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Akinsola Akinfemiwa: The Return of Banking Whiz kid

10 Mar 2013

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Exactly two and a half years ago, Akinsola Akinfemiwa formerly of Skye Bank Plc and two other influential bank chief executives, Tony Elumelu and Jim Ovia of United Bank for Africa Plc and Zenith Bank Plc respectively, had to exit the banking industry as the new tenure policy of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) took effect on July 10, 2010. However, Akinfemiwa is back.
His face adorned the front pages of some national newspapers last week, as the former chief executive of Skye Bank now takes charge of the newly -licensed Heritage Bank Limited in his capacity as chairman. Is he back with the usual magic wand? Asks Festus Akanbi



Last week, the new bank that emerged from the ashes of the erstwhile-troubled Societe Generale Bank of Nigeria (SGBN), Heritage Bank Limited, berthed on the Nigerian banking scene with fanfare.
With three branches, two in Lagos and one in Ibadan, the bank with a regional licence also plans to open branches in other parts of the South-west and South-south, which happen to be its catchment areas. The new institution will catch the attention of members of the banking community in the days ahead for many reasons. Bank customers, especially former depositors of the legacy bank (SGBN) who have been part of the recent validation process of the bank, will expect the new management to speed up the process of account reconciliation and payment especially for those who want to collect their outstanding deposits.

However, industry sources said one factor that would be of great interest to watchers of the unfolding scenario is the return of former managing director of Skye Bank Plc, Mr. Akinsola Akinfemiwa, into the industry he left less than three years ago. Akinfemiwa is the chairman of Heritage Bank, while former CEO of International Energy Insurance Plc, Mr. Ifie Sekibo, is to lead the bank as the managing director.

Banking Whiz Kids
Akinfemiwa was one of the leading bank chiefs who successfully navigated their institutions through the energy-sapping banking sector consolidation programme of the CBN in 2005. The list included Elumelu and Ovia. Others were the former managing director GTBank Plc, late Tayo Aderinokun, the disgraced managing directors of Intercontinental Bank Plc, Oceanic Bank Plc and Bank PHB PLC, Erastus Akingbola, Cecilia Ibru and Francis Atuche respectively.

These were the bank chiefs who were able to take their institutions to the capital market for additional funds, which enabled them to cross the hurdle of recapitalisation placed on their way by the former CBN governor, Prof. Chukwuma Soludo. Because of the daring moves and clever management of their human and material resources, they were described as whiz kids of the Nigerian banking industry.

However, while the 2009 joint audit of the CBN and Nigeria Deposit Insurance Corporation (NDIC) ended the tenure of Akingbola, Ibru and Atuche, the trio of Akinsola, Elumelu and Ovia had to step aside from the banks’ boardrooms in line with the new tenure policy introduced by the CBN in 2010.

The three bank chief executives became the first set of casualties of the new tenure system introduced by the CBN as they were compelled to step down on July 10, 2010. Under the new rule, no managing director or chief executive officer of a bank will be allowed to serve for more than two terms of five years each. Jim Ovia, pioneer chief executive of Zenith Bank; Tony Elumelu who transited from the defunct Standard Trust Bank (STB) as its CEO into UBA also as the managing director, and Akinsola Akinfemiwa, former managing director of Skye Bank had all served for more than 10 years as banks MD.

New Tenure Policy
Given the retroactive nature of the tenure limit, the three bank chiefs who had already spent more than 10 years in their various positions handed over to their successors on July 10. The decisions, according to the apex bank, was to instill good corporate governance in banks, institutionalise arrangements for appointment of chief executives, as well as ensure that banks put in place a good succession plan.

According to the CBN, all banks will reflect the provisions of the new guidelines as part of their engagement procedures of their CEOs. “All CEOs who would have served for 10 years by July 31, 2010 shall cease to function in that capacity and shall hand over to their successors. The banks are expected to have a credible succession programme that would be supervised by the board and monitored by the CBN”.

The Return of Akinfemiwa
Analysts said the decision of the CBN to okay the appointment of Akinfemiwa as the chairman of Heritage Bank, just six months ahead of the July 10 third anniversary of his exit from the banking industry, has raised some issues.

