all employees need to be at the office as many will still have to work remotely. Virtual meetings, conferences, interviews etc will take over. The flip side is the airlines will lose a lot of money for flights globally, as well as the hospitality sector. But I see a lot of opportunities for investors in other sectors. However, I hope we acclimatize to the new trends timely.”
There are other who also predicted that there are going to be an immerse growth and breakthroughs arising from the present situations and businesses would have the opportunity to learn more, know more and be more.
By and large, with the success of its e-AGM, UBA has set yet another standard. The bank has dropped a new playbook —remote working, remote meetings.
“The future as it relates to COVID- we will continuously drive our business to the point where customers will no longer meet us physically. Banking will remain but how we do it will keep changing. We’ll take banking to how, when and where our customers want it,” said Uzoka, the Bank GMD/CEO.
Indeed, virtual is the new normal. Business is actually going to be more virtual Post-COVID and the eggheads at the Africa’s global bank is leading the charge by telling the rest that we actually there now.