By Bunmi Ogunmodede:

IF the words of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) Governor, Sanusi Lamido Sanusi, are anything to go by, smaller banks  may soon be licensed to operate at “regional” level.
The new policy is in line with the apex bank’s latest reform of ending universal banking, which permitted banks to provide a variety of financial services ranging from investment, commercial, insurance and stock broking, among others.
Sanusi dropped the hint, while fielding questions at the weekend on the CBN reform in the banking sector during a live programme on a Lagos-based broadcast station,  Channels Television.
He said the apex bank would not hesitate to issue an operating licence to any bank wishing to operate at the “regional” level.
Specifically, Sanusi spoke of the likely fate that could await WEMA Bank at the end of the six months grace given to its management to recapitalise on or before June.
He said the bank has a right to apply for a “regional” operating licence, if its management found it difficult to attain the N25 billion capital base to operate nationally.
His words: “If by June, WEMA Bank approaches us and say they want to operate only in the South-West region and they give back to us their operating licence, we will issue them with operating licence for regional banking.”
It was also learnt that the proposed Islamic Bank would operate at a “regional” level when licensed.
According to Sanusi, it was not ideal for a bank with a N5 billion capital base to be opening up branches all over Africa, pointing out that reform was to make the banks stronger in areas where they wield comparative advantage.
He further spoke of the need to adopt the Malaysian model of reform in the financial sector, insisting that all the three stages of reforms in the banking sector, capital market and governance must run their full course.
Sanusi’s immediate predecessor, Prof. Chukwuma Soludo, introduced universal banking and upped the minimum capital base of banks to N25 billion despite opposition from some quarters that the banks should be graded according to their financial strenght.

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