One is the fact that his appointment is coming two and a half years after his exit from the industry having served as bank managing director for a period of 10 years. Analysts believe CBN would have to explain this seeming bending of the rule for Akinfemiwa, given the fact that the tenure policy specifies that the affected bank chief must stay away from bank’s boards for at least three years.

Analysts said the appointment of Akinfemiwa as the chairman of Heritage Bank is an indication that time is also ripe for Elumelu and Ovia, the other two former bank chiefs that were also sent packing in 2010, to take charge in their respective institutions.
Although Elumelu and Ovia have moved on with their lives, sitting atop some other highly successful businesses, analysts said both of them could return to their banks as chairmen in view of their large chunk of investments in the two institutions.

Elumelu is Chairman of Heirs Holdings, an African proprietary investment firm. He is also the founder of the Tony Elumelu Foundation, an Africa-based and African-funded not-for-profit organisation (NPO) that is dedicated to the promotion and celebration of excellence in business leadership and entrepreneurship across Africa. He is also the chairman of Transcorp Plc, owners of Transcorp Hilton Hotel, Abuja.
Ovia, on the other hand, is the promoter and founder of Visafone Communications Limited. He is also the proprietor of the University of Information and Communication Technology, Agbor, Delta State. He serves as the pioneer President of Nigeria Internet group (NIG). Akinfemiwa on his part has also moved into hotel and hospitality industry and is said to own a hotel in the South-west.

Magic Wand
Analysts said in view of the rich testimonial of the new chairman of Heritage Bank, all eyes will be on him to collaborate with other members of the board in order to build the customer base of the new bank within the shortest time.

Akinfemiwa served as the Chief Executive Officer of Skye Bank Plc until July 31, 2010. He is a seasoned Banker with over 28 years banking experience. His areas of expertise include strategic planning and management, corporate banking, project financing, leadership and interpersonal relationship and advisory services. He served as the Managing Director/Chief Executive Officer of Prudent Bank Plc. He was also Chairman of Law Union & Rock Insurance Plc. He served as a Director of Skye Bank Plc and Kakawa Discount House Limited. His personal and professional achievements did not come as an accident. He worked very hard for them. He was born April 22, 1955. An indigene of Ondo State, Akinfemiwa had a distinguished academic career at the University of Nigeria, Nsukka, between 1972 and 1976 where he bagged a second-class (Upper) degree in Agric Economics. In 1978, he proceeded to the University of Ife where he earned an MBA.

His professional career started at British Petroleum in 1978 where he was a management trainee. He later moved to Peat Marwick, Ani Ogunde and Co. in 1980 as audit officer. From there, the banking career took over. His first port of call in that industry was International Merchant Bank where he was a senior manager. He later moved to Chattered Bank and then Prudent. It was the banking consolidation that led to the birth of Skye Bank where he presided as its chief executive officer.

He is the chairman, chief executive officer of AAG management resources Ltd. He is an expert in banking, business strategy, corporate finance, financial analysis, risk management, management consulting, change management, strategic planning, business analysis and project finance among others. He is also an Officer of the Order of Niger.

At Prudent Bank, Akinfemiwa succeeded in transforming the little known financial outfit into a visible, strong and professionally managed bank. His achievements at the bank were part of the considerations that gave him the edge over his contemporaries in the appointment of a managing director and chief executive officer of Skye Bank. He was obviously the popular choice. Those who decided that he should be the one to lead the highly talented group of bankers at Skye Bank were not disappointed. That is because he was able to successfully drive the bank into the group of highly profitable, professionally managed and fast-growing banks in Nigeria today.

No Longer Business as Usual
However, analysts said the fact that the banking landscape left behind by Akinfemiwa has changed considerably from what is obtained at present would be a big challenge for him.
Unlike in the pre-2009 era, banks are now risk averse and the cut-throat competition in the industry has significantly simmered. Again, as chairman, there is little he can do since a substantive managing director is in place. Analysts also pointed out that International Energy Insurance Plc, which owns 80 percent stake in the bank, is obviously going to be the institution to call the shot in the final analysis.

Tags: Business, Nigeria, Featured, Whiz kid

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