Herbert Wigwe is positioning Access Bank Plc to become a financial powerhouse with the capacity to affect the Africa positively, writes Hamid Ayodeji
For his stellar leadership in the market expansion of one of sub-Saharan Africa’s largest bank despite the negative impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Group Managing Director/CEO of Access Bank Plc, Mr. Herbert Wigwe, was recently adjudged the ‘African Banker of the Year’ at the 2021 edition of the African Banker Awards.
A winner of one of the most-prized categories at the awards ceremony for the second consecutive year, Wigwe was recognised for his aggressive expansion of the Access Bank brand in the continent.
According to organisers of the awards, over the last 12 months, Access Bank has established a presence in South Africa, a major financial hub in the continent, following the bank’s acquisition of Grobank.
Accepting the award, Wigwe said Access Bank was focused on promoting corporate discipline, adding that the bank wants to be in key markets on the continent, building a payment gateway and providing trade finance support.
“We want to be seen as the best bank supporting the African Continental Free Trade Area agreement (AfCFTA). In terms of diaspora remittances, we are present in key areas in the continent,” he said.
The African Banker Awards is among the most respected and recognised industry events celebrating African banking achievements.
The organisers this year, put emphasis on recognising and rewarding institutions that contributed to the real economy which has suffered from the impact of Covid-19 as well as contributed to women empowerment on the continent.
Commenting on the award, Group Publisher of African Banker and Chair of the Awards Committee, Omar Ben Yedder, said, “Herbert is one of the most respected bankers on the continent, without a shadow of a doubt.
“The bank has gone from a lower ranked Nigerian bank when he joined the group as Deputy CEO to become one of Africa’s leading financial services groups. He has shown a relentless pursuit for growth, but has done so in a measured and calculated manner. What he and his team have done at Access Bank is nothing short of remarkable.”
In line with Yedder’s comment, Wigwe, who is also the Chairman of Body of Banks’ Chief Executive Officers, has deployed his value-driven leadership to support the industry regulators in designing initiatives to support Nigerians as well in ensuring stability in the banking system.
Wigwe is also positioning the bank to take advantage of the opportunities which the AfCFTA presents in the continent. The AfCFTA agreement is expected to create the largest free trade area in the world measured by the number of countries participating.
The pact connects 1.3 billion people across 55 countries with a combined gross domestic product (GDP) valued at $3.4 trillion. It has the potential to lift 30 million people out of extreme poverty, but achieving its full potential will depend on putting in place significant policy reforms and trade facilitation measures.
In fact, it is expected that full implementation of AfCFTA would reshape markets and economies across the region and boost output in the services, manufacturing and natural resources sectors.
These opportunities will provide competition within the industry and therefore banks that position themselves appropriately, will benefit enormously.
Indeed, these opportunities informed Wigwe’s recent visit to the President of Rwanda, Paul Kagame, as the bank eyes further continental expansion. Access Bank recently unfolded plans to expand to more African countries as part of a strategy to support trade and finance in the continent and take advantage of the AfCFTA.
According to Wigwe, across Africa, there is an opportunity for the bank to expand to high-potential markets, leveraging the benefits of AfCFTA.
He said AfCFTA, among other benefits, would expand intra-Africa trade and provide real opportunities for Africa.
He stated that the plan was for the bank to establish its presence in 22 African countries so as to diversify its earnings and take advantage of growth opportunities in the continent. According to him, Africa has enormous potential and there are opportunities for an African bank that is well run, that understands compliance and has the capacity to support trade and the right technology infrastructure to support payments and remittances, without taking incremental risks.
“We believe that we are best positioned to basically do all of that. Our focus is to become an aggregator in Africa and we are building a global payment gateway and providing trade finance support and correspondent banking across the continent. We are focusing on the key markets.
“The approach would always be that in the country we wish to go to, that we have the right skills. We would not just be a drop in the country in which we are present, we would make sure that we have an impactful presence in each of the major countries in which we are present.
“In doing this, we are also mindful of the country we are going to so as to make sure that it is of benefit to the bank. As we do this, we are working with our friends and partners.
“We are diversifying our earnings away from volatile markets as well and we are orchestrating our operations from the global payments gateway and ensuring that using Access Bank UK, providing corresponding services from digital platforms, the overall profitability of our franchise,” he explained.
Commenting further, on AfCFTA, he said the bank would use its digital framework to benefit from the continental agreement.
