Elorm Desewu writes: GCB Bank’s 70 years of crucial support for Ghana

This year, GCB Bank is commemorating its 70th birthday, a landmark that only two other banks – neither of them indigenously owned – have reached.

Indeed, GCB Bank is not only by far the biggest and oldest indigenous bank in Ghana; it is the largest bank as a whole in terms of shareholders’ funds, which effectively makes it the most financially solid bank in the country.

Just as importantly it is the most popular bank in the country, especially at the grassroots, having the largest and geographically most expansive branch network.

Since rebranding, from its previous corporate identity as Ghana Commercial Bank a little over a decade ago, GCB Bank has modernized and now competes favourably with even the leading international banks in Ghana with regard to the use of technology for digital banking as well as corporate banking and finance, and international banking.

But GCB Bank’s biggest claim to fame is the fact that over the past seven decades, no other bank in Ghana has come anywhere close to making contributions to the growth and development of its economy and the well-being of its populace.

Actually, this is precisely what it was established to do, back in 1953. At the time Ghana was relying only on foreign-owned banks for financing economic activity across the country and so Ghana Commercial Bank was licensed with a view to supporting both indigenous private enterprise and the government itself. Thus effectively, the bank had a socio-economic growth and development agenda besides its commercial charter.

Since then the bank has proved incontrovertibly that it is possible to generate industry-leading profitability, while at the same time supporting many of the most strategically important projects and programmes embarked on in the country by both the private and the public sectors.

Over the decades, GCB Bank has been more pivotal than any other institution in providing financial intermediation platform for Ghana’s economy to run on, thus being behind the growth of many of the country’s leading private enterprises. GCB Bank has also financed many of the State’s most crucial development projects and financially facilitated key policies and programmes, as well as being the biggest debt financier of the state treasury itself through investment in the government’s domestic debt securities.

But even more impactful has been the deliberate focus it has placed on providing direly needed financial support for the sectors of the economy that have the biggest potential for accelerating Ghana’s economic growth and development. In doing so, GCB Bank has shared the successes of the Ghanaian economy in many ways, playing a significant role in financing key social and economic public infrastructure that have improved the living standards of the citizenry; in supporting value-addition-driven business, especially indigenous enterprises including those located in semi-urban and rural Ghana where other commercial banks are reluctant to go; and in supporting government policies and programmes that are potentially pivotal for the country’s economic growth and development such as the financing of Tema Oil Refinery’s crude oil imports in the 1990s and 2000s and more recently, its leading role in financing enterprises under the One District One Factory initiative.

Over the years, GCB Bank has invested substantially in the oil and gas industry, cocoa, mining, manufacturing, commerce and other vital sectors of the economy.

GCB Bank has been a key channel of international trade through dealings in letters of credit, financing medium-term loans, forward contracts, export credit guarantee lines, negotiation of cedi instruments, foreign exchange transactions, currency transfers, and negotiation of non-cedi instruments amongst others.

In addition to all this, the Bank has funded iconic projects like the reconstruction of the Golden Tulip Hotel in Kumasi, the construction of the gas pipelines linking production centres with processing and consumption centres and other ancillary projects to support the relocation of the Karpowership from Tema to Takoradi.

Instructively, in 2017, GCB Bank voted GHc1 billion to support Ghana’s One District, One Factory (1D1F) initiative and also established a dedicated business unit to provide advisory services to develop business proposals from prospective investors.

Over the past quarter of a century, the bank has transformed itself into one of Ghana’s most modern banks with regard to its financial intermediation capabilities, its digital technology-driven payments platforms and consequently its corporate reputation both at home and abroad. In 1998 the bank was listed on the Ghana Stock Exchange, enabling Ghanaian households nationwide to share in its commercial success.

Indeed, at the time following the IPO itself, the bank had over 100,000 investors, the widest shareholder base of any company in Ghana at the time. This has persuaded the bank to intensify its commercial orientation, providing shareholders most competitive returns on their investments in the bank’s equity through higher dividends and faster capital gains. But crucially this has been achieved through bigger revenues and profits rather than a shift in the balance between commerciality and deliberate development financing.

Most fundamentally, the bank changed its name from Ghana Commercial Bank to GCB Bank, accompanying this with a refreshing new image, upgraded branches and the deployment of the latest digital technology across all its operations including product and service delivery.

This has raised its capacities in a most pivotal way. It has leveraged its unparalleled branch network by matching the most technology-savvy international banks and consequently ensuring its superiority with regard to retail banking nationwide.

It has also expanded its corporate banking and corporate financing capacities too, making it preferred, not just among indigenously owned enterprises, but among multinational corporations as well. No other bank has been as impactful as GCB Bank with regard to facilitating the establishment and growth of private enterprises all around the country.

At the same time, while the bank has always been a major financier of government itself over the decades through its investments in treasury bills and bonds, in 2022 this became more crucial than ever as its support substantially filled the government’s fiscal financing gap after international capital markets closed their doors to it and investors in domestic bonds also pulled back. Again, GCB Bank proved that it is absolutely essential to Ghana’s economic survival.

Even with all this commitment the Bank has still proven to be one of the most socially responsible corporate citizens in Ghana, living up to its mantra “Your Bank for Life” through its unrivalled CSR initiatives through donations and grants in the areas of Education, Health, Culture and Tradition, Tourism, Environment and Children and Sports. Indeed in this regard, it has set the standards for the rest of the banking industry, and indeed corporate Ghana as a whole, to follow.

Simply put, GCB Bank’s 70th anniversary deserves to be appreciated and celebrated by the whole country as its biggest bank as well as its most supportive in terms of both financing of the private and public sectors alike and its commitment to good corporate citizenship.