First Bank isn’t Acquiring Heritage and Polaris Banks so These Tech Initiatives Would Survive


The financial space in Nigeria was rattled with news of a new round of mergers between banks in the country. According to reports, financial advisers were working on a merger be­tween First Bank of Nigeria on the one hand, and Heritage Bank and Polaris Bank (formerly Skye Bank) on the other.

This merger which was expected to give way to the emergence of possibly Nigeria’s biggest retail bank has however been debunked by Heritage Bank. According to the team, the report is devoid of truth and should be disregarded.

“The Management of Heritage Bank Plc will want to Categorically advise the general and the banking public to discontinue the rumour of the merger/ acquisition of Heritage Bank by First Bank as same is devoid of truth.”

And as a way out, both banks have opted for a merger with the tier-1 bank, First Bank of Nigeria. This will be the second M&A in the financial space over the last 2 years following the merger between Access Bank and Diamond bank last year.

Mergers and acquisitions almost always claim casualties. The first casualties are usually a staff of the acquired organisations, several of whom will suffer retrenchment. Then there are shareholders to worry about and of course the customers who are more likely to hastily withdraw all their deposits.

But we are worried about an entirely different category of casualties and we are going to talk about them subsequently.

Tech Initiatives that have been saved

Being a tech-focused institution, we find some innovations from these other banks too similar to keep. As such, they probably would have been terminated if the acquisition were true.

Heritage seems to be ahead in terms of tech initiatives. The bank holds its accelerator which brings together young minds looking to start out their own tech-enabled businesses and supports them with funding. Last year it held the maiden edition where it chose 7 startups – FashionMap, LadipoMarket, Trep Labs, Simbi Bot, BBOX, Iden2Five, and Wedding Paddy.

Healthtech startup, Trep labs emerged winner of the $25,000 grant, while eCommerce platform, LadipoMarket came second, winning $15,000 after the final pitch on the Demo Day.

These Tech Initiatives Could Die with First Bank Acquisition of Polaris and Heritage

First Bank on its own runs several tech initiatives. They include its Fintech Summit, a fintech hackathon through its Digital Innovation Lab, and a hackathon for AI and Big Data startups. Should it decide not to continue Heritage bank’s initiative, that will mean one less platform for early-stage tech startups to get groomed and funding to scale.

Also, both banks – Heritage and Polaris, have digital apps with which users access their services online. Heritage Bank has Octopus which is said also to be an AI chatbot, while Polaris has the PolarisMobile.

With the merger comes uncertainties as to what becomes of these platforms since First Bank also has its own, FirstMobile. As such, unless First Bank will be willing to transform the solutions or maybe build on them to suit the new brand, they will cease to exist.

As stated earlier, there’s always collateral damage in situations like this. From workers, shareholders and customers of the absorbed banks to other aspects seemingly insignificant as tech initiatives of the banks.

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