Access Bank, Africa’s largest retail bank, serves more than 36 million customers across a network of 677 branches.
The bank whose brand visibility has been on the upswing since its acquisition of former Diamond Bank has remained supportive of micro, small and medium scale enterprises in the country.
For instance, in the wake of the pandemic, the Wigwe-led Access Bank had unfolded various forms of support for operators of such businesses, through the $50 million loan support the bank secured from the International Finance Corporation (IFC).
Wigwe had said the bank was committed to helping Nigerian businesses weather COVID-19 pandemic and set a course for recovery. According to him, the funds has helped the bank increase liquidity to several Nigerian small and medium-sized enterprises navigating the economic challenges of COVID-19.
“In Nigeria, SMEs contribute over 45 percent of national GDP, account for about 96 percent of businesses and 84 per cent 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,” he said.
According to him, the IFC’s funding has not only enabled the bank to extend financial relief to clients across all sectors during the pandemic, but beyond the COVID-19 crisis as well.
In line with its drive to support entrepreneurial spirit in the country, the bank recently rewarded serving members of the Nigeria Youth Service Corps (NYSC) with over N15 million in the third edition of the bank’s youth business challenge competition, Accessprenuer.
The scheme was designed to train corps members on business plan writing, after which a competition will be held to select the top winners with bright and feasible business ideas within the mandatory 21-day Camp orientation exercise.
Similarly, the bank recently launched what it termed the ‘Diamond Business Advantage (DBA) lite’ as part of efforts to increase its digital loans and enhance access to finance for young entrepreneurs.
The bank said the product which is targeted at the youths was designed to add value to micro, small and medium scale enterprises. The DBA Lite is a product of the erstwhile Diamond bank via the Diamond Business Account and that was one of the best products in the market but after the merger, it was renamed DBA.
Access Bank accounts for over 50 per cent of digital loans in the industry because it is gives such loans at an average of N18, 000-N20, 000 daily. Last year, four million people accessed N100 billion through the bank.
In addition, the bank has through its ‘W’ initiative continues to support female entrepreneurs.
The bank had unveiled the ‘W’ initiative to accelerate its support for women. In addition to financial inclusion, the initiative also focuses on women empowerment offerings. Some of these include mentoring, capacity building, maternal health services, access to loans and credit facilities.
In line with its support for female entrepreneurs, the bank under the leadership of Wigwe also introduced the third edition of its Womenpreneur Pitch-a-ton Africa programme.
The Womenpreneur Pitch-a-ton Africa programme was designed to provide female- owned businesses across Africa an opportunity to access finance, world-class business trainings as well as mentoring opportunities.
The programme was designed to create an enabling environment for female entrepreneurs to grow their businesses.
Commenting on these interventions, Wigwe said: “For us at Access Bank, supporting and empowering women is truly at the heart of our strategy and other things we have to do as far as sustainability is concerned.
“In the last couple of years, we have made significant progress as a bank and there have been several things that have been done in terms of supporting women.
“The ‘W’ initiative is supposed to inspire and empower women as well as female entrepreneurs. When we started doing it, some people thought it was a joke.”
“Through our W session- in-branch and W Business Hubs, we provide you a platform to meet with industry experts on how to come-up with a compelling business plan.”
In its assessment of Access Bank, Coronation Merchant Bank in its latest banking industry report noted that Access Bank under the watch of Wigwe clearly transformed itself with its acquisition of Diamond Bank.
It also praised Wigwe’s dynamism in steering the financial institution.
“As Access Bank continues to successfully execute its 5-year corporate strategy (2017-2022), we see the long-term investment case for the company strengthening. The company is on track to ‘Win with Africa’, exploiting significant digital and retail banking opportunities, supported by Nigeria and Africa’s demographics.
“Elsewhere, we like management’s dynamic view on the future of banking, as it makes a foray into the payments space. According to management, a third of all transactions in Nigeria start from or end at Access Bank and ensuring retail transaction flows continue to grow is the bank’s core focus.
Regrettably, the report noted that Access Bank continued to ‘nurture’ the loan book inherited from Diamond Bank from the 2019 business combination and has written off N197.68 billion in loans over the last two years, even as it continues to pursue recalcitrant debtors in the country.
Therefore, Wigwe, who is also the founder of HOW Foundation, must be given all the support and encouragement as he positions Access Bank as Africa’s financial powerhouse in order to play a major role in the continent’s recovery journey.