As Access Bank Plc breaks more grounds in Nigeria and beyond, Festus Akanbi, in this piece writes that the bank is reaping from some informed decisions of its Group Managing Director, Herbert Wigwe
It was Steve Jobs, the charismatic pioneer of the personal computer era, who succinctly captures the uniqueness of good leadership in his popular quote, “Innovation distinguishes between a leader and a follower”.
This perfectly captures the daring and “nothing-is-impossible” spirit of the Group Managing Director of Access Bank Plc, Mr, Herbert Wigwe, who effectively became the chief executive of the now leading Tier-1 bank in Nigeria on January 1, 2014, following the retirement of the founding chief executive, Aigboje Aig-Imoukhuede.
Although Wigwe had recorded some daring moves ever since he took control of the bank, perhaps the riskiest of them was the merger with the now-defunct Diamond Bank.
Right from the stage of the consummation of the merger with Diamond Bank, till the conclusion of the process on April 1, 2019, Wigwe’s focus and confidence over his action were never in doubt. It was a period many had feared that acquiring Diamond Bank with speculations about its exposures and crisis at that period would leave Access Bank bruised.
But for Wigwe, who has proven to have the ability to spot opportunities where others least expect, there was no going back on his plan to expose Access Bank to the technological edge and other opportunities inherent in Diamond Bank.
According to him, the board of the bank believed that the proposed combination of the two operations provided an exciting prospect for all stakeholders in both businesses and that the exercise would create a financial institution with the scale, strength, and expertise to capitalise on the significant opportunities in Nigeria and sub-Saharan Africa more broadly.
Two years after the celebrated business merger, banking industry watchers say Access Bank is already reaping the benefits of such an informed decision.
Robust CSR Policy
Also under the watchful eyes of Wigwe, Access Bank has continued to carve a niche for itself as a bank with robust corporate social responsibility projects scattered all over the country. It didn’t come as a surprise, therefore, when in 2019, the bank was ranked as the overall best company in Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) and Sustainability in Nigeria for the year as published in Forbes Africa. The ranking was based on a result drawn from impact assessments of 910 organisations operating in Nigeria over the last 13 years.
Wigwe is a bank chief who believes that as the institution becomes bigger, so also its impacts in its immediate environment should increase. This, therefore, explains why the bank dedicates a minimum of one per cent of its Profit-Before-Tax to sustainability.
The Bank also co-created the first disability inclusion hub in Nigeria, initiated and led the development of the Nigerian Sustainable Banking Principles, and has brought about social and economic benefits to host communities across Nigeria through its employee volunteering scheme.
It is therefore a delight to its customers that Access Bank Plc’s retail banking division is embarking on corporate social responsibility (CSR) project that will impact over 90,000 youths across the country.
The CSR initiative by the Retail Banking Division primarily fosters development in areas of academic and moral excellence, financial literacy, reading culture, personal leadership, and infrastructural upgrade amongst secondary school students and over 90 schools across the nation.
That Access Bank stands out as a formidable financier of Small and Medium Enterprises projects in Nigeria is not in doubt.
Like a commander with a determined mindset, Wigwe has successfully led the bank to take a pre-eminent position in the area of SMEs financing especially at a period when the economy is buffeted by the twin problems of the Covid-19 scourge and the growing poverty in the land.
As a mark of its readiness to help build the nation, Access Bank, under Wigwe decided to invest in the youths following the devastation of the End-SARS protests in 2020. Consequently, the bank announced a N50 billion support in form of interest-free loans and grants to small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) to support the rebuilding of businesses affected by #EndSARS protests.
One cannot forget in a hurry how the peaceful #EndSARS protests had degenerated into chaos with reports of vandalisation and looting of businesses across the country.
The bank said helping businesses recoup their losses was its ‘responsibility and duty.
“As one of Nigeria’s largest businesses serving every part of our society, it is our responsibility and duty to make a difference. Corporates cannot simply stand by and send messages of solidarity, and go back to ‘business as usual’ without helping get their customers and communities back on track.
“There has been a setback on this journey and we feel the hurt of our nation. We are committed to restarting businesses quickly but even more important to ensure we come out of this stronger and more successful together,” a statement from the bank had said,
Not done with the business of helping people, Wigwe later said Access Bank was committed to helping Nigerian businesses weather the COVID-19 pandemic and set a course for recovery.
He made this known after the Bank secured loan support, worth up to $50 Million from the International Finance Corporation (IFC).
