UBA: Blazing the trail in Corporate Governance

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By Frank Oshanugor

July 8, 2020

Research has shown that corporate social responsibility (CSR) as a phenomenon within the corporate parlance is not new.  As a concept within the business environment, it can be traced to many centuries back.  However, it was not until the 1930s and 1940s when the role of business executives and the social performance of corporations began appearing in literature and authors began discussing, what were the specific social responsibilities of companies.

One of the very early adopters of CSR was a company;  Johnson & Johnson whose founder; Robert Wood Johnson; an American businessman established their credo in 1943 which required that the needs of those clients/customers they served were considered first as a priority.

Borrowing from this over the years, many corporate bodies have found it necessary to adopt some measures in caring for the needs of people in the environment where they operate.  As a growing corporate culture over the years, scholars have committed time and efforts trying to understand the need for CSR to be an issue in corporate governance.

Findings by some scholars have shown that the understanding of corporate responsibility has evolved from being limited to the generation or creation of profit to include a broader set of responsibility to the latest belief that the main responsibility of companies should be the creation of shared values.

It is ostensibly in line with such belief that many corporate entities in the banking sector, oil and gas, manufacturing and other sectors in Nigeria have in the last few decades stepped up efforts in promoting a culture of corporate social responsibility no matter how small the financial involvement may be.

The United Bank for Africa (UBA) which has emerged as one of the leading commercial banks with  a wide branch network, huge customer base, has since keyed into the CSR culture and was the very first commercial bank in Nigeria to establish a special purpose vehicle (SPV) to manage its CSR activities.  This SPV is the UBA Foundation, which was incorporated in January, 2004.

The UBA which prides itself as Africa’s global bank was established in 1948 though under a different name, but was transformed over the years to become what it is today due to its robust corporate culture predicated on good management and socially responsible identity.  It has a reputable brand image.  As the CSR arm of the United Bank for Africa’s group, the UBA Foundation is committed to the socio-economic betterment of the communities in which the bank operates, with focus on development in the areas of education, environment, economic empowerment and special projects.

Since its establishment, the UBA Foundation has upped the bank’s game of being socially responsible by identifying with the needs of its corporate environment.  And what could be the reason for this?    Though, there is a long and varied history associated with the evolution of the concept of CSR, yet a historical review seems to be missing in academic literature that portrays the evolution of the academic understanding of the concept alongside with the public and international events that influenced the social expectations, with regards to corporate behavior.

However, in the case of UBA, the result of a study in 2014 titled “Corporate Social Responsibility and organizational profitability: An empirical investigation of UBA” by the trio of Oyetayo Folajin,  Oluwaseun Ibitoye and A.T. Dunsin, showed that CSR spending has short term inverse effect on net profit of the bank, but in the long run, provides better returns on investment.  The study therefore recommended that government should put policy framework in place that would be designed for CSR in Nigeria to ensure compliance by setting up mechanisms and institutions for the implementation of CSR.

Activities of the Bank over the years particularly since the incorporation of its UBA Foundation have become robustly manifest in several areas in line with its corporate aims and objectives.  Though, other commercial banks in Nigeria maintain a similar culture, yet UBA aims at a higher reputation given its ever increasing areas of involvement.

It was reported that in 2018, five leading banks inclusive of UBA spent a total of N6.23 billion on corporate social responsibility out of which UBA accounted for N1.04billion, taking a s second position.  In 2019, a total of N4.7billion was reportedly spent by the same five leading banks out of which UBA came out again in second position with a committal of N753 million on CSR within the period.

A break-down of this amount shows that the sum of N84.03million was spent on St. Pius Xth Grammar School, Onicha – Ugbo in Delta State, N51.49 million on International Day of the Africa Child/UBA Read Africa, while Ambrose Alli University, Ekpoma in Edo State got an assistance of N49.39million.  Lagos Chamber of Commerce was assisted with N3million while Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife and Bowen University got N4.13 million and N2.7million respectively.

The sum of N3.79 million was committed to one of UBA’s flagship CSR activities; the National Essay Competition with N50million going to the Lagos State Security Trust Fund;  National Youths Service Corps and the chartered Institute of Bankers receiving N17.03million and N1million respectively.  There were other sundry donations.  In March, 2020 the UBA Foundation reportedly disbursed the sum of N500million to the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) in support of the fight against Covid-19 pandemic.

As one of Africa’s largest financial service institutions, UBA recognizes the need for a social contract between it, its community and its people.  The bank on its own, funds all its programmes and initiatives under the aegis of the Foundation.  The UBA Foundation itself; draws inspiration from the Bank’s group intrinsic values of humility, empathy, resilience, integrity and its mission statement which is  “to be a role model for African businesses, abiding by the utmost professional and ethical standards and creating an enduring institution.”

Buoyed by these values which the Bank says “have and will always be the factors that inspire us to do well and do good,” the UBA Foundation has continued to live up to expectation.

With a customer base of about 1,000,006 and a robust annual profit, the Bank which operates in no less than 20 African countries, with offices in New York, London and Paris, maintains visible presence that has endeared the populace to its activities.  Its CSR culture also spans across the annual National Essay Competition for senior secondary school students, BA Read Africa Initiative, UBA Staff Give Back and so on.

The annual National Essay Competition (NEC) is UBA Foundation’s education initiative which is aimed at promoting the reading culture and encouraging healthy intellectual competition amongst secondary school students in Nigeria and other countries.  The competition which is now in its tenth year has been taken to Ghana, Senegal in recent years and more Africa countries would soon experience it too. 

The educational grant associated with the competition was recently increased and only applicable to students who intend to study in African universities.  The Foundation provides the grants in the local currency of the country where the students secured the admission and such local currency must be equivalent to N2million for the first prize winner in the competition, N1.5million to the second winner while the third prize winner goes with N1million.

When the fourth edition of the Essay Competition was held in Ghana (which was Ghana’s maiden edition) in 2014 in a colourful ceremony at UBA’s Ghana head office, the launch was well attended by a number of UBA’s senior executives, staff and representatives from Ghana Education Service and beneficiaries from previous editions.  In other editions here in Nigeria and elsewhere, the competition has been healthy and attractive. 

Similarly, the UBA Foundation’s Read Africa Initiative aims at reviving the culture of reading among young Africans.  In a recent edition of the initiative, UBA Mozambique donated 150 copies of books from a Mozambican Author ‘Pedro Pereira Lopes’ to the SOS Children Village.  The book titled “A Historia de Joan Gala-gala” featuring the Mozambican musician Chico Anthonio is a tale that embraces parts of the Mozambican culture.

As part of its robust CSR culture, the UBA foundation has evolved a system of its staff individually giving back to the communities where they operate, both in Nigeria and its subsidiaries in Africa.  It is designated “Each One Teach One” initiative.

The initiative is part of UBA Foundation’s activities where the Bank’s staff members give their time and skills to the communities around them by teaching and assisting the less privileged especially students and people living with disabilities.

The UBA may not be the best of them all in terms of CSR, but certainly among the best with a corporate culture of remaining socially responsible in the environments of its operations.  Its  engagement in various community development initiatives either directly through its special purpose vehicle (UBA Foundation) for the CSR or in partnership with credible non-governmental organizations and institutions would in the years to come, remain memorable and a pointer to the need for more corporate citizens to come on board.




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