Another era begins

Access Bank Plc begins a new era as its main man; Aigboje Aig-Imoukhuede takes a bow after over 11 years in the saddle, leaving behind his soul mate, Hebert Wigwe and a new set of executive directors to pilot the affairs of the bank. But how far can Wigwe and his team go?

Effective tomorrow, Tuesday, December 31, 2013, Aigboje Aig-Imoukhuede’s tenure as Group Managing Director of Access Bank Plc will eclipse after more than 11 years in the saddle. And a day after, a new chapter will also open in the life of the bank as his soul mate, Herbert Wigwe , takes over along with an retinue of executive directors.

Aig-Imoukhuede’s exit, no thanks to the Central Bank of Nigeria’s bank CEO/Directors tenure policy effectively marks an end to the career of a lawyer- turned banker, whose activities in the past years have created major upsets in the Nigeria’s fi nancial services sector.

Bold, daring, adventurous and sometimes ruthless, Aig- Imoukhuede’s footprint in the banking sector started when he was just 20 years old. Then, as a young Barrister at Law, he secured his fi rst job in the legal department of the then Continental Merchant Bank.

From Continental Merchant Bank, he moved to Prime Merchant Bank and later joined Fola Adeola and others at Guaranty Trust Bank Plc from where he sealed the Access Bank deal.

However, rather than confi ne himself to the legal department of banks, he switched into the mainstream, working in core banking department where he admitted gave him joy of identifying opportunities and going after them with all his might.

At that stage, his interest in deal making had blossomed, especially after reading “Buyout: The Insider’s Guide to Buying Your Own Company”, written by Rick Rickersten and Robert E. Gunther.

Incidentally, it was at that same time that the old Access Bank was in troubled and its then owners desperately searching for a bail out.

Aig-Imoukhuede led a group of very young but immensely ambitious bankers, including Wigwe to acquire controlling stakes in the bank and became its Chief Executive in March 2001 with the self-imposed mandate to reposition the bank as one of Nigeria’s top fi ve banks by 2007.

Determined to rapidly grow the Access Bank brand, Aig- Imoukhuede during the 2005 bank consolidation exercise acquired Capital Bank International and Marina International Bank, which he fused into Access Bank to create a much larger institution.

The quest to expand the Access Bank brand did not stop with the Nigerian mergers and acquisition deals. He made forays into the African continent to do a few acquisitions. In April 2008, he took Access Bank to Rwanda and acquired Bancor SA; moved to Democratic Republic of Congo to acquire Banque Privee du Congo and crossed over to Cote d’ Ivoire to seal the deal that saw the acquisition of Omnifi nance Bank. By September of the same year, Aig-Imoukhuede and his team found their ways to Burundi and came back with Finbank, as addition to the growing league of Access brand.

No doubt, Aig-Imoukhuede has the reputation of being relentlessly competitive. Ten years after becoming CEO, Access Bank has catapulted into the Top 10 in Africa’s most fi ercely competitive environment. It also prides itself is the fastest growing bank on the continent and Aig seems to be enjoying all the frills and thrills that come with it all. He was recently quoted as saying “Whatever else we have been accused of, nobody can accuse us of standing still”.

Truly, there are quite a few things that Access Bank under the leadership of the Sabon-gida Ora-born lawyer-turned banker and perhaps, the most scathing remains the controversial circumstances in which he acquired the defunct Intercontinental Bank Plc.

There are reports, which not even the Central Bank of Nigeria has been able to provide convincing response till date that as at the time Access Bank acquired Intercontinental Bank, both Aig- Imhokhuede and Wigwe owed the bank well over N16 billion.

The loan documents show that Aig-Imokhuede and Herbert Wigwe, as the Director and CEO respectively of Access Bank and also co-owners of United Alliance Company, borrowed a total of N16.3 billion from InterContinental Bank as of May 31, 2009. The loan was to be repaid in 36 months.

With Aig-Imhokhuede’s exit, there is a general belief both within and outside the banking sector that the strategy would not change drastically, given the fact that the new chief executive has always being part of the system from the beginning. .

As part of the consolidation exercise in the post-Aig- Imhokhuede era, Wigwe will have to work with the likes of Obinna Nwosu as his deputy alongside three new executive directors.

Nwosu has over 20 years banking experience- operations and relationship management at Access Bank and Guaranty Trust Bank, having joined Access Bank in 2002, as a general manager/head, Retail Banking Division until December 2012, when he took a study leave for a Masters Degree in Public Policy at Columbia University, New York.