According to Wigwe, the funds will, “Help Access Bank Plc increase its liquidity to several Nigerian small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) navigating the economic challenges of COVID-19.
“In Nigeria, SMEs contribute over 45 per cent of national GDP, account for about 96 per cent of businesses and 84% of employment. Access Bank, therefore, recognises the importance of SMEs to economic stability and is going the extra mile to ensure that such businesses are adequately financed to weather these testing times.”
Access Bank, Africa’s largest retail bank, serves more than 36 million customers across a network of 677 branches.
Access Bank and Nigerian Women
Not leaving the womenfolks behind, Access Bank in 2020 unveiled the second edition of its Womenpreneur Pitch-a-ton programme.
The Womenpreneur Pitch-a-ton Africa 2020 Campaign is designed to provide female-owned businesses across Africa an opportunity to access finance and world-class business training as well as mentoring opportunities. This programme has been designed to create an enabling environment for female entrepreneurs to grow their businesses.
Speaking at the launch of the second edition of this initiative, Ayona Trimnell, Group Head W Initiative, described Access Bank as a leading advocate for women’s economic empowerment in Nigeria.
“As a responsible financial institution with a huge presence in other African countries, we want to give the same opportunity to other female entrepreneurs in Ghana, Rwanda, and Zambia as well as Sierra Leone, Gambia, & Congo to apply and participate in this year’s edition of the programme,” she stated.
Strong Retail Bank
Under Wigwe’s leadership, nothing is cast of stones, He believes the time is ripe to focus on retail business as the nation’s economy expands, Before its merger with the defunct Diamond Bank, Access Bank had built a solid wholesale business with a strong treasury and was renowned for strong risk management.
Diamond Bank had its strengths in micro-SMEs and individuals, with a strong digital institution of about 17 million customers. Following the 2019 Access-Diamond merger, Access Bank became the largest bank in Nigeria by customer base and is continuously upgrading its systems to provide the same high level of service to its over 31 million customers post-merger.
Wigwe explained that the Bank has changed from being primarily focused on wholesale – where they only had to work majorly with large or medium corporations – to retail banking, ensuring payments are seamless from top to bottom.
This shift by Access Bank to retail banking operations has seen the Bank increase its credit facilities options. The primary objective of retail banks is to be the one-stop shop for financial services for its consumers. In line with this, Access Bank offers services such as current accounts, savings accounts, investments, personal loans, and so on. Also, all of these services are fast and digitally-led.
A part of the Bank’s strategy is to provide customers with digital services, using certain key strategic levers like automation, connectivity, simplicity, and convenience. In this vein, Access Bank has leveraged technology to create instant and remote solutions to deploying digital services across all its subsidiaries.
In terms of its financials, Access Bank under Wigwe has continued to put smiles on the faces of both shareholders and customers. This is because, despite dislocations in the economy in the past few years, Access Bank has continued to record improvement in its operating performances. For instance, its Gross Earnings for 2020 were N764,717,441 a 15 percent improvement from its 2019 figure of N666,753,600 and its 2018 figure of N528,744,579.
The bank under the watch of Wigwe also recorded a 13 per cent sustained growth in its profit before tax within three years, 2018, 2019, and 2020. It recorded a PAT of N125,922, 129 in 2020 while it declared N111,925,523 and N103,187,703 for 2019 and 2018 respectively.
For its profit after tax, a 13 per cent growth was also recorded within three years. N106,009,695 for year 2020 while N94,056,603 and N94,981,086 were posted in 2019 and 2018 respectively.
Analysts said with the success recorded so far, there is every reason to be confident that Access Bank will cross the N200billion PTA mark by the time its full-year 2021 result is ready.
……………….THE MAN WIGWE………………
Wigwe started his professional career with Coopers & Lybrand Associates, an international firm of Chartered Accountants. He spent over 10 years at Guaranty Trust Bank Plc, where he managed several portfolios, including financial institutions, large corporates, and multinationals. He left Guaranty Trust Bank as an Executive Director to co-lead the transformation of Access Bank Plc in March 2002 as Deputy Managing Director. He was appointed Group Managing Director/CEO effective January 1, 2014.
Wigwe is an alumnus of the Harvard Business School Executive Management Programme. He holds a master’s degree in Banking and International Finance from the University College of North Wales, a master’s degree in Financial Economics from the University of London, and a B.Sc. degree in Accounting from the University of Nigeria, Nsukka. He is also a Fellow of the Institute of Chartered Accountants of Nigeria (ICAN).