20 years after, standing tall
SIR: This March marks 20 years since two young Nigerian bankers – Aigboje Aig-Imoukhuede and Herbert Wigwe – bought a small, non-descript bank and turned it into one of the biggest lenders in the country with subsidiaries across Africa, Europe and Asia. It was on March 22, 2002 that the two, both aged 37, walked into Plot 1669 Oyin Jolayemi Street, Victoria Island, Lagos, which was then the corporate headquarters of the bank to assume duty and full control as the managing director and deputy managing director.
The acquisition process had taken about two years and entailed rigorous negotiations, sleepless hours of paper work and long meetings. It was one of the most audacious takeovers in the history of the nation’s financial industry.
The phenomenal growth of Access Bank in the last two decades has become a very inspiring success story. Aig-Imoukhuede has since written a book on the transaction, and I recommend it to our young entrepreneurs for the useful lessons therein.
Soon after the takeover, the bank embarked on a five-year transformation agenda and two years into the plan, the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) announced the N25 billion capitalisation deadline set for end of December 2005. The bank’s management went to work, and as Aig-Imoukhuede writes in his book, Leaving the Tarmac, “Not only were we in a position to raise the money we needed, we had also been given permission to look at possible mergers and acquisitions.” The bank mobilised its workforce and quickly raised N15 billion in a public offer, acquired two other small banks, Capital and Marina, and convinced FMO, the Netherland development finance company, to become an institutional investor through the conversion of a $15 million term loan it earlier gave to the bank. With the N25 billion capitalisation met, the race to the top became a matter of compulsion to the new owners.
I joined the bank in June 2008, the beginning of the second five-year transformation plan. The bank was awarded IFC Sustainable Bank of the Year; it acquired Intercontinental Bank and was ranked the fourth largest bank in Nigeria as a result of the acquisition.
It was in January 2014 that Herbert Wigwe assumed duty as the group managing director and chief executive after the retirement of Aigboje Aig-Imoukhuede late 2013. But it was its merger with Diamond Bank in 2018 that catapulted Access Bank to the number one slot in at least some parameters: assets and retail business with 646 branches.
It also recorded the biggest channel touchpoints: 38 million cards; 3,000 ATMs and 34,000 POS terminals. In 2019, the bank issued the first Green Bond in Nigeria. In 2020, it expanded its African business into Kenya and Mozambique and became the first Nigerian bank to set up shop in South Africa. Last month, the bank announced its plan to restructure into a holding company, indicating a strategic diversification into growth areas like the fintech business. The next 20 years will be very exciting for Access Bank. It is my wish that the bank continues to support the underprivileged members of the society in its CSR programmes and the aspirations of the government in making our economy more diversified and productive.
Etim Etim, a former staff of Access Bank, wrote from Abuja.