As Zenith Bank’s Onyeagwu Ignites Zenpay Fintech, Partners AfCFTA

Weighing the evolving fintech ecosystem’s future, critical in the financial services sector, Dr. Ebenezer Onyeagwu, the outgoing MD/CEO of Zenith Bank Plc, now chairman of Zenpay Limited, a Zenith Bank subsidiary, initiates a smart partnership with AfCFTA to ease trade within the continent, Louis Achi writes

Under the nimble guidance of Dr. Ebenezer Onyeagwu, the outgoing Managing Director/Chief Executive Officer of Zenith Bank Plc, Zenpay Limited, a wholly owned subsidiary of Zenith Bank which he chairs , last week, signed an agreement with the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) secretariat for the development and deployment of the SMARTAfCFTA portal to facilitate trade within the African continent.

Onyeagwu cuts to the heart of the unseemly intra-African trade quandary. His words: “In Africa, intra-African trade constitutes only about 20% of total trade, with the rest going overseas, despite Africans making up 18% of the world population but contributing less than 5% to global GDP. By trading within Africa, we anticipate building prosperity across the continent.”

Clearly, the foregoing regressive scenario urgently needed to be changed and intra-continental trade transformed to benefit Africa. But this also needed a visioner who leads from the front. And that is where Onyeagwu who had birthed the cutting-edge growth and governance models that transformed Zenith Bank – steps in.

Apparently, one of the more recent spin-offs from his impactful financial services sector trajectory is initiating this cutting-edge partnership with AfCFTA. This hardly surprising.

Onyeagwu is reputed to regularly reject staying tamely at the end of received policy prescriptions. He covets knowledge-driven innovations, proactive engagement with stake-holders, policy makers and sure-footed action. These dimensions have been boldly mirrored in his leadership of Zenith Bank Plc, one of the continent’s now transformed financial services behemoths – even as he exits in June.

As it were, Zenpay Limited which he chairs, last week signed an Agreement with the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) Secretariat for the development and deployment of the SMARTAfCFTA Portal to facilitate trade within the African continent.

The agreement which was signed by Onyeagwu and the Secretary-General of AfCFTA, Mr. Wamkele Mene, trails the Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) which was previously signed by both parties during the 8th Annual Edition of Zenith Bank’s International Trade Seminar on Non-Oil Export held on Wednesday, 8 August, 2023.

On his part, speaking during the agreement signing, Mr. Mene, Secretary-General of the AfCFTA Secretariat, shared his delight over the partnership with Zenpay Limited in developing SMARTAfCFTA. He also appreciated Jim Ovia, the Founder and Chairman of Zenith Bank Plc, for his commitment to the project.

His words: “Four years ago, we discussed and envisioned SMARTAfCFTA as a digital platform to empower SMEs and young entrepreneurs in Africa, facilitating their inclusion in trade and boosting intra-African trade. This platform will serve as a repository for crucial trade data, offering insights on rules of origin and market intelligence, thus playing a pivotal role in implementing the AfCFTA agreement.

“Today is a testament that working together with our African partners in this case, Zenith bank, shows that their commitment goes beyond their profit margins to their stakeholders, but are motivated by our shared duty towards the continent.”

For context and more clarity, the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) is one of the flagship projects of Agenda 2063: The Africa We Want. It is a high ambition trade agreement, which aims to bring together all 55 member states of the African Union, covering a market of more than 1.3 billion people, with a comprehensive scope that includes critical areas of Africa’s economy, such as digital trade and investment protection, amongst other areas.

As it were, by eliminating barriers to trade in Africa, the objective of the AfCFTA is to significantly boost intra-Africa trade, particularly trade in value-added production and trade across all services sectors of Africa’s economy, at a potential of 52.3 percent.

On the other hand, SMARTAfCFTA, as Mene had earlier intimated, is a digital platform designed to facilitate international trade by providing the necessary information and tools to the African private and public sectors. The Portal aims to streamline and unlock vast opportunities for trade across the African continent, and has the capacity to provide information like trade indicators, market trends, custom tariffs, trade agreements, Rules of Origin, market access requirements of relevant jurisdictions, export potentials, export diversification indicators and contact details of business partners in target markets and other trade-related information about Africa.

A sound professional and bold leader, it could be recalled that Onyeagwu’s ground-breaking five-year tenure which ends in a fortnight saw Zenith Bank Plc transform into an innovative, sector-leading continental behemoth. Dame (Dr.) Adaora Umeoji takes the baton from Onyeagwu and assumes office as the new MD/CEO on June 1 2024.

Unquestionably, Onyeagwu’s astute corporate governance stewardship as Zenith Bank boss would no doubt rub off on Zenpay Limited, Zenith Bank’s fintech subsidiary as the innovative trade platform engages Africa, especially with its new partnership with AfCFTA. He is expected to choreograph and fundamentally guide the expansion of trade flows in Africa.

Onyeagwu’s chairmanship of Zenpay Limited coincides with significant global disruptions that vanquished traditional business playbooks.

It’s no secret that the unprecedented economic conditions wrought by the global pandemic, seismic shifts on the global scene mirrored by the West’s new nationalism, Sino-America tensions, the ongoing Russo-Ukranian conflict and the more recent Middle East tension which continue to impact diverse planetary business eco-systems frames a very challenging environment to drive a unique, visionary partnership like the Zenpay-AfCFTA one.

A particular challenge here is the perceived weakness of laudable intra-continental initiatives often undermined by exploitative extra continental forces. But many industry analysts believe that if Onyeagwu could weather the enervating storms, thrown his way at Zenith Bank while remaining a disciplined, focused turf player in the high-octane powerful financial services sector, the glittering stripes he rightly earned can see him through his latest responsibility.

He is justifiably expected to bring to his new mandate astute strategic thinking, inspirational leadership, sheer energy and his vintage consummate entrepreneurial skill.

His unique traits are anchored on fetching humility, notable consistency, stern discipline, deep ethics, unrelenting hard work and outstanding professionalism. He is indeed an inspirational leader with impeccable track records of excellence.

Bristling with about 35 years of industry experience, Onyeagwu has certainly paid his dues and as he turns his attention to new, novel responsibility of engaging Africa for Africans, only few doubt his innate ability to deliver the goods.

Related Articles