Barely 48 hours after restating the need to increase the capital base of Deposit Money Banks for improved productivity, the Central Bank of Nigeria has announced new guidelines on its recapitalisation policy for banks in the country.

The new guidelines were disclosed in a statement signed by its Acting Director, Corporate Communications,  Sidi Ali, in Abuja on Thursday.

She said the apex bank had directed commercial banks with international authorisation to increase their capital base to N500bn and national banks to N200bn.

According to the acting CBN director, commercial banks with national licences must meet a N200bn threshold, while those with regional authorisation are expected to achieve a N50bn capital floor.

Similarly, non-interest banks with national and regional authorisations will need to increase their capital to N20bn and N10bn, respectively.

The CBN’s move came two days after the Monetary Policy Committee hinted that it would change the capital base of the nation’s banks.

At the press briefing that followed the 294th MPC meeting on Tuesday, the CBN Governor, Olayemi Cardoso, urged DMBs to expedite actions to increase their capital base to strengthen the financial system against potential risk.

In its meeting, the committee noted that to guard against risk, commercial banks in the country should accelerate their recapitalisation efforts.

Cardoso said, “The MPC also reviewed developments in the banking system and noted that the industry remains safe, sound, and stable. The committee thus called on the bank to sustain its surveillance and ensure compliance of banks with existing regulatory and macro-potential guidelines.

“The MPC also enjoined the banks to expedite actions on  recapitalisation to strengthen the system against potential risks in an increasingly globalised world.”

However, the latest CBN policy directive specifies that commercial banks with international authorisation are now required to shore up their capital base to N500bn.

The current capital base is stratified based on the type of banking licence – banks with regional, national, and international licences are currently expected to maintain the minimum capital bases.

The proposed increase in the capital base comes nearly two decades after the CBN’s 2004 banking reform, which increased the then-prevailing capital base from N2bn to N25bn.

 The 2004 banking reform was characterised by massive mergers and acquisition activities, ultimately reducing the number of banks in the country from 89 to 25.

The PUNCH, in an exclusive report last year, indicated that Deposit Money Banks’ chief executive officers and other top executives had begun moves to raise fresh capital to bolster their respective institutions’ capital base through preliminary merger and acquisition talks.

Recall that in November 2023, Cardoso, at the 58th Annual Bankers’ Dinner organised by the Chartered Institute of Bankers of Nigeria, announced plans by the apex bank to carry out a fresh round of banking recapitalisation for the Deposit Money Banks.

He said the policy was part of its efforts to strengthen its capacity to support Nigeria’s drive to become a $1tn economy by 2026.

At the dinner, Cardoso said, “Despite the challenging global and local economic environment, Nigeria’s financial sector has demonstrated resilience in 2023 with key indications of financial soundness largely meeting regulatory benchmarks.

“Stress test conducted on the banking industry also indicates its strength under mild to moderate scenario on sustained economic and financial stress. Although there is room for further strengthening and enhancing resilience to shocks.

“Therefore, there is still much to be done in fortifying the industry for future challenges.  The economic agenda of President Bola Ahmed Tinubu’s mandate has set an ambitious goal of achieving a GDP of $1tn  over the next seven years.

“Attaining this target necessitates sustainable and inclusive economic growth at a significantly higher pace than current levels. It is crucial to evaluate the adequacy of our banking industry to serve the envisioned larger economy. It is not just about its current stability. We need to ask ourselves, can Nigerian banks have sufficient capital relative to the finance system needed in servicing a $1tn economy in the near future, in my opinion, the answer is no, unless we take action.  As a first test, the central bank will direct banks to increase their capital.”

Earlier in March, a report by Ernst and Young indicated that at least 17 out of the existing 24 Deposit Money Banks might be unable to meet the Central Bank of Nigeria’s capital requirement if it is increased from its current N25bn.

The new report, titled ‘Navigating the Horizon: Charting the Course for Banks amid Plans for Recapitalisation’ noted some banks might depend on different recapitalisation options, which include mergers and acquisitions, initial public offerings, placements and/or right issues and undistributed profit (retained earnings) despite the fact that financial soundness indicators show that Nigerian banks were largely safe and resilient as of 2023.

“On this basis, a worst-case scenario given a 15x capital multiplier for 24 banks will be considered based on the type of banking licenses held. We have benchmarked the current capital of these banks against the current capital requirement and four recapitalization scenarios,” it noted.

In spite of the possible disruption, the apex bank has gone ahead with it’s drastic move.

A circular signed by the Director, Financial Policy and Regulation Department, Mr. Haruna Mustafa, to all commercial, merchant, and non-interest banks and promoters of proposed banks emphasised that all banks were required to meet the minimum capital requirement within 24 months commencing from April 1, 2024, and terminating on March 31, 2026.

To enable them to meet the minimum capital requirements, the CBN urged banks to consider injecting fresh equity capital through private placements, rights issues and/or offers for subscription, Mergers and Acquisitions, and/or upgrade or downgrade of license authorisation.

Furthermore, the circular disclosed that the minimum capital shall comprise paid-up capital and share premium only. It stressed that the new capital requirement shall not be based on the Shareholders’ Fund.

“Additional Tier 1 Capital shall not be eligible for meeting the new requirement. Notwithstanding the capital increase, banks are to ensure strict compliance with the minimum capital adequacy ratio requirement applicable to their license authorisation.

“In line with extant regulations, banks that breach the CAR requirement shall be required to inject fresh capital to regularise their position,” it added.

The CBN circular said the minimum capital requirement for proposed banks shall be paid-up capital, adding that the new minimum capital requirement shall apply to all new applications for banking licenses submitted after April 1, 2024.

It noted that the CBN would continue to process all pending applications for banking licenses for which a capital deposit had been made and/or an Approval-in-Principle had been granted.

However, it said that the promoters of such proposed banks would make up the difference between the capital deposited with the CBN and the new capital requirement no later than March 31, 2026.

In an earlier interview with our correspondent, the Chief Executive Officer of the Centre for the Promotion of Private Enterprise, Dr Muda Yusuf,  welcomed the move to increase banks’ capital base, adding that the current capital base was grossly inadequate.

He said, “The minimum capital requirements of the banking industry need to be reviewed in light of the considerable loss of value amid depreciating domestic currency. During the banking consolidation of 2004, the minimum capital requirement for banks was raised from N2bn to N25bn. The revised capital requirement was equivalent to $187m. Today, the same N25bn is the equivalent of just $32.5m.”

 Also, Uche Uwaleke, a Professor of Capital Markets at Nasarawa State University, urged the CBN not to coerce banks into increasing their capital base, as was the case during the last recapitalisation drive; rather, they should be incentivised.

“The idea of recapitalisation of banks is a welcome one. Capital is needed to finance big-ticket projects, especially when the government targets a $1tn economy in a few years. But I think the strategy should be somewhat different from the approach adopted in 2005. It should be more about incentives than coercion,” he said.

Meanwhile, the CBN said all banks are required to submit an implementation plan (clearly indicating the chosen option(s) for meeting the new capital requirement and various activities involved with their timelines) no later than April 30, 2024.

The CBN also disclosed that it would monitor and ensure compliance with the new requirements within the specified timeline.