The evolution of Merchant Bank to UMB: Nilla Selormey shares thoughts

BY: Daily Graphic
Nilla Selormey, former CEO UMB
Nilla Selormey, former CEO UMB

The Universal Merchant Bank (UMB) was formed in 1972 as a policy bank to provide the first indigenous merchant banking capacity in Ghana. The year 2022 marks UMB’s golden jubilee. A former CEO of the bank, Nilla Selormey (NS), led the transformation of the brand in 2014 from Merchant Bank Ghana Limited to the present Universal Merchant Bank. She walks Daily Graphic (DG) through the journey of rebranding the bank, expanding its product and service offering and the challenges associated with change management. Below are excerpts

DG: Please tell us about your association with UMB.

NS: I was the managing director of UMB from the period 2014 to 2015. During my tenure as CEO, I led the transformation and moved the brand from Merchant Bank to Universal Merchant Bank (UMB).
As the oldest indigenous merchant bank in Ghana, UMB has done tremendously well to hit this milestone. Fifty years in the life of any institution is a long time and the bank has stood the test of time. I take it as a testament that the bank is still able to fulfil critical needs of Ghanaians.

DG: To what will you attribute the success of the bank over the years?

NS: Merchant Bank has always been a needs-based banker. When I say needs-based banker, what I mean is it provides services and products that meet a specific need. So it is not just out there providing generic services that may not necessarily appeal to everybody. I think it is that ability to meet specific needs of clients that has guaranteed the bank’s survival. So you will find that over the years Merchant Bank, when it was a merchant bank, has contributed tremendously to the success of many SMEs which became local, large businesses. There are quite a few of them who were supported to grow by Merchant Bank.
Therefore, I think much of UMB’s success has come about because it provides solutions, not necessarily just a tableau of generic banking products and services.

DG: As the CEO then, you led the rebranding and transformation of the bank and its value proposition. What was the reason behind this move?

NS: When I started my career 30-something years ago, Merchant Bank Ghana was a merchant bank and, therefore, known for its success in the corporate field, so there was not a single corporate client, government and private sector that did not have an account with Merchant Bank.
Just before I took over, I did some research and some strategic thinking to see what the gaps in the market were and how Merchant Bank could bring itself into the current era. One of the things I realised was that while it had chalked up so much success in the corporate area, and the franchise was not tapping into the headroom for growth in the retail/ consumer space.

My approach was thus to position the bank to capture these markets. Now that is what led to the rebranding of Merchant Bank to UMB. Anybody who remembers the old Merchant Bank will know the brand was synonymous with large corporations, among others.
Now the question was whether that brand was necessarily appealing to the demographic of today, where growth in the market was coming from the younger generation; was this a brand that was going to be able to attract that sort of target market?
After a lot of deliberations, questions, research and analysis, a decision was taken that we needed to refresh the brand to resonate with the core growth segments and to differentiate in the market.

DG: What was the meaning behind the rebrand and new logo?

(NS): From the start, there was no question that we wanted to keep “Merchant” as we had truly invested significantly in the financial sector and to shed the name entirely meant we would be walking away from a lot of history and brand recognition, but we knew it was important to pair the legacy name with “fresh energy” for our customer base and stakeholders to clearly understand our new and clear value proposition.
Now, bear in mind that the rebranding was not necessarily just changing the logo and the colours. Rebranding right from the start was to take another look at the culture, the ethos, the bank’s processes, the banking software, the products and services. All of that needed some retuning, redefining and bringing it into the modern age to make ourselves attractive to the new target market we are looking to attract and retain. So these were some of the initiatives we brought on board, which I think the bank has carried through as they have come forward.

DG: As a female CEO who led this transformation, what was it like for you?

NS: Anything a man can do; a woman can do and that is why I don't think along the lines of am I a woman or am I a man? I just think if you can do it as a man, I can do it as a woman. What does it take a man to succeed at this? Is that what it takes for a woman to succeed at it? Yes! Plus, maybe a little bit more. Maybe a man can score 9/10 in terms of perfection, but a woman will have to do 10/10 in terms of perfection to get there. But the route is the same. The investment is the same. The commitment is the same. The level of passion you’ll need to exhibit is the same. Where it comes from is the same. Yes, as a woman you’ll have to do a little bit more. But, if you want it, you can do it just as well as a man can do it and probably even better. This was my approach to this task so the transformation was as it was for anybody – hectic, exciting, frenetic, but in the end , one was greatly elated by the successes chalked, and the camaraderie of the team one worked with.

DG: UMB is marking its golden jubilee celebration this year. What is your goodwill message for them?

NS: Fifty years is a long time in the life of any institution. My age tracks to that of the bank so that makes the celebration a bit more poignant. I wish the bank the heartiest congratulations. The bank has been through thick and thin. They have been through difficult times; they have been through good times, but they have survived. That is the most important thing.
My goodwill message for them is to continue to do things properly, work professionally, be relevant, be solution providers, be value-adding partners so that the next 50 years will come and we will celebrate a 100-year-old institution.
I think for Ghana that will be a fantastic thing because there are very few institutions that have even crossed the 25-year mark. Yes, you will find a few organisations that are over a century in this clime, but how many indigenous organisations do we find in Ghana which have reached that 50-year mark?
My goodwill message is very simple. All stakeholders of the great bank should work with the knowledge that they are working for an institution they want to see thriving for the next 50 years so that together as Ghanaians we can celebrate a 100-year-old institution.
I think that will be fantastic.