Sierra Leone Commercial Bank the ‘Peoples Bank’ clocks 40
On February 15, 1973 President Dr Siaka Probyn Stevens’ vision of an indigenous commercial bank became a reality, as the country’s first indigenous bank, the Sierra Leone Commercial Bank (SLCB), opened its doors to customers that day.
Established under the Companies Act of 1948, with its first offices at Walpole Street in Freetown, the SLCB was the first commercial bank to be wholly owned and managed by Sierra Leoneans. Thus in the formal opening of the Bank, the President said:
“Distinguished guests, it is perhaps necessary to remind you that this is your Bank, established with your money and will be fully managed by an all Sierra Leonean staff. Its success or failure will largely depend on the amount of patronage you give and I sincerely hope that the Bank can confidently rely on you for full support”.
From humble beginning and with a paid up capital of ½ Million Leones out of an authorized share capital of one million Leones, the Sierra Leone Commercial Bank started with a pioneer staff of 20. The establishment of the SLCB without the help of expatriates was a bit difficult for the pessimists to comprehend and many of them gave the Bank a six-month life span, especially when the Bank was to compete with two existing international Commercial Banks. These Banks had been in the country since the beginning of the century and were financially backed by giant institutions based in Britain.
SLCB’s first Managing Director, Christian J. Smith said in one of his annual reports that there were times in those early days when they counted on one hand the number of customers coming into the banking hall to transact business.
“Instead of this public apathy engendering a consequent dampening effect, it only spurred us on for hard work and enabled us to pursue the Bank’s objective of providing modern banking service for the public,” Mr. Smith said.
Business was dull and slow throughout the first few months of operations but by the provision of efficient and personalized service, the Bank started to inspire public confidence and eventually won the support and confidence of the banking public.
However, one of the main reasons why SLCB won the hearts and minds of the banking public was the introduction of a generous car loan scheme for Civil Servants and employees of Corporations and Institutions who were its customers. This scheme proved very useful and the SLCB was able to help deserving customers and relieve the burden of finding funds for such loans on employers.
At the end of its first year of operation, the SLCB recorded a net profit of Le201,498 from which a dividend of a Le100,000 was paid to the Sierra Leone Government, the only shareholder of the Bank. Two years later, the Walpole Street Offices became too small to accommodate the many customers the bank had captured. Consequently, planning commenced for the bank to acquire its own building, and on 11th April 1980, SLCB formally opened its 14-storey ultra-modern building at Siaka Stevens Street in Freetown. With a view to extending services to the provinces, SLCB opened its first provincial branch in Koidu in 1975 followed by Kenema and Njala branches within another 2 years.
While the skeptics could not help but marvel at its aesthetic beauty and the speed and skill with which it was completed, many were stunned to learn that this building was built using the Bank’s own resources.
President Stevens had this to say at the formal opening ceremony: “As a result of this achievement, we have once again daunted the cynics and our detractors and proved beyond reproach the high level our own managerial prowess can attain, once there is sincerity of purpose and a keen sense of dedication”.
From 1973 to date, SLCB continues to make progress and contribute immensely to the economic growth of the country as well as responding positively to its Corporate Social Responsibility. Every year, the bank’s dividend to shareholders increases by a larger percentage based on the pre-tax profits it records every year.
2012 was indeed an eventful year for the SLCB in many respects. Firstly, it emerged as the most profitable bank in Sierra Leone and achieved the enviable position as the leading financial service provider based on key performance indicators such as deposits, asset base, number of full-fledged branches, shareholders’ funds etc. The bank employs over 450 Sierra Leoneans and therefore remains the largest employer in the banking sector.
In the area of Corporate Social Responsibility, the SLCB has over the years been involved with local communities by supporting social, environmental and developmental initiatives and partnering with educational and health agencies.
It has provided assistance to educational programmes, child hunger and poverty reduction, music and arts, breast cancer, old people and sporting activities including the Sierra Leone Football Association Leagues, National Teams as well as Golf Tournaments.
As a result of the bank’s sustained focus on service quality and investment in ICT to improve banking convenience, in December 2012 it was awarded the International Diamond Prize for Excellence in Quality in the Gold Category by the European Society for Quality in Research based in Brussels, Belgium and for the second time (first was in 2003) Best Financial Institution of the year 2012 by All Works of Life (AWOL) Organization in Freetown respectively.
SLCB has over the years provided leadership to the industry, particularly in the area of modern banking technology. It was the first to introduce the FLEXCUBE software (the leading industry software) in the country, and in 2012 introduced the only Three-in-one e-banking solution which provides worldwide account access, convenience and flexible banking by way of Internet Banking for online, real-time access; e-Alert and SMS notification of transactions by both email and mobile phone text. The service is provided free of cost.
Within the year, the SLCB Ltd launched a new SME Loan Scheme with funding support from the Government of Sierra Leone and technical training assistance from the IFC. The target beneficiaries are small and medium size enterprises who are the engine of growth in the economy. This effort is directed at promoting the Agenda for Prosperity by providing much-needed start-up capital for the SME segment in Sierra Leone.
The secret behind SLCB’s success has been summed up elegantly by a former Chairman of the Bank, Sir Samuel Bankole Jones, who said; “The proper conduct of banking affairs requires responsiveness in service, integrity in dealings and prudence in judgment, and if we have attained such a success in so short a time, it is because the basic tenets, principles and cannons have not only been zealously observed, but craftily practiced by us, at Sierra Leone Commercial Bank”.
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