Also on the board is Ojinika Olaghere, the executive director, Operations and Information Technology, with extensive experience in banking operations, Information Technology, Business Development and Enterprise Business Support. She joined Access Bank in 2007 from Ecobank, as general manager in charge of Enterprise Business Support.

Another addition is Elias Igbinakenzua, as executive director, Corporate and Investment Banking.

Igbinakenzua brings on board, over two decades of banking experience from Zenith Bank Plc, where he resigned as the executive director, Corporate Banking in July 2013. In his new role, Igbinakenzua, a fellow of the Institute of Chartered Accountants of Nigeria, Chartered Institute of Taxation of Nigeria and Institute of Credit Administration of Nigeria, will build on the bank’s leadership position in the corporate banking space, drawing on his wide industry experience.

Also to compliment the efforts of the bank at the board level is Roosevelt Ogbonna in charge of corporate banking.

Until now,, Ogbonna was the divisional head, Commercial Banking and under his leadership, the bank’s commercial banking franchise experienced impressive improvement in performance.

Ogbonna joined the bank in 2002, from Guaranty Trust Bank and is reputed for his very deep technical, business development and strong leadership skills and has successfully led the execution of several transformational projects across the bank.

He is a fellow of the Institute of Chartered Accountants of Nigeria and holds a Second Class Upper Degree in Banking and Finance from University of Nigeria, Nsukka, having attended several Executive Management Development Programmes in leading institutions.

Similarly, Victor Etuokwu will continue to lead the bank’s retail business as executive director, Personal Banking. Etuokwu has over 20 years of banking experience cutting across banking operations, retail banking, internal control, business acquisition and integration.

He joined Access Bank in 2002, from Citibank and was appointed an executive director in 2012. Etuokwu holds a Bachelor of Science Degree and Masters of Business Administration from the Universities of Ibadan and Benin respectively.

Wigwe had said that the Board had undergone a rigorous selection process to identify fi rst class talents, who possess the necessary attributes to drive the bank’s medium term strategy. “The team is a blend of internal and external candidates, male and female banking professionals and possesses all the skills and competencies that will be needed.

“I am confi dent that together, we will build upon our achievements thus far and realise our objective of becoming the world’s most respected African bank,” he said.

Earlier, when Wigwe’s appointment was confi rmed after it was rumoured that Aig- Imhokhuede had resisted his elevation, the outgoing Access Bank boss had remarked that “The fi rst chapter of Access Bank’s remarkable transformation story has been completed and I will retire satisfi ed and giving God all the glory for the successes recorded during my tenure. I thank the Chairman, Mr. Oyebode, other members of our Board and all my colleagues in the Bank for their wonderful support.

“Early in 2012, I disclosed to our Board of Directors about my desire to retire at the end of 2013; pursuant to which the Board of Directors unanimously decided that Herbert Wigwe would be the next CEO of Access Bank. He has been an outstanding deputy to me and has a complete understanding of our strategies, culture, technology and competitive environment.

“Importantly, he has strong relationships with our entire management team and customers. We believe that Herbert’s background and skills make him a perfect fi t to lead Access Bank as we enter the next chapter of our transformation,” Aig-Imhokhuede had said.

On his part, Wigwe had said that he was “excited to take on this new role,” adding that “Access Bank has incredibly talented employees and is in a strong position to further its leadership in the industry. I look forward to leading Access Bank in years ahead and helping to make it even stronger than it is today. I would like to thank the Board for their strong endorsement and the opportunity to lead this great institution. I look forward to meeting our employees, customers, and shareholders across our various markets in the weeks and months ahead”.

Wigwe started his professional career with Coopers and Lybrand Associates, an international fi rm of Chartered Accountants and later at Guaranty Trust Bank where he spent 10 years and managed several portfolios including fi nancial institutions, Corporates and Multinationals.

He serves as the Chairman of Intercontinental Homes Savings & Loans Plc and has been a Director at Associated Discount House Limited since December 1, 2011.

A Fellow of the Institute of Chartered Accountants of Nigeria (ICAN), an Alumnus of Harvard Business School Executive Management Programme, Wigwe 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.

For now, what future lies ahead of Aig-Imhokhuede remains unclear, but there are strong suspicion that he has his eyes fi rmly on the job of Sanusi-Lamido, who is expected to exit the apex bank in July when his fi rst term of fi ve years runs out.

Interestingly, Aig-Imhokhuede has not hidden his interest in the job and sources say he has suffi ciently pulled enough strings to turn the lever in his favour, notwithstanding the legion of highly qualifi ed contenders within the CBN itself.

Whatever happens, however, what is certain is that for the fi rst time in over 11 years, Access Bank will have to run without its charismatic, youthful and excessively ambitious former CEO.

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