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Nneka Onyeali-Ikpe: Committed to sound corporate governance in Fidelity Bank

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THOMAS IMONIKHE

 

American Billionaire Warren Buffet probably had in mind the Managing Director and Chief Executive Officer of Fidelity Bank Plc, Mrs. Nneka Onyeali-Ikpe, when he posited that before hiring anyone, you should watch out for at least three attributes-intelligence, energy and integrity-insisting that the third, which is the steadfast adherence to a strict moral or ethical code, is the most paramount of the tripod.

 

Therefore, the elevation of Onyeali-Ikpe to the pinnacle of the bank, effective from January 1 this year, didn’t take many by surprise considering her unblemished record of service, versatility and pedigree as a lawyer and banker par excellence with over 30 years cognate experience in Nigeria’s financial sector, six of which are at the bank.

 

But prior to assuming the mantle of leadership, she has proven her mettle being among the institution’s management, as an executive director for Lagos and South-West Directorate, with the onerous responsibility of overseeing the bank’s business in the six states of Lagos, Ogun, Ondo, Osun, Oyo and Ekiti that make up the southwest region.

 

In other words, the top banker was already an active participant as a member of the lender’s think-tank and privy to its short, medium and long-term growth strategies designed for the bank to join the league of leading financial institutions in the country.

 

This is perhaps the reason for the seamless succession from the immediate past MD/CEO, Mr. Namdi Okonkwo, who bowed out of office on December 31, 2020 that paved the way for Onyeali-Ikpe to make history as the first female MD/CEO of Fidelity Bank on January 1, 2021 since its inception in 1988.

 

Having hit the ground running and determined to genuinely implement the lender’s vision and mission to be the ‘most caring, trusted and respected source of financial guidance and solutions in the communities where the bank operates, and like smart friends, care deeply about’ the total well-being of its teeming customers, she has unveiled the bank’s seven-point agenda for tier-1 Status anchored on improved operational efficiency and expanding its footprints.

 

The implicit confidence of the board and management on the new MD based on her impeccable credentials as the best person for the task of transforming the bank was clearly captured thus that she “has been an integral part of the current management team, responsible for the remarkable increase in the bank’s performance in the last five years, with the area under her direct responsibility (Lagos and South Western Directorate), contributing over 28 per cent of the lender’s PBT, Deposits and Loans”.

 

Continuing, the institution noted that she “has over 30 years of experience across various banks including Standard Chartered Bank Plc, Zenith Bank Plc and Citizens International Bank/Enterprise Bank, where she held several management positions in Legal, Treasury, Investment Banking, Retail/Commercial Banking and Corporate Banking”, while as an Executive Director at Legacy Enterprise Bank Plc, Onyeali-Ikpe received a formal commendation from the Asset Management Corporation of Nigeria (AMCON), as a member of the management team that successfully turned around the fortune of Enterprise Bank Plc.

 

On the bank’s ambitious transformation agenda for tier-1 Status by 2025 and achieve a 7.5 per cent total market share of deposits in the country same year, she explained that its focus is on brand architecture, brand building and refresh, talent development and transformation, product and service delivery, agility and performance discipline, digital transformation, and regulatory compliance among others.

 

Furthermore, despite the current harsh operational environment, her sight is fixed on positioning the bank as one of Nigeria’s leading financial institutions, leveraging automation and robotics as well as ‘embark on an innovation drive to increase profitability and competitiveness, raise awareness of its brand, create a high performing and empowered workforce to attaining the set objectives’.

 

According to her, the the institution would also build brand loyalty through personalised and seamless customer experience delivery, develop end-to-end digitisation, boost performance discipline, and drive aggressive market penetration and business diversification. She stressed that “other initiatives  towards deepening growth include; accelerated play in the SME segment, renewal of institutional banking, and drive for transaction-based propositions in corporate banking”.

 

And in what seems to be early testimony that the agenda driven by the combined efforts of management and staff under her leadership has begun yielding fruit, Fidelity Bank Plc recently posted a profit before tax (PBT) of N20.6 billion for the six months ended June 30, 2021.

 

According to the bank’s audited half-year (H1) results released to the Nigerian Exchange (NGX) Limited, the PBT represented a 72.4 per cent growth when compared to N12.0 billion recorded in the comparative period of 2020 even as profit after tax (PAT) also increased to N19.31 billion from N11.30 billion recorded in the corresponding period.

 

An apparently enthused CEO stated: “We sustained our impressive financial performance with double-digit growth in profit as increased customer transactions drove non-interest revenue while improved operational efficiency continued to moderate cost-to-serve,” adding that the financial result for the period indicated that Gross Earnings increased by 6.2 per cent Year-on-Year (YoY) to N112.3 billion on account of 27.8 per cent growth in Non-Interest Revenue (NIR) to N23.8 billion from N18.1 billion in H1 2020.

 

But Onyeali-Ikpe and her management team appear not carried away by the impressive results, as they strive harder to consolidate on the bank’s attainment over the years through the training and sharpening of skills of its workforce as well as deployment of digital technology.

 

Highlighting the agenda for the tier-1 Status, the CEO maintained that the staff transformation designed to create a future readily supported by a high-performing and empowered workforce formed the heart of the proposal underscoring the significance of the human capital to the success of any human endeavour.

 

According to her, “This will be achieved by deepening the skills and competences of staff across the bank, entrenching a culture of high performance, and embedding new ways of working in the bank”, adding that the commencement of capacity building training for staff and senior management training is one of the initiatives being implemented.

 

Born July 28, 1964 in Awka, Anambra State capital, Nneka  studied at the Federal Government Girls’ College, Owerri and holds Bachelor of Laws (LLB) degree from the University of Nigeria, Nsukka; and a Master of Laws (LLM) degree from Kings College, London.

 

To further honed her banking expertise, she has attended executive training programmes at notable global institutions such as Harvard Business School; The Wharton School University of Pennsylvania; INSEAD School of Business; Chicago Booth School of Business; London Business School and IMD among others.

 

The Fidelity Bank CEO started her banking career as a legal officer with the defunct African Continental Bank (ACB) in 1990, joined the First African Trust Bank as a treasury officer and later worked in Zenith Bank and Standard Chartered Bank, respectively before taking up the position of Executive Director at Enterprise Bank in charge of operations in Lagos and other locations in the South West in 2011.

 

Described as a virtuous woman, banker par excellence and as one of the few females leading top financial institutions in the country, Onyeali-Ikpe has been an active player in the sector for over three decades and ready to berth Fidelity Bank at greater heights of profitability and handsome dividends to shareholders with the active support of the board, management and staff despite the raging difficult operational environment that has made the survival of businesses tougher.

 

With the deadly pandemic COVID-19 still taking its toll on the global economy coupled with regulatory challenges, foreign exchange volatility, unfavourable fiscal and monetary policies as well as double digits inflation, stakeholders of the bank are confident that the CEO, whose watchword is a total commitment to a sound corporate governance system possesses all the attributes required to weather any storm and sustain the lender’s growth trajectory and robust bottom lines.

 

 

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