First International Bank, the fastest growing bank in Sierra Leone, last Saturday in Kailahun, made history by opening the first and only bank in the Kailahun District, bringing its total branch network nationwide to 13. This confirms the trail-blazing role of the bank in establishing branches in provincial locations where other banking institutions are reluctant to open.
It would be recalled that the bank was the first to restart Saturday banking in Sierra Leone, as well as the first, to reopen banking presence in Lungi and Port Loko both in the Port Loko district of the Northern Province, after 20 years of no bank presence. FIB was also the first, to establish a bank in Waterloo, in the Western Rural District before other banks started opening branches there.
The colourful opening ceremony in Kailahun was chaired by an eminent citizen of Sierra Leone and Chairman of Kailahun District Council, Lt. Col. Tom Nyuma (Rtd). The Guest of Honour was His Excellency, The President Dr. Ernest Bai Koroma, who was ably represented by Hon. Deputy Minister of Finance & Economic Development, Dr. Richard Conteh.
Other distinguished dignitaries that graced the occasion include, the Honourable Resident Minister (Eastern Region), Hon. William Smith, the Honourable Member of Parliament representing Kailahun town (Luahun Chiefdom), Hon. Alice M. Foyah and the Chief Administrator of the Council, Mr. Bockarie Buannie. Also present were the Commanding Officer (CO), 1st Battalion of the Sierra Leone Army, Major K. Fofanah and his Police counterpart, the Local Unit Commander (LUC), Supt. M. M. Kamara, as well as Kailahun Paramount Chiefs led by their Chairman, Paramount Chief Alhaji Banya.
Speaking at the occasion, the Chairman, Rtd. Lt. Col. Tom Nyuma, recalled the various stages of meetings between FIB and Kailahun stakeholders that culminated in the realization of the opening of the bank. He praised the management of the bank for their foresight and forth-rightness in ensuring that the opening of a branch of the bank in Kailahun became a reality. He recalled that the district had faced difficulties in accessing banking facilities over the years and some other banks that were approached to establish in Kailahun, simply shied away on flimsy excuses and affirmed that indeed, FIB, was a bank to be relied upon. He revealed that while other banks approached them to rent apartments to renovate, FIB chose to build a new building befitting a bank showing that the bank has confidence in Kailahun and its people.
While agreeing with the speech made by the Chairman, the Member of Parliament representing Luahun Chiefdom, where the bank is located, Hon. Alice M. Foyah, was full of praises for FIB for making Kailahun proud to belong to the comity of Provinces with banking institution. She summed up her appreciation and happiness by pleading that the name of the bank’s branch in Kailahun be called First Kailahun Bank, a statement that drew wide applause from the audience. The Chairman of the Kailahun District Council of Paramount Chiefs, PC Alhaji Banya, who spoke on behalf of paramount chiefs in the District, also praised the bank for their giant strides. They enjoined their subjects to make good use of the bank to better their lives.
The Project Coordinator of United Nations/International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), Mr. Mohamed Tejan-Kella, also spoke at the occasion. He confirmed to the audience that indeed, FIB supports agricultural development and that with the bank’s support; his rice production had increased from an initial cultivation area of 1000 acres to 3000 acres. He advised all the Kailahun farmers and traders to embrace the bank with a view to promoting their businesses.
Earlier in his welcome address, the Managing Director of FIB, Chris Uchendu said that FIB Kailahun branch was established to cater for the financial needs and aspirations of the people of Kailahun and environs, who have stayed for ages without a bank in that locality. He enumerated some of the innovative achievements of the bank in the banking sector and confirmed the bank’s readiness and resolved not to relent in taking banking products and services to the doorsteps of the people. “Today, in Kailahun District which is in the heartland of the Eastern Province, FIB, has once more made history by being the first bank to open a branch in Kailahun to restart banking operations for the benefit of the people of Kailahun and its environs” he asserted.
Chris Uchendu was emphatic on why the bank is establishing in the rural communities. “The impetus that drives our branch network expansion, especially the massive penetration to the rural areas is summarized by the word DEVELOPMENT. The economy can not grow when the rural population is not supported. It is our opinion, that, if facilities and services are only concentrated in the cities, there is bound to be mass exodus of the population to the cities, thereby causing serious rural-urban shift.”
He revealed that the deliberate policy thrust of FIB in reaching out to the provincial areas was to avail the people of the developmental financial products and services which the bank offer, with a view to opening up the untapped potentials of the people. The FIB helmsman contended that by empowering the local populace and making them self-sufficient, the dependence on the national resources would be relieved and the Sierra Leone economy, over-time would experience stability.
He praised the people of Kailahun for their hard work and proficiency in growing varieties of crops. He affirmed that the setting up of FIB in Kailahun will add fillip and valve to the aspirations of the farmers and the local population to achieve their life-time dreams of moving up the economic ladder.
In his own remarks, Bank of Sierra Leone’s Deputy Director of Banking Supervision, Mr. Tapsiru Dainkeh, who stood in for the Bank Governor, commended FIB for reaching out to the people by opening branches that would bring banking services to the doorsteps of the customers, as well as reaching the unbanked. He noted that the common attitude of some beneficiaries of bank loans was their reluctance to repay, which he said militates against the growth of the economy, because, when borrowers default in repaying their loans, banks will be unable to extend the facility to more people. He affirmed that, though, the banking sector looked very active, but the coverage provided by the existing 14 banks in the country, was still far from reaching most of the unbanked, as a lot of people still conduct business outside the banking system. He noted that some people thought there were too many banks in the country, but that with the figures available to the apex Bank, it shows that the 14 operating banks have only 62 branches across the country. And with a population of about five million, the total number of bank account holders in the country was just a little above four hundred thousand. He confirmed that with such figures, the country is yet to attain optimal banking culture; hence the setting up of more banks, as well as additional branches like what FIB was doing, would be a welcome development. He reassured the audience that BSL had the capacity to provide effective monitoring of the growing banking sector.
Also speaking at the occasion, the Resident Minister (Eastern Region), Hon. William Smith, commended FIB for opening the Kailahun Branch, which he said was in tandem with the developmental agenda of the government. He recalled the difficulties faced by the people to access financial services and hoped that the bank would form a plank upon which a new lease of life and accelerated development would come to Kailahun. He commended the Council Chairman for his leadership skills and enjoined the people not to mix development with politics, urging them to join hands with the government in its agenda to develop Kailahun in particular and the nation at large. In his keynote address, the Honourable Deputy Minister of Finance and Economic Development, Dr. Richard Conteh, who represented His Excellency, the President, Dr. Ernest Bai Koroma, commended FIB, for opening yet another branch and for contributing immensely to the growth of the banking industry in particular and the national economy as a whole. He expressed happiness with the giant strides of the bank and urged the sustenance of the growth profile. He seized the opportunity of the FIB’s event in Kailahun to highlight some of the various developmental projects approved by government for Kailahun District, which drew wide ovation from the audience. He said the setting up of the bank in the locality was timely, as it would complement and facilitate government’s programmes for the people of Kailahun.
The highlight of the occasion was the cutting of tape to formally declare the branch open to the public by the Guest of honour, Dr. Richard Conteh, while the Managing Director of FIB, Chris Uchendu, conducted the dignitaries round the bank offices.