BusinessDay
NigeriaDecides2023

Herbert Wigwe, the strategic transformer at Access HoldCo

…says expansion deliberate, discipline

Herbert Wigwe is the current Group managing director/CEO of Access Holdings Plc, who strategically spearheaded the transition of Access Bank Plc. into Access Holdings Plc.

Leading a formidable team, Wigwe transformed the bank into a financial conglomerate that has today taken a prime position in the nation’s banking and finance sector.

Over the past 26 years, Wigwe-led Access Corporation has evolved from an obscure Nigerian bank into a world-class African financial institution. Today, the bank is one of the five largest banks in Nigeria in terms of assets, loans, deposits and branch network; a feat which has been achieved through a robust long-term approach to client solutions – providing committed and innovative advice, according to the bank.

Access Bank has built its strength and success in corporate banking and is now applying that expertise to the personal and business banking platforms it acquired from Nigeria’s International Commercial bank in 2012. The bank spent two years integrating the business, investing in infrastructure and strengthening the product offer.

The transformer, Wigwe started his professional career with Coopers & Lybrand Associates, an international firm of Chartered Accountants. He spent over 10 years at Guaranty Trust Bank Plc where he managed several portfolios, including financial institutions, large corporates and multinationals.

He left Guaranty Trust Bank as an executive director to co-lead the transformation of Access Bank Plc in March 2002 as deputy managing director. He was appointed group managing director/CEO effective January 1, 2014 and served in that capacity till May 2022. He was subsequently appointed a Non-Executive Director (NED) of the Bank effective May 2022.

Wigwe is an alumnus of the Harvard Business School Executive Management Programme. He holds a master’s degree in Banking and International Finance from the University College of North Wales, a master’s degree in Financial Economics from the University of London and a B.Sc. degree in Accounting from the University of Nigeria, Nsukka.

He is also a Fellow of the Institute of Chartered Accountants of Nigeria (ICAN). Wigwe is the Chairman of Access Bank (UK) Limited and a non-executive director of Nigerian Mortgage Refinance Company Plc; FMDQ OTC Securities Exchange; Shared Agents Network Expansion Facilities (SANEF) Limited and Agri-Business/ SME Enterprises Investment Scheme. He is also a member of the governing council of the Chartered Institute of Bankers of Nigeria (CIBN).

How it started (1988 – 2001)

On December 19, 1988, Access Bank was issued a banking licence. February 8, 1989, saw the bank incorporated as a privately owned commercial bank. On March 24, 1998, Access Bank became a Public Limited Liability Company. On May 11, 1989, Access Bank commenced operations at its Burma Road, Apapa head office. The bank on November 18, 1998, was listed on the Nigeria Stock Exchange and on February 5, 2001, Access Bank obtained a Universal Banking License from the CBN.

In March 2002, the board of directors appointed Aigboje Aig-Imoukhuede as managing director/Chief Executive Officer and Herbert Wigwe as deputy managing director. The mandate was clear: Reposition the bank as one of Nigeria’s leading financial institutions within a five year period (March 2002 to March 2007).

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The impact of the transformation agenda was reflected in the first year. The bank grew its balance sheet by 100 percent and posted an impressive N1 billion profit before tax. The profit before tax figure was more than the cumulative profit made by the bank in the previous 12 years. This also marked the beginning of what would be a six year record triple-digit growth trend. Similarly, earnings per share had rebounded to 21 kobo from a negative 2 kobo position, leading to a declaration of a 5 kobo dividend to shareholders for the first time in three years.

In recognition of the role of an enhanced capital structure, the Bank embarked on a capital raising exercise in July 2007. The exercise was an astounding success recording an over subscription of over 300 percent. The public offer consisted of an Over-The-Counter GDR placement of $250 million which was similarly oversubscribed by 700 percent. The bank’s shareholders fund today stands at over N240 billion with an expanded shareholder base of over 1,000,000 domestic and foreign investors.

Access Bank is consistently seeking ways to expand its service platform across the African continent. The bank currently operates through a network of about 366 branches across major cities and commercial centers in Nigeria, Gambia, Sierra Leone, Zambia, Rwanda and Democratic Republic of Congo.

“Our expansion strategy is deliberate and disciplined, focusing on five key principles,” Wigwe said during a media presentation early this year.

Last month, Access Corporation, the parent company of Access Bank Plc acquired a Kenyan bank with approximately N15 billion (USD37 million).

