Moved to London
Nigerian banks in London might be compared to the city’s famous red buses: you can wait an age for one to come along and then three or four appear at once. For 25 years there have been just two Nigerian banks in London, FBN and Union Bank of Nigeria. FBN was a branch of First Bank until it was turned into a full bank in 2002. It has a good steady business. “Not all bankers trust Nigerian risk,” says Peter Hinson, managing director of FBN Bank. “We act as a clearing house, for they take comfort from a UK payment.”
Now this cosy duo has been joined by Zenith Bank, GTB and Intercontinental, while UBA has bought Afrinvest. That is not all. At least four other banks – Oceanic, Platinum Habib, Access and FCMB – are applying for licences.
"We broke the dam," says Andrew Martin, chief executive of Zenith Bank in London. Like the other Nigerian banks, Zenith is a subsidiary, not a branch. The Financial Services Authority would not allow branches of Nigerian banks to operate in the City, taking a cautious view of Nigerian regulators. "It is possible to see the arrival of so many Nigerian banks in London as a feather in the cap of the central bank governor," says Martin. "It gives the country’s financial sector legitimacy."
It also helps to undo some of the harm that the notorious email scamsters have caused. It has not deterred the crooks, who are becoming increasingly creative, even setting up fake bank websites, offering jobs at their headquarters – once the appropriate payment has been made.
There is an unspoken fear among the established players that one of the new entrants could easily upset the reputation that they have struggled to establish.