Indeed, Herbert Wigwe has charted a radical path for one of Africa’s largest and most influential banks. His leadership is authentic and in the cutthroat terrain of Nigerian banking, he rides the tides of the industry thus dictating the pace of change and influencing the thought of his time. There is no gainsaying, therefore, that he would command the epochs that follow and impress his name on eternity by his dazzling strides.
Interestingly, the French government is fostering its ties with Nigeria’s captains of industry, and in particular, Herbert Wigwe, who recently announced that his bank would open a Paris branch.
Herbert Wigwe, the MD of Access Bank, confirmed during the Choose France foreign investment summit hosted on 28 June by President Emmanuel Macron, that he wanted to open a branch in Paris.
This was to the great satisfaction of the French government, which had been carefully preparing the ground for several months with Wigwe and his team. With a turnover of 765bn naira ($1.9bn) and a net profit of 106bn naira ($257), Access is one of Nigeria’s leading banks.
French Trade Minister Frank Riester met Wigwe during a visit to Nigeria in April. Christian Noyer, a former French central bank governor appointed by the government in 2016 to promote Paris as a financial centre post-Brexit, spoke with Wigwe several times on the phone to assure him that he had support of the French authorities. Noyer is also liaising with the French Treasury department and the Autorité de Contrôle Prudentiel et de Résolution, the banking supervisory body, to facilitate Access’ obtention of a banking licence.
Two other Nigerian banks already have representative offices in Paris: tycoon Tony Elumelu’s UBA and First Bank of Nigeria(FBN), headed by Adesola Kazeem Adeduntan. Access Bank’s new French branch could for its part operate as more than just a representative office. But it would not yet have the same capacities as a subsidiary that could conduct any type of banking operation.
Access’ opening in Paris will be managed by the group’s London branch, headed by Briton Jamie Simmonds. The new offices in France will focus on trade finance. The Nigerian bank is also considering moving into investment and wealth management services.
Wigwe has been running Access since 2002 and has an all-Nigerian team, some of whom followed him when he left Nigeria’s Guaranty Trust Bank, to help him expand the lender’s activities. His deputy Roosevelt Ogbonna, his commercial banking manager Hadiza Ambursa and his director for African subsidiaries Seyi Kumapayiall worked under him at Guaranty Trust, where he was executive director from 1999 to 2002.
From its Lagos headquarters, Access rose to become one of Nigeria’s leading banks with a series of acquisitions led by Wigwe. The acquisition of Nigerian rival Diamond Bank in 2019 consolidated Access’ position. Wigwe is now present in Ghana, DR Congo, Gambia, Sierra Leone, Rwanda, Mozambique, Kenya, Zambia and the United Kingdom, and is looking to boost its presence in French-speaking West Africa. Hence the interest of a branch in Paris, which is particularly well connected with West African financial circuits.
Macron, who as a student did an internship at the Abuja embassy in 2002, has a strong interest in Nigeria, which was the only country to have had a dedicated forum at the Choose France summit.