A litany of developments eventuated in our financial system space in the outgone Yuletide. In all these, two of such events caught the attention of yours sincerely, hence, it has triggered this narrative. First, was the change of guards in the topmost echelon of the chairmanship position of First Bank Plc. Mr. Remi Babalola, former Minister of State for Finance, stood down as the board chairman, for Mr. Ahmad Abdullahi, former Director, Banking Supervision Department of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN). The news reverberated hugely on the financial system sphere of the land and even beyond. This was attributed to the robustness of the statures of the dramatize personae concerned on one hand. On the other, it can be ascribed to the elephantine or better still, the massive posture of the institution involved. On a salutary note, it is on record that the new chair taintlessly journeyed through his career in the apex bank. While there, he was an epitome of calmness, who abhorred bombastic rhetorics. To a large extent, he could be associated with meekness and lucid ideas. No wonder he gracefully and gleefully bowed out of the apex bank unscathed, some years ago.
It is on record also that during his central banking sojourn, he tenured one of the brightest and best moments in the annals of our financial system landscape that was devoid of any turmoil or rancor. These un-toxic traits among other reasons are capable of equipping him adequately in surmounting the challenges (if any) in his new position. Second, the other event that suffused through and filled the entire spectrum of the banking landscape in the land, was the acquisition of UBN by Titan Trust bank (2TB coinage is mine). When the news first broke out, many observers thought the acquisition or merger was consummated by Access bank Plc that recently absorbed Diamond. But when it became known that 2TB was the new owner, it sent jitters down the spine of many a depositor including but not limited to our Arise TV News Sunday Live Show anchor man Dr. Ruben Abati and his crew. According to them, it threw up some sort of surprises in the hearts of some depositors. A commentator had even described the development thus: “….with 2TB’s 89 percent stake acquisition in UBN, this was an uncommon acquisition or takeover.” Alas! He went further to say that: “A Rabbit had finally swallowed an Elephant.” This is because a two year old bank had ironically acquired a-ten decade old bank. Indeed, it was a big news.
However, to the uninitiated, who are not abreast with developments in the disruptive business strategic parlance, this would pass for a new an unusual development. Contrariwise, disruptive business strategists, would hail the 2TB’s strategic initiative. This is imperative given the positivism that Google, Netflix, Uber, Airbnb, Nubank (disruptor of banks in Brazil), Flutterwave, Tesla etc had infused into the growth and development of businesses globally. For the acquisition to be effective and productive, the new UBN must begin to mimic some of the business models or stepping into the culture of Nubank especially in the areas of unlocking opportunities targeted at reducing cost of credits as well as adopting and adapting their problem solving approach into the Nigerian market. That being the case, are we expecting the new UBN to transform its culture to: ..” that of being …”young,fast, hungry, and operate in a high trust environment?” If that holds sway, are we also expecting the new UBN “….organization structure is completely different than that of traditional companies work in a squared structure. A product of this system is a flat moldable structure, in which we are more efficient and faster in fixing and building whatever needs turning?”
In the positive development that ensued, the veil was eventually lifted by the stakeholders. The man behind the mask that would give strategic direction and provide efficacious leadership to the new bank was unveiled. Like that great columnist and prolific writer – ‘Mr. Candido Johnson’ (the man behind the mask), Mr. Tunde Lemo, the quintessentially cerebral banker, who is clearly but enormously gifted in thoroughness and paying attention to details, was mentioned as the Chairman of the board of Directors of the transformed 2TB (now UBN). This, perhaps had put paid to the initial banking inertia and extinguished the confusion, and consequently, the banking face was literally “lit up with a new and radiant light.” Indeed, it was a big sigh of relief for both existing and prospective depositors to say the least. This air of relief cannot be controverted against the backdrop of his pedigree in the transformation agenda of the CBN where he earlier proved his mettle as a member of the team that reshaped and repositioned the Bank. I recall clearly while the working relationship lasted, he often stated to yours sincerely that : “ We needed to drop the toga of too much bureaucracy without compromising standards and work as if this edifice was a private entity.” He was such an amazing boss who never compromised standards while meeting deadlines. He was exceedingly resourceful and never allowed any memorandum to stay on his table for more than 24 hours. Despite his tight schedule, he masterfully replied all text messages even till date. This is the kind of person that will steer the ship of state in the new improved UBN.
In spite of the above, and without mincing words, one must state categorically that the tasks ahead are daunting, but they are not insurmountable. The good news? The management team led by Mr. Tunde Lemo, appears to be “big, strong and reliable.” Additionally, they seem to be ethically and professionally sound, technologically innovative and technically savvy. More importantly, their clientele base is deep, visibly elastic and susceptible to accommodating more converts. Furthermore, the management team is blessed with array of experiences they can draw inferences from. The most profound, handy and perhaps the lowest hanging fruit, being a similar occurrence in the past. Retrospectively speaking, therefore, this type of take over or acquisition is NOT a novelty. We can recall quite vividly that Standard Trust Bank did same to United Bank for Africa (UBA) on August 1, 2005.
It was christened as one of the “biggest” and most celebrated mergers on the floor of the Nigerian Stock Exchange (NSE). The outcome? Your guess is as good as mine. UBA moved from a near analogue bank into a digitalized one, thereby leading to more efficient and effective service delivery and by extension posting juicy returns on shareholders’ funds. For instance, the profit after tax in 2005 stood at N5,921m. However, after the first three years of the merger, UBA’s “gross earnings for 2008 increased by 55% to N169.6 billion (2007: N109.5 billion) with strong contributions from all of our business lines. Profit before tax and exceptional items for 2008 increased by 82% to N56.8 billion (2007: N31.2 billion) and profit after tax increased by 90% to N40.8 billion (2007: N21.5 billion).” Thus, up until now, UBA’s trajectory of growth has remained on the upbeat. Without being immodest, my prognosis is that 2TB (UBN) shall equal or surpass this phenomenal growth in not-too-far a future.
In view of the foregoing developments in our financial system, the above salient happenstances cannot be wished away. Typically, markets that are information-centric cannot but respond positively or otherwise to these two key occurrences in the days ahead. In some climes, such positive developments could jerk up the values of their stocks to witness unprecedented upswing and by extension, a non-deceleration, or some sort of soaring to the high heaven the returns on shareholders’ funds.
Head or tail, there shall be market reactions. With these two key dynamic appointments, the space is expected to witness more opportunities that will be driven by more ‘co-optition’ ie “competition, collaboration and co-operation”. This has been amplified by Omordion while commenting recently on the outlook for 2022. He elegantly put it that “…..there would be more opportunities for financial services, especially banks, expected to take advantage of the free trade zone agreement.” Within this context and advancing forward, it is no longer going to be business as usual. The duo of Lemo and Ahmad, who are no doubt tested and proven hands having bestrode the financial system stability sphere like colossus, will always strive hard to be primus inter pares. It is therefore, incumbent on them to prove this point by leveraging on technology, their vast experiences, and focus more on revolutionizing the traditional banking processes, practices and procedures that would stem the tide of their reaching the above mentioned strategic goal. It is when this strategic objective is achieved that the above poser would not have only been answered, but must have been seen to have been answered in the affirmative.