The share price of Access Corporation, the holding company for Nigeria’s largest bank, fell Monday, the first trading day since the tragic death of co-founder and chief executive officer Herbert Wigwe.
Access Bank’s shares fell 6.26 percent to N23.20 as of 2:30 pm Lagos time, the biggest loss since January 30.
GTCO and United Bank for Africa also fell on the day by 0.37 percent and 1.18 percent respectively. The banking index, which tracks the share price movement of listed Nigerian banks, declined 0.88 percent, according to NGX data.
Wigwe, whose death was confirmed by the Bank on Sunday, passed alongside his wife and son in an helicopter crash in California, United States on Friday.
Abimbola Ogunbanjo, former group chairman of the Nigerian Exchange Group Plc, also died in the crash.
Wigwe’s untimely death may have left the lender without its visionary leader, but investors are relying on the game plan he put in place to see it through in the future.
This means the share price slide today may well be just a blip rather than a reflection of fears that Access Bank may lose its way following Wigwe’s demise.
“When there is a loss of this magnitude investors will look at it closely, and I think where they will find comfort is in the fact that the strategy of the bank is clear,” said Samuel Sule, the CEO of Renaissance Capital Africa, who helped Access raise offshore funds for its expansion.
“They have always had a very clear succession plan on how to move forward.
Wigwe and his friend Aigboje Aig-Imoukhuede founded the lender in their mid-30s, after their time at Guaranty Trust Bank. They oversaw the transformation of Access Bank from a small lender to one that acquired the then larger Intercontinental Bank in 2011.
“Wigwe was extremely hardworking, smart, ideal and fair,” said Mustapha Chike-Obi, pioneer CEO of bad bank, AMCON and chairman of Fidelity Bank.
“Reports that Intercontinental bank was given to them is false. Nobody, having done due diligence on the bank, wanted anything to do with it. They were the only bidders for the bank at the time. It went to show the boldness of Wigwe and his partner Aigboje,” Chike-Obi said in an interview on Arise TV.
Wigwe and his partner did not stop there. Access Bank will go on to merge with Diamond Bank in December 2018, in a deal that looked like an acquisition.
“When he wanted to acquire Diamond Bank, I called him and said I hope you are aware that Diamond bank has a negative capital position,” Chike-Obi said. “But he said, don’t worry big brother (as he would call me), I know what I am doing,” Chike-Obi said.
It turned out that Wigwe indeed knew what he was doing.
Access Bank, with a total asset base of N20.9 trillion ($14 billion) as of June, now operates in 20 countries, including the United Arab Emirates and the UK, and has four representative offices in China, India, Lebanon, and Paris.
While the bank’s stock is down, the yield on its bonds due September 2026 were up 7 basis points by 8:53 a.m. in London to 10.04%. That’s the highest since Jan. 10. Similarly, the yield on the perpetual bond rose for the first day in four, climbing five basis points to 12.32%.
Access Holdings has said an acting CEO will be appointed “soon.”
It could name Roosevelt Ogbonna, head of the banking subsidiary, to the position if the board decides to go down the path followed by Wigwe, who was appointed group CEO after serving as the head of the bank.
“Access Bank and the set of leaders next level to Herbert will continue the vision,” said Yinka Odeleye, a private equity investor who was previously the head of corporate finance at Citi Nigeria and before that worked with all three men at Guaranty Trust Bank.
“One thing that Herb and Aig have done over the years is to train and empower their people a lot. Someone like Roosevelt has been with Herbert since he was an assistant banking officer at Guaranty Trust Bank. He was part of the vision, worked with Herbert and Aig from day one. So I am confident that on the Access side, the vision will continue.”
Wigwe started his professional career with Coopers & Lybrand Associates, an international firm of chartered accountants, before spending a decade at Guaranty Trust Bank.
In 2004, he co-engineered the acquisition of local lender Access Bank, where he assumed the post of deputy managing director and eventually became CEO in January 2014, succeeding his business partner and friend Aig-Imoukhuede.
His strategy was to pursue an aggressive growth by connecting Africa in trade and payments and capping risks in its home market of Nigeria.
In 2023, he led the bank’s acquisition of the African assets of Standard Chartered Plc in Angola, Cameroon, Gambia and Sierra Leone, which widened its footprint to at least 17 countries. In the same year he set a target to grow the bank to be one of the top-5 lenders by assets on the continent by 2027 from a ranking of about 12th.
“I believe that they were going too fast and acquiring too many banks at the same time, I was worried that perhaps they were not having sufficient gestation period to put together all of that,” said Omolokun of Standard Chartered bank. “But knowing the kind of people they are, you also felt that they could pull it off.”
Wigwe died just hours before the clock went off at the Access-sponsored Lagos Marathon that draws elite athletes to the humid streets of Nigeria’s commercial center annually. It is the bank’s involvement in such activities that people will now be watching for changes.
Those who knew Herbert said he set “ridiculous” targets, such as demanding that a new digital banking product “that was ahead of its time” hit a million users within three months, said Editi Effiong who worked on the project.
“He set ridiculous targets at all times. But guess what? We hit a million users,” said Effiong who is now a film maker and worked with Wigwe on his personal branding for years. “Every weekend we would meet and we would talk about his life and his work.”
One project that Wigwe dedicated his time to in the last few years is a university that he was bankrolling in his village outside the southern city of Port Harcourt to help students hone the skills needed for the finance and technology industries in Africa’s most-populous nation.
The university’s board of trustees has assured prospective students, faculty and staff that it remains committed to ensuring that the dreams of Wigwe and his aspirations for the project are fulfilled.
Wigwe told Bloomberg in November that he planned to teach and mentor students and engage some of the country’s prominent entrepreneurs, including billionaire Aliko Dangote, Africa’s richest person, to teach at the university.
“We need to teach people about the different levels of patriotism and the need for us to change our country and the continent,” he said.
Wigwe was deputy managing director at Access Bank from 2002 and became its group managing director/chief executive officer in 2014.