• Monday, July 22, 2024
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Banking Revolution: How Aig and Wigwe reinvented Access Bank and redefined finance in Africa

How Access Holdings is leading charge in sustainable finance and social impact initiatives

It is a known saying that ‘not all superheros wear capes,’ and in the world of banking and finance in Africa, Aigboje Aig-Imoukhuede and Herbert Wigwe are among those exceptional figures. Their leadership turned Access Bank from a modest institution into one of Africa’s largest financial entities, showcasing visionary leadership, strategic acumen, and an unwavering commitment to excellence.

A strategic vision for banking
In 1988, Nigerian banking was divided into Merchant and Commercial Banking, with merchant banks partnering with major American financial institutions, bringing an “American corporate culture” to Nigeria. Despite his legal education, Aig-Imoukhuede quickly realized the value of his background in banking. By 1989, he was recruited to join the launch team of Prime Merchant Bank, demonstrating his abilities and vision early in his career.
As Aig-Imoukhuede delved deeper into banking, he transitioned from a legal role to core banking. His involvement in high-level discussions with President Obasanjo and other government leaders opened his eyes to the potential of banking to support Nigeria’s ambitious growth goals. This strategic vision was further solidified during an Executive Management Programme at Harvard Business School, where he was inspired by the book “Buyout: The Insider’s Guide to Buying Your Own Company.”

Read also: UBA, Access Holdings outpace peers in race for liquid assets

The bold acquisition and initial challenges
With their extensive banking experience from GT Bank, Aig-Imoukhuede and Wigwe identified Access Bank as a prime acquisition target. Despite ongoing investigations into the bank’s forex issues, they recognized its solid foundation. They needed $9 million to complete the purchase, contributing $1.8 million from their savings and shares in GTBank and securing the remaining funds from family and friends.

In March 2002, the acquisition of Access Bank was finalized, and Aig-Imoukhuede and Wigwe were approved by the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) to take on the roles of Managing Director and Deputy Managing Director, respectively. This marked the official beginning of their transformative journey with Access Bank.

Access Bank then embarked on an aggressive expansion strategy. The announcement of the Central Bank of Nigeria’s (CBN) N25 billion capitalization deadline in 2005 became a pivotal moment for Access Bank. Aig-Imoukhuede and Wigwe mobilized their workforce, quickly raising N15 billion through a public offer. They acquired Capital Bank Ltd. and Marina International Bank Ltd., further strengthening their capital base by converting a $15 million term loan from the Netherlands Development Finance Company (FMO) into equity. Surpassing the capitalization requirement, Access Bank was poised for aggressive growth.

Between 2006 and 2007, the bank continued its capital-raising efforts, issuing a local bond of N11.9 billion and raising N136 billion through public offerings, including a successful and oversubscribed Global Depository Receipt (GDR). In 2008, Access Bank established its UK subsidiary, marking the beginning of its international expansion.

Aig-Imoukhuede and Wigwe were early adopters of digital transformation, investing heavily in the bank’s IT infrastructure upgrade, enabling the bank to offer more efficient and secure services.

Read also: Why Africa must integrate with global financial markets to generate wealth – Aig-Imoukhuede

International forays and capital markets
Access Bank’s growth was not confined to Nigeria. The bank pursued international expansion, establishing a presence in key African markets. The acquisition of Intercontinental Bank in 2012 was a major milestone, significantly increasing Access Bank’s assets and customer base. The bank also expanded into the UK, marking its entry into the international banking scene.

In 2012, Access Bank raised $350 million through a Eurobond and divested from non-banking subsidiaries. Recognized as a systemically important financial institution by the CBN, the bank issued a $400 million subordinated note in 2014, transforming into a large, diversified banking institution. With Herbert Wigwe taking over as Group Managing Director & CEO in 2014, Access Bank continued to outpace its peers, raising N42 billion through a rights issue in 2017 and issuing another $300 million subordinated note.

The landmark merger with Diamond Bank
The 2018 merger with Diamond Bank was a game-changer for Access Bank. This strategic move positioned Access Bank as the largest bank in Nigeria by assets and retail business, with 646 branches and the largest network of ATMs and POS terminals. The merger expanded Access Bank’s customer base to 38 million and reinforced its retail banking dominance. The integration of Diamond Bank’s strong retail franchise with Access Bank’s corporate banking expertise created a more robust and versatile institution.

In 2019, Access Bank issued Nigeria’s first green bond, underscoring its commitment to sustainable finance. The bank’s expansion into Kenya, Mozambique, and South Africa between 2020 and 2022 highlighted its strategic focus on becoming Africa’s gateway to the world. By 2022, Access Bank had successfully executed its five-year strategy, boasting a workforce of over 6,000 professionals serving more than 52 million customers across 17 markets worldwide.

Transformation into a holding company
In 2022, Access Bank restructured into a holding company, Access Holdings, to leverage synergies across its various businesses and expand its product offerings in payments, insurance, consumer finance, and pensions. This restructuring was part of a broader strategy to enhance efficiency and drive growth across multiple sectors.
In 2023, Access Holdings launched operations in Paris, marking its foray into the Northern Hemisphere. The group’s strategic expansion into new territories reflects its vision to be a pan-African force contributing to economic development across borders. Through its subsidiaries, Access Holdings has played a pivotal role in sectors ranging from finance and banking to agriculture, technology, and healthcare.

The next phase: Consolidation and efficiency
Commencing in the second half of 2024, Access Holdings’ Africa and international expansion strategy will enter a phase of consolidation and efficiency. This aligns with the institution’s five-year plan to achieve its 2027 strategic objectives, focusing on strengthening its market position and enhancing operational efficiency.

Tragically, the untimely death of Herbert Wigwe marks a significant loss for the banking community. However, his vision and values are deeply embedded in Access Bank’s DNA. The solid foundation built by Wigwe and Aig-Imoukhuede ensures that the bank’s operations and strategic direction will continue unabated. The leadership team, inspired by their legacy, remains dedicated to driving Access Bank’s mission forward, ensuring that the institution thrives and continues to positively impact the continent.

Adewoye writes from Lagos