This March marks twenty years since two young Nigerian bankers – Aigboje Aig-Imoukhuede and Herbert Wigwe – bought a nondescript small bank and turned it into one of the country’s largest lenders with subsidiaries in Africa, Europe and Asia. It was on March 22, 2002 that the pair, both aged 37, entered the land at 1669 Oyin Jolayemi Street, Victoria Island, Lagos, which was then the bank’s head office to assume full control and duties. as general manager and deputy. General manager. The acquisition process had taken about two years and involved rigorous negotiations, sleepless hours of paperwork and long meetings. It was one of the boldest takeovers in the history of the country’s financial industry. The phenomenal growth of Access Bank over the past two decades has become a very inspiring achievement. Aig-Imoukhuede has since written a book on the transaction, and I would, once again, recommend it to our young entrepreneurs for the useful lessons it contains.
I don’t know if the bank will pull out the drums to celebrate this anniversary. Although the state of mind of the nation today does not call for elaborate commemorations and lavish festivities, it would be impossible not to mark it. I remember in 2012 we only had a thanksgiving church service to mark the 10th anniversary. We were excited about the bank’s transformation and rapid growth. Aigboje and Herbert were always careful not to flaunt their accomplishments.
Shortly after the takeover, the bank embarked on a five-year transformation program, and two years into the plan, the CBN announced the N25 billion capitalization deadline set for the end of December 2005. The bank’s management got to work and, as Aig-Imoukhuede writes in his book ‘Leaving the Tarmac’: “Not only were we able to raise the money we needed, but we We also received clearance to review potential mergers and acquisitions”. The bank mobilized its workforce and quickly raised N15 billion in a public offering, acquired two other smaller banks, Capital and Marina, and convinced FMO, the Dutch development finance company, to become a institutional investor through the conversion of a $15 million term loan. previously given to the bank. With the capitalization of 25 billion naira reached, the race to the top has become a matter of hardship for the new owners. They then embarked on an aggressive campaign to raise funds in local and foreign capital markets.
Between 2006 and 2007, the bank raised a N11.9 billion local bond issue and in 2007 it raised N136 billion in public offerings, including a very successful and oversubscribed GDR (Global Certificate of Deposit) and created Access Bank UK. I joined the bank in June 2008, the start of the second five-year transformation plan. Each action was aimed at bringing the institution to the top. Between 2009 and 2011, the bank passed the CBN’s special audit on governance, liquidity and capital adequacy conducted under the leadership of tough Sanusi Lamido Sanusi. Three major achievements were also recorded. The bank received the IFC Sustainable Bank of the Year award; it acquired Intercontinental Bank and was ranked as the fourth largest bank in Nigeria as a result of this acquisition.
With these successes, a huge surge of confidence and spirit of dynamism has now swept through the entire workforce. Staff members went through a rigorous process of reorienting and changing the vision and mission of the bank; and with the business combination with Intercontinental completed in 2012, management personnel took on greater roles and responsibilities. Access Bank has become one of the favorite places to work for bankers from other institutions. We enjoy the thrilling work pace and dynamic work environment, thrilled to see the dream of being in the top five become a reality year after year.
That same year 2012 and covering 2013, the bank raised $350 million in Eurobonds in the international market and divested from non-bank subsidiaries. It has also been designated as a Significant Financial Institution (SiFi) by the CBN, one of the few in the industry. This means recognition of its huge footprint in the economy, the integrity and respect of its leaders, and the fact that the bank cannot be allowed to fail under any circumstances. It is for this reason that the CBN recently intervened in the composition of the board of directors and the management of a bank. Another milestone came in 2014 when Access Bank issued $400 million of subordinated notes (Tier 2 bonds) and transited through a large diversified banking institution.
It was in January 2014 that Herbert Wigwe took over as Chief Executive and Group Chief Executive following the retirement of Aigboje Aig-Imoukhuede at the end of 2013. The change in management was smooth and without hard feelings. , unlike what we see in other places. . With enormous goodwill and attractive brand equity, the bank continues to outpace its contemporaries. In 2017, it further bolstered its capital by raising N42 billion through a rights issue and issued another $300 million subordinated note.
But it was its merger with Diamond Bank in 2018 that propelled Access Bank to the top spot on at least some metrics: assets and retail with 646 branches. It also recorded the largest channel touchpoints: 38 million cards; 3,000 ATMs and 34,000 point-of-sale terminals. In 2019, the bank issued the first green bond in Nigeria. In 2020, it expanded its African operations to Kenya and Mozambique and became the first Nigerian bank to set up shop in South Africa. A few weeks ago, the South African Ambassador to Nigeria was on television to congratulate the bank for establishing a branch in his country.
Last month, the bank announced plans to restructure into a holding company, indicating strategic diversification into growth areas like the fintech business. The next 20 years will be very exciting for Access Bank. I see it landing in New York, Paris and many other places in the northern hemisphere. I commend the Board of Directors, management and staff for these accomplishments. I want the bank to continue to support disadvantaged members of society in its CSR programs and the government’s aspirations to make our economy more diverse and productive. Let me conclude by paying tribute to former bank staff who believed in the vision and to the visionaries. They worked hard; were loyal, committed and dedicated. Allow me also to commend Aig and Herbert for their discipline, hard work, integrity and professionalism. Their determination to make the dream come true was very inspiring.
Etim, a former Access Bank staff member, writes from Abuja