“This growth transaction being implemented in Kenya represents the relentless focus and execution of our strategic objectives within our banking subsidiary even as we grow the other businesses within Access Corporation’s core segments,” Wigwe said.

Commenting further, he said, “The acquisition of Sidan is a significant step-up in scale and potential for Access Bank in Kenya, which represents the largest market and trade corridor in East Africa. The significant increase in scale and customer base presents us with enormous opportunities to support growth in the various ecosystems we are building in our trade and payment business. The economies of scale that drive therefrom will continue to drive and enhance contributions to all stakeholders.”

Access Bank targets new markets based on an assessment of the opportunity to support trade through its core competencies in trade finance.

This expansion approach, he said, was supported by an over-arching strategy designed to serve as a trade and payments gateway for Africa to the world.

Financial performance

The Holding Company’s inaugural financial results showed a strong performance in the first quarter of the year. The HoldCo became operational in March 2022 and the other verticals (excluding the Banking Group) should become operational in the second half of the year.

“As such, the results reflect the sustainable business model coupled with effective strategy execution of the banking Group currently operational as we made solid gains towards the achievement of our strategic goals. We achieved a 33 percent y/y growth in gross earnings to N295.7bn in the first quarter (Q1) of 2022 compared to N222.1bn in 2021, leading to an improvement in the profit after tax to N57.4bn in Q1 2022 from N52.5bn in 2021. Consequently, the company’s Return on Average Equity (ROAE) stood at 21.4 percent, tracking in line with its commitment to its stakeholders.

Assets quality remained flat at 4.0 percent on the back of a robust risk management approach. This is expected to trend downwards in the future as the company strives to hit and surpass the standard it had built in the industry prior to the business combination in 2019.

“We sustained robust capital, well above regulatory levels, with a Basel II Capital Adequacy Ratio of 23.5 percent. This reflects deliberate steps to optimize our balance sheet and ensure the Group can support its customers across various markets and adequately execute our expansion strategy. 2022 is pivotal for our franchise, as we conclude our 2018-2022 corporate strategic plans.

“In the year, we will focus on a disciplined implementation of our strategy to drive efficiency and operational excellence across all segments, expand revenue and increase profitability, with enhanced focus on risk management practices and a disciplined cost containment structure,” Wigwe said.

Access Corporation has continued to deliver solid and resilient results. In 2021, the bank’s gross earnings rose by 27 percent year-on-year to N971.9 billion in FY 2021, compared to N764.7 billion in 2020, with interest and non-interest income contributing 62 percent and 38 percent respectively.

Profit before tax for the period rose by 40 percent y/y to N176.7 billion in 2021 from N125.9 billion in 2020. Profit after tax also grew by 51 percent y/y to N160.2 billion in 2021 from N106.0 billion in FY 2020.

The assets base of the Group remained strong and resilient with total assets of N11.7 trillion as at December 2021, a growth of 35 percent y/y from N8.7 trillion as at FY 2020. Customer Deposits totaled N7.0 trillion as at December 2021 (December 2020: N5.6trn) Net Loans and Advances totaled N4.4trn as at December 2021 from N3.6 trillion December 2020. Non-Performing loans (NPL) ratio stood at 4.0 percent as at December 2021, representing a 4.3 percent over the level in December 2020.

“We sustained robust capital and liquidity positions, well above regulatory levels with a Basel II Capital Adequacy Ratio of 24.5 percent and a Liquidity Ratio of 51.0 percent. This positions the Bank to support our customers across various markets and adequately execute our expansion strategy,” Wigwe said.

“Our outlook in 2022 is deliberate and disciplined, with a targeted focus on expansion and growth,” he said.

Access Corporation commenced its Holding Company (HoldCo) operations with four subsidiaries. The subsidiaries include LenCo, consisting of consumer lending and agency banking, PayCo – payment and switching services, InsureCo consisting of insurance brokerage and wealth management, and Other, for example pension assets, among others.

Awards

The bank has received numerous awards from various organisations, for strong business performance. One of such awards is Best Bank Nigeria, by EMEA Finance African Banking Awards. Others include, ‘Best Digital Bank in Africa, by Euromoney Awards, Banker of the Year, by African Banker Awards, Best Commercial Bank, Nigeria International Banker Awards, Outstanding Leadership in Green Loans, Africa Global Finance – Sustainable Finance Awards, and Best FX Services in Africa EMEA Finance Treasury Services Awards, among others.

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